In Matthew 22:18-22 we’re told a story about Jesus and his disciples that teaches us something important about receiving answers to prayer, namely, that we must have faith to do so.
Matthew writes, “In the morning, as he [Jesus] was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.
“When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’”
At first glance, this story seems odd. It presents Jesus as one who is focused on his own hunger and upset when a common fig tree can’t feed it, so much so that he uses his extraordinary powers to kill the tree. The disciples, however, were more focused on Jesus power than his character and thus asked how the tree so quickly withered.
I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t directly answer their question but rather took the opportunity to comment on their prayer lives. Specifically, he said that, if they would only have faith and not doubt, they would be able to do much greater things than this in prayer. This statement obviously puts faith in a very high place, but what exactly does it mean? Was Jesus saying that if we only believe enough we can literally get whatever we want—a car, a house, a good bill of health, success at work, or a pile of cash?
To the contrary, I think Jesus was saying that we must have the kind of relationship with the Lord whereby we discern his will through his Word, and then stake our whole lives upon that in prayer. Indeed, Jesus himself only said what he heard the Father saying and only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19-20; 8:28). This implies that he did not impulsively rebuke that fig tree but rather did so as an act of obedience.
Therefore, when Jesus says that we will be able to move mountains in prayer, as long as we have faith and do not doubt, he means that by virtue of our union with him we will be able to discern the Father’s will, praying according to the Father’s will, and receive answers according to the Father’s will. To have faith in prayer, then, is to confidently believe what God has said and pray according to it without doubt.
Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand the relational nature of prayer and the extent and power of his words. Pray that he will teach us to pray with the strong belief that he will do whatever he has said he will do.