FIGuring Out Prayer

Matthew 21:19 - 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.

I was searching through my sermon archives, thinking about prayer. I knew that I had done a series on prayer recently; I could have sworn it. Of course, “recently” is relative and in this case, it meant six years ago, with a series called “Bold Prayers”. That’s how I came across this passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus was walking into Jerusalem with his disciples and decided he wanted something to eat. Nearby was a rather unfortunate fig tree, which had failed to produce any fruit. (Mark’s account of this story tells us that it wasn’t even fig season!) Jesus curses the tree, and it immediately withers. 

At first glance, the passage appears to have nothing to do with prayer. Even his disciples didn’t think so. They were unfazed by Jesus’ apparent outburst and wondered instead how he made the tree wither. They probably wanted to know if it was the sort of trick that they could learn and potentially perform themselves. (One can imagine a motley crew of disciples wreaking havoc across the countryside, cursing out-of-season fruits and vegetables.)

Jesus explains the situation to his disciples. Far from being a magical incantation, the power that Jesus demonstrated over the fig tree is the same power that his disciples have access to through prayer. They could even say to a mountain, get up and throw yourself in the sea, and if they asked in faith, it would happen.

Whenever Jesus teaches on prayer, he teaches us to pray expectantly. Prayers in the Kingdom of God are not done half-heartedly, as if, given the right combination of words, phrases, and desires of God, He may respond. Rather, we are taught to pray boldly, with the expectation that God willrespond, and he will respond by doing what we had asked.

So how do you pray? Do you pray boldly, expecting God to move? Or do you pray measured, reasonable prayers, hoping–but not expecting–that God will respond?

Perhaps there is a better diagnostic question: have you ever prayed for that mountain to move, or do you avoid it, because you are certain that God doesn’t care about that type of thing?

It seems to me like that’s exactlywhat Jesus wants us to be praying about.