The Fig Tree Series, Part 4: Praying Fruitfully
“As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.’” (Mark 11: 20-24, NASB)
So now that we’ve seen how Jesus’ Kingdom-minded reaction with the fig tree was illustrated in the real-life cleansing of the Temple, let’s return back to the fig tree. In fact, scripture takes this same
journey; it doesn’t leave any loose end open.
After Jesus travelled to the temple and called out the manipulation that was allowed to take root in His Father’s house, they went back out of the city to where they were staying. The next morning, Jesus and His disciples travelled back to Jerusalem. Along the way, Peter and the disciples saw the same fig tree that enraged Jesus the day before. Except today, this tree no longer gave the appearance of a healthy plant. A mere 24 hours later, this same tree was not just leaf-less or fruit-less– the Bible says it was completely withered– it was dry, shriveled, and completely devoid of life.
You see, this is a hard picture, but it’s one we all must come to terms with as Christians: Jesus doesn’t see levels of salvation. You either are a fruitful, thriving Christian, or you are not. Fruitless is on the same level as those that have never been saved. Both will be turned away from the throne on the day of judgement. And that’s not a popular message. That’s not a warm and fuzzy take-away.
But it does go to show the truth behind what we talked about a couple of weeks ago in John 15. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (verse 6). What is the evidence that we’ve abided in Christ? Fruit, real and sweet. And if we’re found without fruit, we will be cut off from the vine– Christ– dried up and burned away. Just like the fig tree. If the fruitless vine is cut off and dried up in John 15, then the picture of the dry and withered fig tree in Mark 11 is a very accurate picture of how Christ sees us when we’re fruitless.
We might be able to fool the world with our good works and impressively man-approved ministries, but if we do it for clout or fame or appearance, it will be empty in the eyes of our Lord. So yes, maybe you’ll receive the accolades, awards, and applause on this side of the finish line, but once in Heaven, the fruitless, works-heavy Christian is going to meet a very unsettling end.
In the end, our shallow appearance, if not reflective of an actual, deep relationship with Christ, will never hold up to Jesus’ glory. Appearance will never please the Father. It will never move Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
But going further, Jesus also teaches us another important lesson through the fig tree. He actually reveals to the disciples how this extraordinary example of God’s power was accomplished: through prayer. Sure, Jesus’ cursing the fig tree was not recorded in today’s template of prayer– that is, it wasn’t sandwiched in between, “Dear God,” and “In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.” But Jesus’ punishment of the fig tree is a prayer just the same.
And no, I’m not saying we have the power or authority to pray ill-will towards our enemies. We don’t. Only Jesus, as the human embodiment of God Himself and the only one worthy to judge the world, has the right to curse any member of creation.
The lesson lies in the fact that Jesus shows us how to pray: whatever we pray, we must pray with the faith that God has the power to do what we ask Him to do. Prayer without faith is just talk. Prayer without faith is just an earnest wish. It puts God in a box and questions His ability. So Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him” (Mark 11:23, NASB).
But here’s the catch: when we pray, we must pray with faith in God that He will hear our prayer and answer us, but that doesn’t mean that if we simply pray in faith, that God will answer your prayer in exactly the way you want Him to. Confusing? Counter-intuitive? Maybe a little hypocritical sounding? Sure, if you want to take it that way. But if God was just some kind of spiritual order-taker, just cooking up every whim your flesh desired, your faith would actually be weak. You would just be spoiled, always expecting Daddy-God to give you another thing and another thing.
Think of that little girl from Willy Wonka, you know, the one that stomped her feet when her daddy wouldn’t buy her a goose that laid golden eggs. If we just expected God to give us everything, we’d never be pushed beyond our limits and we’d miss the point of a relationship with Christ entirely. That girl didn’t have a relationship with her father at all. She didn’t know anything about him except for the fact that he had deep pockets.
So imagine: If we prayed to God “in faith” that he’d just pour out His blessings, would we have the kind of tried-and-true faith that would ultimately do what delights Him, which is to bear fruit? No, we wouldn’t, because at the first sign of trouble, our weak faith would be weak. That’s why baby Christians that are led to believe that praying in faith WILL heal them or WILL cause God to provide this or that end up walking away from their faith. Because ultimately, they don’t understand that when we pray in faith, it should be in the faith that our Father only gives good gifts, and if those gifts cause us to live independent from The Vine of Christ, then it is not good for us.
So no, your prayer in faith does not mean that every mountain will immediately fling itself into the sea. That’s not what Jesus means when He says that. What He does mean is that when you pray, pray standing in the faith that God is working for you, and His chief concern is that you remain grafted into the vine. If your prayer, even if prayed in faith, would remove you from that vine and cause your fruit to wither and stop growing, then He will not answer it.
So if you’ve prayed a prayer that doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition, take comfort in the fact that perhaps it remains out of your reach for your own protection. As kind-hearted as you might be in desiring it, God has the foresight to know if that thing will distract you from the Vine. Instead of feeling disheartened, cling to the Vine and trust in the fact that your unanswered prayer will bear more fruit than your answered prayer.