A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 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. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Growing up, the one thing I wanted more than anything was a dog. I loved animals of all kinds, but dogs held a very special place in my heart. To the best of my recollection, “dog” was my very first word, and everything that my toddler self pointed at then became a dog. During Sunday school, when my teacher would ask the class for our prayer requests, in all sincerity I would ask that we pray for God to give me a dog. I scoured the classified ads of the newspaper, highlighting my favorite breeds of puppies for sale. Amazingly, some dog owners were even foolish enough to be willing to let go of their beloved companions for “free” to a good home. But despite my enthusiasm and earnestness, my parents had less than zero interest in adding a puppy to our home. Between juggling full-time jobs and having three perfect “angels” at home, they had more than enough on their plate and, quite frankly, they were just not “dog” people.
Finally, when I was around 12 years old, after years of pleading my case, we loaded the car and drove about an hour out into the countryside to make our pick of a 7-week-old litter of terrier/beagle mixed breed puppies. While I had always dreamed of a large, energetic playmate, my parents chose the most docile, least energetic, clear runt of the litter. Not long after we brought Penny home, the novelty of dog ownership wore off and I realized that we had actually chosen a cat in a dog’s body who was only interested in us if we had food. Perhaps most surprisingly, Penny, soon became the favorite Kish “child,” and long after the rest of us had moved out, she still had our parents firmly under her paw.
Our passage this morning is simultaneously one of the most well known and most misunderstood selections in the gospel of Mark. At first glance, Jesus appears to be saying that God will do any and every thing we command, including even absurdly rearranging the topography of our surroundings, if we believe it will happen. Subsequently, it is also one of the favorite passages of those in the health-and-wealth prosperity theology camp who teach that God is just waiting to rain down upon us financial and material blessings from heaven if only we had faith enough to ask! If we dare to name our desires and claim them through the power of our faith, then they will surely be ours.
But is that how prayer really works? Is that the lesson Jesus is trying to teach here? Is it even at all fair to imply that God answered my boyhood prayers for a dog after nearly a decade of asking because I finally believed it would happen? Or that God does not answer the desperate prayers of a family whose daughter suffers from a rare incurable cancer because their faith is not strong enough? Does God not care? Is He preoccupied? Does God have the desire to answer, but not the power? Must He wait until we reach some sort of über-level of personal faith before He can act on our behalf, with our help? All of these questions arise naturally when we take the words of Scripture out of their historical and Biblical context.
Jesus’ remarks on prayer were instigated by Peter remarking on the withered fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before. With all the incredible things that Peter had seen Jesus do, and it is quite an extensive list, it should have been no surprise that what Jesus said would happen had indeed come to pass. In response, Jesus uses intentionally hyperbolic language to illustrate God’s ability and attentiveness to care for all of our needs.
It is vital to remember that if God does not give us every thing we ask for exactly when we ask for it, it does not mean that God is unwilling or unable to come to our aid, or that our prayers are useless. Bible commentator Donald English insists that prayer must accomplish something, as “the time is completely wasted if there is nothing in it.” It is difficult for us to comprehend just how exactly prayer works, in a similar way that it is impossible for us to wrap our finite minds around the idea that God has absolute sovereignty over all things while we maintain some level of personal responsibility for our individual actions. They are not puzzles to be solved, but mysteries to behold. Simply put, if we believe our prayers don’t matter, we won’t pray. But if we acknowledge that God both hears and, somehow, uses our prayers, we will be moved to pray more.
Not only will we pray more frequently, but we will also pray with more fervency. Jesus explains that effective prayer is rooted in faith and forgiveness. Our faith is not that God is a heavenly vending machine we can manipulate to give us exactly what we want, but that He is a God who always knows what is best and will provide all that we need.
Faith begins by acknowledging our own inadequacy and trusting that our sins are forgiven. Faith is believing that Jesus has done for us the one thing we could never do for ourselves, and offers freely to us that which we could never earn on our own. A sure sign of faith, that we have truly been forgiven, is that we will then likewise forgive others, just as God has forgiven us. And faith is believing that nothing is impossible for God. After all, what is more difficult, to move a mountain into the sea, or to rescue the souls of man?
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we come to You today humbly acknowledging that we are weak and You are strong. All of us have gone astray, and we often believe the lies that You do not desire good things for us, or that somehow You need us. How quickly we forget that we are the ones who desperately need You! Help us to remember that in You we have ALL that we need, and that You have promised far MORE than all that we could hope or imagine. Conform the desires of our hearts to the things that You desire for us, for You are able and willing. We ask in Your precious name, Amen.