Tyler David speaks on Mark 11:20-25
Series: The Gospel of Mark
There are few things more vital in knowing God than prayer. Alongside the Bible, it is the lifeblood of our relationship with Him. We have access to God through prayer, because of what Jesus did through His life, death and resurrection. We now know, without a shadow of a doubt, when we cry out to God, He’s listening.
But unfortunately, most of us struggle with it. We struggle with having passion for it, consistency with it, or any sort of belief what we pray is actually having an affect. After two minutes our prayers seem uncomfortable or unobtainable or we’re out of things to say.
God has graced this church with so much. He’s done amazing things in the last ten years. We passionately worship God and know Him faithfully through sound doctrine. We’re committed to see our neighborhoods, our city and the world reached with the Gospel.
But I don’t think God has done all of this because we are a faithfully praying people. I think He’s done it despite our weakness in prayer.
We struggle with prayer because we are naturally pragmatic and independent people. We tend to succumb to the lie that what we really need is a practical next step, not a bent knee in prayer. We get frustrated when the application is to pray. We want to know what do, not what to pray. We believe action is more powerful.
But when you look at the Scriptural promises of prayer, it becomes obvious that if we’re not praying, we’re missing out. You look at church history and see there was no great movement or great saint that didn’t have prayer at their center. God has mightily used people with really terrible theology. He’s also used people with little access to the Bible, or poor structure and strategy, but saved thousands through them. They lacked everything we have. But they did not lack prayer.
What would happen if we actually prayed? Imagine what God would do through our lives, our church and this city. I want prayer to move from this rote religious routine we go through to the life-giving and history-shaking force God ordained it to be.
Wholehearted prayer moves God to do the impossible.
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:20-24 (ESV)
Jesus used the fig tree as an illustration of what the people had become, no longer producing the fruit He was after: obedience and love. Within twenty-four hours of Jesus cursing this fig tree, it had withered. Peter saw this and couldn’t believe it actually happened. The disciples were amazed by what Jesus was able to do. It was in that moment they came to see His unbelievable power. Jesus then taught them about prayer.
22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:22-24 (ESV)
Let’s define what wholehearted prayer is and then ask what the impossible things are that God is going to do through it.
Jesus characterizes wholehearted prayer in three ways:
22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Mark 11:22 (ESV)
Right after He cursed the fig tree and the disciples were astonished at His power, Jesus tells them to trust in God. Their prayer will only have power if they’re actually talking to God.
There is no power in prayer itself. The power is in the God we’re praying to.
That may seem simple and obvious, yet we so easily overlook it. There is no true power in just thinking good thoughts or repeating mantras to yourself. Our prayer is not a mental exercise for our peace of mind. Prayer is a conscious plea to God.
Often we confuse thinking and talking as praying about what we’re going through. When I think about my struggles and anxieties that cause me to have guilt in my life, I have this feeling that I pray a lot. I have a sense I bring these things to God pretty consistently. But when I actually analyze what I’ve been doing, I haven’t been praying at all. I have been doing a lot of thinking, dissecting, analyzing, even seeking counsel from other people, but not actually praying.
Just because something is on our mind doesn’t mean we’ve prayed about it.
Think about those things that give you anxiety, frustration or stress. Have you actually talked to God about them? Have you said, “God, here’s what I’m going through,” and processed with Him? Or have you thought about praying? Have you sought counsel, but not actually prayed?
When we confuse the two we miss out on the benefits of prayer. We’re not actually praying to God, but to self.
Wholehearted prayer is to God.
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Mark 11:23 (ESV)
Jesus told the disciples to have faith in God then made an outlandish promise. He told them their prayers will give them access to such a power that they’ll see mountains plucked up and thrown into the sea.
Jesus was not making a literal promise that we can move mountains. He was using imagery to show that we will see God do the impossible on our behalf. Through prayer we will have the same unbelievable access to God’s power that He does.
The disciples couldn’t imagine what Jesus had done to that fig tree. He was saying, “You think that’s amazing? You’ll see mountains thrown into the sea. You’re going to do more than I did.”
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 (ESV)
This is the essence of the Gospel. He died for us and we get His access to God. Our prayers hold the same weight with God as if Jesus were praying Himself. When we pray, God sees a son who is covered in Christ’s righteousness.
We have to be conscious of the Gospel and reminded of the truth that we are hidden in Christ. If we don’t, our prayer life will be stifled. Only the Gospel can uphold a life of prayer. All of us are bent on religiosity and defining ourselves by our works. We want to justify ourselves by what we can do. This kills our prayer life. We must be reminded how needy and dependent we are and how loved we are by Jesus. The Gospel causes us to pray.
Wholehearted prayer is to God, through Jesus.
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:23-24 (ESV)
Our prayers move God. When we actually believe He can do the impossible, our prayers move Him to do so. But our requests to Him must be rooted in genuine faith, conviction and desire. God doesn’t want to hear requests from distant hearts and doubting minds. He wants wholehearted prayer.
Jesus puts the emphasis on whether or not God moves on whether or not you believe. It’s all about faith. Do we actually believe that He can do what we’re asking Him to do?
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)
How often we pray for things we don’t want and don’t pray for things we do want.
Often our prayers are full of empty religious phrases. They’re filled with godly requests, “make me holy, glorify Your name, heal this person,” but nothing in us wants them. We don’t believe He can actually do it. We hurl up empty religious phrases, because we’re suppose to.
God doesn’t just want words, or empty phrases. He wants hearts that believe in Him.
On the flip side, we don’t pray for things we actually do want. All of us have those things we keep hidden from God. Those desires you’ve never said out loud to Him. We pray in general terms as not to be let down. “Bless our family,” but we don’t get specific, “Lord, give us a child,” because He may not answer. If we put our hearts out there on the table, He might reject it. We can see our lack of faith in how we pray. Praying by faith is about being honest with what you want and asking Him for it.
What do your prayers look like? Are they full of religious phrases that don’t really mean a ton to you? Asking Him for general things, even though nothing in you believes in them? We’re scared to ask for those desires we keep hidden, because what if He says no.
God is not after empty words; He’s after our hearts to trust him. He wants us to believe He can do what we want.
Wholehearted prayer is to God, through Jesus, by faith. This moves God to do the impossible.
Wholehearted prayer moves the mountains of history and the mountains in our hearts.
Mountains of History
God is sovereign over all things. There is not one moment in time He is not in complete control, working for the good of His people and the glory of His name. Nothing will deter Him from His plans.
But in His sovereignty He has ordained that our prayers play an active role.
Not only has He ordained the ends, but He has also ordained the means. Our prayers are the means by which He does the impossible. Do not allow God’s sovereignty to make you balk out Jesus’ promise about prayer. God has set it up so that if we believe and ask Him, He can do it. He even says there are some things in our lives we don’t have, because we don’t ask (James 4:2).
Our prayers play an active role in history. God’s sovereignty and our prayers weave together to accomplish His purposes. Our prayers can change our families, our city, our world.
But if we don’t pray, we should have no confidence that we will get to be a part of what God’s doing. We won’t be a part of God changing this city, or caring for the orphan, or reaching the unreached people groups.
I don’t want us to get to heaven and have Jesus say we could have had more if we had just asked for more. Or He could have done so more through us, but we didn’t ask Him to.
I want us to have the faith that He can do it and ask Him to.
Mountains of Our Hearts
After hearing all of this, you can begin to think that our faith is the ultimate determiner on whether or not God says ‘yes’ to our requests. You could begin to think that if we have enough faith, then God will always say ‘yes’. The scriptures say this is blatantly not true.
Our faith is not ultimate. God is ultimate.
You could have the best faith in the world and still hear ‘no’ from God. Even Jesus heard ‘no’ from God. He was the founder and perfector of our faith, yet in the most desperate moment in His life, in the garden of Gethsemane, He heard ‘no’.
35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35-36 (ESV)
Jesus was anticipating the terrifying wrath of God. He knew God’s wrath for our sins was about to be poured out on Him. He was stressed out, sweating blood and crying out to God a wholehearted prayer. He believed in Him, knowing that all things were possible for Him. He knew God could find another way to do this impossible work. He didn’t hide His heart from the Father. He asked specifically that He would remove the cup from Him.
But Jesus heard God answer, ‘no’. The Father would not be swayed on this point.
It’s here where we begin to understand the other impossible thing that prayers accomplish. It’s not just about reshaping history, but also our hearts.
God did not ultimately deny Jesus. He said ‘no’ about the removing of the cup, but said ‘yes’ to His final request.
36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)
He did indeed have a desire and request for God to remove the cup from Him, but not more than His request to do the will of God.
Through His prayers God moved the mountains in the heart of Jesus, so that He could obey God, even when it meant more suffering. He could trust Him.
God can do the impossible of making a human heart trust and obey Him, even when it means more suffering. He does so through our prayers. Even when God says ‘no’ to our requests, He’s doing the impossible by changing our hearts. For us to actually want His will more than our requests, that is the impossible.
Wholehearted prayers will either shape the mountains of history or the mountains of our hearts.
Beg For the Impossible
Are you struggling in your singleness? Beg God to bring you a spouse. Are you struggling in your lack of holiness? Beg God to kill your sin. Do you want your marriage to be saved? Do you want your friend to believe in Jesus? Ask Him to act! We can know that our prayers can move God to do the impossible.
There will be things that we beg God for until our dying day and will always hear God say ‘no’. But through that process He will reshape our hearts to actually want what He wants for us.
I can only imagine the kind of people we would be if we prayed like this, crying out to God, through Jesus, in faith. Let us be a church that keeps praying even in the midst of our dark hearts, a dark world and in seasons where He feels distant. That we would look to the cross as the fuel for our faith and to the most impossible work that God has ever done, Jesus dying for our sins.
If He gave us His only son, how would He not graciously give us all things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
We have a Father in heaven, listening and ready to act.