Several people have asked me about the promises that Jesus makes about prayer in Mark 11:12-25. People have used those verses to justify a "pray it and claim it" approach to Christianity. There are many important questions it raises that need to be answered. Here are some I've been asked recently:
- Are these promises for everyone, or at least all disciples?
- Why don't I get these results? Is my faith weak?
- Why doesn't God answer my prayers? What's wrong?
Those are really big questions. This is my partial answer. I don't really address the last question now, but I have some ideas on that one as well.
You may not find this satisfying. Please follow to the end, since this only makes sense to me with all of the parts in place.
- The storm on the sea (Mark 4:35-41)
- It's a ghost! (Matthew 14:22-33)
- Faith that walks on water today... (Matthew 14:22-33 applied)
- The faith of a mustard seed (Mark 4: 30-32)
- Mountains into the ocean (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)
Part 1: The storm on the sea (Mark 4:35-41)
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
I believe God allowed / arranged this (the big storm, Jesus sound asleep) because it was time for the disciples to grow in their understanding of how powerful Jesus was. Jesus, like God, had unlimited dominion over creation. Any time Jesus focused his will or issued a command, creation was forced to comply.
This was not a small boat. It's reasonable to assume all of the apostles were there. It was big enough to hold 13 people and to have Jesus asleep on a cushion in the stern. The storm was so intense that experienced fishermen were afraid for their lives. Everyone was mystified at how Jesus could sleep through the storm. Terror broke out, and they finally managed to shake Jesus awake: "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
Jesus went from being sound asleep to wide awake. He assessed the situation and commanded the storm: "Quiet! Be still!" Creation had to obey. The storm ceased to exist. It doesn't specifically say how quickly, but it must have been very close to instantaneous. One moment, a powerful storm with intense winds and waves. The next moment, calm water, no wind. Terror breaks out again. This time, the disciples are afraid of Jesus. They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
They had already known Jesus was powerful and could do things no one else could do. To have total dominion over creation, to be able to command the weather and get immediate obedience, meant that Jesus had powers they were not able to estimate or comprehend. "Who have I been hanging out with? Who am I following around? What if he gets mad at me?" I'd be terrified. How about you?<p/p>
Part 2: It's a ghost! (Matthew 14:22-33)
It is important to remember that this happened just after Jesus found out that his cousin John (the Baptist) was beheaded.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
The power of Jesus' command: Light dawns in Peter's head: There are many points in this passage. We are going to focus on what Peter said: "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "Tell me to come to you on the water." "Tell me" could also be translated "Command me."
You can almost see Peter figuring this out. "... If this is really Jesus... and not some unclean spirit... When Jesus commands... it happens! ... Maybe..." And he makes his request.
Jesus issues the command: "Come." Peter puts his faith into action. He gets out of the boat, and starts walking! On water!
As it turns out, it's not just Jesus' command that keeps Peter on top of the water. Peter's faith is another essential ingredient. When his faith wavers, so does his ability to walk on the water. "You of little faith," Jesus said, "why did you doubt?"
Part 3: Faith that walks on water today (Matthew 14:22-33 applied)
Glenn Petruzzi is a great disciple with impressive faith. A couple of years ago he tried to walk on water in front of the entire New England preteen camp. He didn't walk on water, and thought the problem was a lack of his faith. Not so. I believe he had the same type and intensity of faith that Peter had.
The missing ingredient?: Without Jesus to command creation to do what is normally impossible, without his dominion to override the laws of physics, Glenn couldn't walk on water. There's no record of Peter ever doing that again, even though he did many other miracles even after Jesus ascended.
Here's how to understand the faith that walks on water today: If God had arranged it so you could be on the boat with Peter and the others (ignore all the reasons that couldn't happen, pretend that it did),
When Peter said, "Tell me to come to you..." would you have said, "Jesus, can I come, too?" There were many other very committed, commendable disciples on that boat. None of them asked.
The faith that walks on water today has two important aspects.
- The faith to ask God / Jesus / The Holy Spirit.
- The faith to act / follow through
Some people need to grow in their faith to get to the point where they ask God for important, significant, spiritual things/changes/insights. And when we ask, we need to avoid being double-minded. We need to put our faith into action when we see what looks like an opportunity from God
Part 4: The faith of a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32)
Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade."
A mustard seed is not concerned with its outward appearance. God has gifted it with the ability to die and become a very large tree, improving the quality of life for all of those birds etc. that nest within it.
Because God responds to our faith, because our prayers matter to him, what we are on the outside doesn't need to limit the impact we can have or the blessing we can become.
Part 5: Mountains into the Ocean Mark 11:12-14, 20-25
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!""Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 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 them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
Rearranging the physical landscape: Is that Jesus' point? Was that his purpose? A question for you as you read this passage: What do you do with the promise of Jesus in verses 22 and 23? If you look at it as a literal promise about the physical world, then either Jesus lied or no one has much faith in God or everyone is plagued by doubts.
I know that Jesus had that kind of power. He had infinite dominion over all of creation. But he is the only one. Part of the reason why Jesus is the only one is God's promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
The power to have God to act on and fulfill every prayer request we make forms a type of temptation that would corrupt every person except Jesus. Eventually we would start using that immense power for selfish, petty, worldly, ungodly things. Much evil would result.
God gave Jesus all power and authority because he is the only one who can handle that much power and authority, day after day, for all eternity, without being corrupted or lead astray by it. My personal understanding of those verses in Mark 11 is that Jesus was using a very vivid illustration based on the physical world, to help us understand how much power and influence our faithful prayers and faithful choices have in the spiritual realms and in Heaven. In those unseen realms, our prayers and faithful choices really do have a huge impact. They do rearrange the spiritual landscape as impressively and noticeably as a large range of mountains being hurled into the sea.
Every time someone crosses over from lost to redeemed it's like an earthquake. Some part of heaven that is very important to the Trinity just changed for the better. One more soul has obeyed in faith, allowing the sacrifice of Jesus to wipe out all the sins and establish a new relationship as a child of God's family. And as we become more like Jesus, the spiritual landscape continues to improve, because it accurately reflects what is happening within us spiritually.
Back to the original question:I find all of those Scriptures and the ideas I just shared compelling proof that the promises in Mark 11 are not available to us for impacting the physical world today.
- No one has a heart pure enough to handle that much power.
- Jesus was the only one with enough Dominion over Creation to make something of that magnitude happen.
- The trinity is much more concerned with the eternal than the temporary. They want us to live faithful lives that continue to impact eternity.
- The power they have given us is stunning and magnificent. The faith they have in us is amazing and comforting. The important difference, the real difference is what happens where we can't see it happening.
That's why it takes faith, not just obedience. Obedience by itself, without faith, has no positive impact on heaven (Galatians 3).
A few words of encouragement: Thanks for reading this, and thinking and praying about it. I am convinced that God is willing to help anyone develop "walk on water" faith. Now that you have a better understanding of the faith that walks on water, you can pursue God and he will use your faith in even greater ways.