By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Mark 11, mc Mark 11.1-33, vv 11.11-14, 20-26
Note to the Reader
This week we continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
Conviction in Prayer
There are certain times in our lives that we are absolutely certain that we are convinced we are right; the events play out and prove that we were right. That is belief. Belief that is so strong that almost nothing can persuade us otherwise. So let’s take that idea and place it against our prayer lives. Are we convinced that our prayer(s) will indeed be answered?
The Fig Tree
The Gospel of Mark makes it plainly evident that Peter was powerfully affected when he saw the withered and dead Fig Tree.1 According to Mark, just the day prior,2 Jesus spoke death unto the Fig Tree by saying unto it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”3 While Mark records that the disciples heard Jesus pronounce the curse on the Fig Tree,4 it seems that by Peter’s reaction, at least, he was not expecting to find the plant withered and dead.
At this point, I would like to speculate as to what Peter was expecting. Perhaps, Peter thought that Jesus’ pronounced curse was real, as in that Peter might have expected to see a living Fig Tree but that it remained fruitless throughout its life. That possibility seems to stand in-line with the words of Jesus, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” But, again, that is speculation; Mark does not reveal what Peter was thinking. All we can do is surmise, but it seems proper to conclude that the last thing Peter was expecting to find was a dead Fig Tree.
So what does the withered dead Fig Tree represent? First, the Fig Tree’s withered state represents that it is a shadow of its former self, because it is shriveled and decayed, having become useless. Second, the Fig Tree was “dried up from the roots”5 this represents that the tree lost its ability to sustain itself because the root system itself was dead. While a tree needs its trunk and leaves, I suppose it could be argued that without a solid root system, the tree is as good as dead, as seen with the Fig Tree. Think about this, even if the Fig Tree as a “shadow of its former self” wanted to actually live, without a healthy living root system the shadow, no matter how hard it tried, no matter how much it believed, could not and would not live.
Third, it is important to notice that the Tree did not curse and die from within itself, no. Someone living exterior to the Tree spoke to it and by the pronounced words of another, death was given to the Tree. This seems to indicate that an individual could be cursed by the speech that comes from another person, the net effect rendering the individual fruitfulness and dead. This can be seen on a small scale when we see the results of a child being told by an adult, “That’s not possible.” The child’s possibility is reduced, if not demolished. So it is important to understand that through pronouncing the curse, Jesus removed the root system, the supportive structure from the Tree, and Tree shriveled and died. The lesson: there is tremendous power in what is spoken.
Our prayer life is, perhaps, one of the most untapped and underused privileges given us by God through Christ. Perhaps that is because we are uncertain as to what to say. Perhaps that is because we sometimes feel our prayer requests are inconsequential. Perhaps, we feel that God is too busy to attend to our specific needs and requests. But perhaps, we don’t go to God in prayer because we are not sure if he will answer.
In teaching Peter and the other disciples about the Fig Tree, Jesus said:
“Have faith in God, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”6
Jesus makes at least five profound statements. One, “Have faith.” From Hebrews we know that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”7 For just one moment, forget about pleasing God, and focus on this “without faith it is impossible.” Faith (belief, conviction, trust) is what makes things possible, and through that faith God is pleased. Two, “does not doubt.” How many times do we doubt when we pray? Doubt is from the adversary, and the adversary is robbing us of our faith. Three, “but believes… it will be done.” This is profound, so at this point be mindful of what you pray, because it seems proper to conclude that the power of your belief can influence how God responds.
Fourth, “believe… you have received… it will be yours.” Read those words again. Now ponder on that for a moment. Through belief you receive, through belief it becomes yours. Now, we need to be asking for things that are in accordance with God’s will, but it must have been God’s will to have that Fig Tree die to prove a point to the disciples. Jesus believed. Jesus received. It became the fruit of Jesus’ prayer. Our fifth item is forgiveness. Jesus interweaves the power of belief with the power of forgiveness. The manner in which Jesus made his statement about forgiving strictly states “forgive in order to be forgiven;” but when we take into account that Jesus ties forgiveness into the power of praying believing, it almost seems to insinuate that prayer is only answered when forgiveness is freely given.
Conviction is a powerful thing. One can be convinced that something can happen. One can also be convinced that something cannot happen. Either way, one is convinced. This, in turn, affects one’s interpretation of what is possible. According to Mark, we should be careful for what we pray, not because we might get it, but because our conviction of belief or disbelief has a direct correlation to having our prayers answered.8 May the LORD help build our conviction so our prayers are prayed fully believing.
1. “Withered and dead Fig Tree.” Mark 11.20-21.
2. “Previous Day.” According to Mark 11.19-20, Jesus cursing the Fig Tree happened the previous day.
3. “Jesus cursed the Fig Tree.” Mark 11.12-14, NIV.
4. “Disciples heard Jesus pronounce the curse.” Mark 11.14b.
5. “Dried up from the roots” Mark 11.20.
6. Mark 11.22-25, NIV; Mark 11.26 is not included because some translations do not include it.
7. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11.6.
8. “Belief or disbelief has a direct correlation to having our prayers answered.” Mark 11.24.