Faith & Prayer

by | Mar 9, 2010

Dear Phil,

Jesus said that if we have faith and ask anything in His name, believing that we have received what we ask for, we will receive it (Mark 11:23-34). I asked in Jesus’ name, believed, and did not receive. Why doesn’t God keep His word?


Dear Gary,

I’ve had three different people ask me this recently. The problem isn’t with God. The problem is with the common understanding of faith. To understand what Jesus means in Mark 11:23-24 or John 14:13-14 we have to grasp three things. First, what it means to “have faith in God.” Second, what it means to ask “in Jesus’ name.” Third, what it means to “believe that you have received what you ask for.”

Let’s start with “Have faith in God.” According to Scripture, Jesus commended two people for “great faith”: the Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-13) and the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:21-28). Careful reading of these accounts reveals six elements of their faith.

  1. They believed Jesus was able to do what they were asking.
  2. They believed his authority had no boundaries.
  3. Despite appearances to the contrary, they believed Jesus cared about their problem.
  4. They acknowledged their unworthiness.
  5. They persisted until they received a final answer.
  6. They believed Jesus’ word when he said their request was granted.

Lest you think that great faith always receives “Yes” answers from God, recall Paul’s thorn in the flesh. There’s no doubt Paul was a man of great faith (Acts 19:11-12). When a “messenger of Satan” tormented him, he too exhibited the elements of faith (2 Cor. 12:7-9). He believed God was able to heal him. He believed that God’s power has no boundaries.

Despite God allowing him to suffer, He believed that God cared about him. He persisted until he received a final answer, which in his case was, “No.” And he believed God’s word: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul demonstrated his belief in God’s word by boasting in his weakness so that the power of Christ would dwell in him.

Now consider Jesus and the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 19-24). It was Jesus’ last week on earth. On the way from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf. He looks for figs, even though it isn’t the season for figs, finds none, and curses the tree. A little known fact explains why Jesus looked for figs when it wasn’t fig season: fig trees produce figs on their branches before they produce leaves. If a fig tree has leaves, it should have figs!

But why did Jesus’ curse the tree? John 5:19, 30; 8:28, 38 provide the answer: Jesus only did what he saw the Father do; Jesus only said what he heard the Father say. Jesus never did anything on his own initiative. That means Jesus cursed the fig tree because he knew it was God’s will for him to curse it. Twenty-four hours later the disciples find the tree withered from the roots up. Amazed, they point out the miracle, and Jesus responds,

Have faith in God.  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.

“Have faith in God” is actually short-hand for “Have faith that God can and will do His will.” When you know it is God’s will for you to say to a mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” then you can speak to the mountain with absolute confidence that it will, in God’s time and God’s way, be moved into the sea.

Here’s the point: faith is not asking God for what you want and then believing that He will do what you have asked. Faith is confidently believing that God can do anything He wants and that He will do everything He has promised.

In my next column, I’ll address praying “in Jesus’ name” and Mark 11:24.

Dr. Phil