Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Mark 11:24 – Scripture of the Day (January 22, 2014)
Whenever I read this passage of scripture, I’m reminded of a scene from Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way.
I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body to get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.” This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant – I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself. This was including Miss Watson, as I took it. I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn’t see no advantage about it – except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it anymore, but just let it go.
While humorous, the above excerpt does reveal a tidbit of truth about how many interpret today’s verse. Many pray as if God were a genie in a bottle, ready and willing to grant them any and all wishes…and then they get discouraged and upset when it doesn’t turn out that way. Let’s remember that as with all passages of the Bible, context is key when applying proper hermeneutics (interpretation) to any passage of scripture, including this one. The entirety of God’s Word is truth (Ps. 119:160), and so not only immediate but the overall context must be considered.
In the immediate context of this passage, we read that during the previous day Jesus had said to a fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” upon seeing that there was nothing to eat on it (Mark 11:12-14). The next morning, they saw the fig tree withered away and Peter pointed out to Jesus that the fig tree which he had cursed had withered. Jesus replied, “Have faith in God. 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. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:20-24).
What Jesus had done to the fig tree was a miracle…a violation of the laws of science and nature which God had put into place at creation. Scientifically, fig trees don’t wither away overnight based on the word of a man, just as the Red Sea doesn’t naturally part due to a man holding a stick over it and a man doesn’t scientifically come back from the dead three days after he had died on a cross. What Christ had talked about his apostles doing (telling a mountain to be taken up and thrown into the sea without doubt in his heart and it coming to pass) was also miraculous in nature. Thus, the statement in today’s verse about receiving whatever you ask in prayer if you believe that you have received it must also be taken to refer to the apostles being able to perform miracles.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of spiritual gifts which were miraculous in nature being given to some of the early Christians (1 Cor. 12-14). Paul lists these miraculous spiritual gifts, and includes “faith” in the list alongside of miraculous spiritual gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge (1 Cor. 12:4-11). He later clarifies that faith as the same type of miraculous faith Jesus is talking about in the context of today’s passage: the type of faith one would need to have in order to perform a miracle like removing a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2).
However, a few verses later he tells us that these miraculous spiritual gifts would “pass away” and “cease.” This would happen “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” in the Greek is referring to that which is mature or complete, and is used elsewhere to refer to the complete Word of God (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), which of course wasn’t complete at the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In fact, one of the reasons miracles occurred back then was to confirm the Word of God which was being preached by the apostles and prophets of the early church (Mark 16:17-18, 20; Heb. 2:1-4). Once the Word of God was complete with the writing of Revelation, miracles would no longer need to happen in order to confirm it, and thus they would cease as Paul foretold.
Therefore, the miraculous faith one would need to receive anything one asked for in prayer does not occur today. God does answer prayer today, but providentially rather than through miracles done by men as read about in the Bible. He wants us to bring our cares to him through prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), and pray that he provides our spiritual and physical needs (Matt. 6:9ff) as well as for the needs of others (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
And as it was true then, it is also true today that we must pray with faith (James 1:5-7)…and we must also pray according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). This latter caveat is something I believe old Huck Finn…and many of us today…don’t think about like we should. What does God care about most? Huck getting hooks for his fishing lines and us getting that brand new car…or the spiritual well-being of us all? What are we asking God for the most in our prayers? Are our requests truly in line with his will? Daily study of his Word will show us what God really cares the most about. As we grow spiritually, we will see our prayer life changing to fit more in line with his will also.