21-22But Jesus was matter-of-fact: "Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don't doubt God, you'll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you'll tell, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God."
The disciples are marveling over fact that Jesus came upon a fig tree that was covered in all kinds of promising green growth - leaves full, branches broad - yet not one fig was found. He looks for the fruit, finding none, he curses the tree and it withers on the spot. Most scholars would tell us that the fig tree represented Israel and that Jesus was cursing Israel because it was not bearing fruit. We don't want to focus on that this morning, but the fact that Jesus spends a few moments teaching his disciples about prayer.
First, Jesus focuses them on the condition of heart that is necessary to receive what we desire from God in prayer. We need to have an embracing heart that is filled with faith. It is often difficult to live above doubt - often because the impossibilities look way too menacing and too prominent. Overcoming, or at least stepping out in spite of our doubt is a challenge for most of us. We need to pay attention to the entire passage here - embrace God first, then overcoming our doubts is easier.
When we fully hold on to God - really drawing close to him - we find it easier to step out, even when there is a hint of doubt in the way. The key is relationship - the closer I am to God, the closer I am to asking according to his purpose and seeing the fulfillment of what I ask for. When we are in close relationship, we understand that all the blessings and promises of God are for us - there is no question in our mind.
Next, we need to see that we must ask - unspoken requests are not really a thing that God works too well with. He wants us to express our hearts to him because it develops the intimacy he desires with us. As we open up to him about what it is we have need of - the deep inner desires of our heart - he is able to embrace us, pulling us closer, and meets us there.
Then, the promise to us is this - if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. Condition - if you believe. Promise - you will receive. Condition - whatever you ask for in prayer. The promise of God has two conditions - we must ask and we must believe. Our doubts are dealt with in the presence of God - our needs are expressed in the times of prayerful sharing.
To receive carries a couple of meanings I'd like us to explore before we finish this morning:
- To come into possession of something - this is what we really almost always gravitate to as the definition of receiving. Yet, see the components of this definition a little clearer - WE come into POSSESSION. In other words, we step out in faith and we come into a place where possession is possible. The impossible becomes possible in this place of faith.
- To acquire or take it as your own - when we talk openly with God about our needs, we are trusting him to allow us to take that which we desire as our own. Nothing delights the heart of God more than to meet the needs of his kids.
- To act as a receptacle or container for - this is probably not the most common definition for receive, but it is significant for us to see in light of our passage today. When we ask, we need to be readied to receive. Why is there a difference between the time we ask and the time we realize the answer? It is often because we need to be readied to receive - our "container" is not ready.
- To experience - as we consider this last definition, we should be pulling this all together now. When we ask with an open heart, purposing to take in what we are believing God for, we find that our hearts are open to experience the fullness of God like never before. We are open to assimilate through both our minds and our senses all that God is doing. We are enlarged.
Our invitation today is to receive - the condition of our receiving is to ask. The method of asking is to do it while drawing close to God and relying on him more than we believe in our doubts.