When was the last time you prayed for something big? For the salvation of a lost loved one, or a much-needed change in your community? For victory over a besetting sin? For the salvation of an entire people group? For help in memorizing large chunks of God’s Word?
Jesus Himself authorized “big” prayers. Let’s take a look in the Gospel of Mark:
“As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “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. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 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.”–Mark 11:20-25
Jesus has just kicked out the greedy businessmen in the temple, turning over tables and getting on the bad side of those who have gotten on God’s bad side. He’s made it clear that the temple of God was to be a house of prayer. Many commentators say the fig tree that withers represents the temple, which has “withered,” fallen away, from its intended purpose. So now, where do the disciples go to pray? How do they pray?
Jesus instructs them to pray to God by themselves or in a community of believers. One of the wonderful things Christ does for us in His death and resurrection is clears the way for us to have access to God through Him; that is, if we go to God trusting in the person and work of God the Son which cleanses us from the sin that keeps us from God, we can have fellowship with God without needing to go to a temple to worship because Christ has sent the Spirit into our hearts (Eph. 1:13). The veil is torn, and mankind can now go to God without the help of an earthly priest or temple.
Because of this, Jesus says we could literally pray to toss a mountain into a sea. We now have the Son of God interceding on our behalf and God the Spirit dwelling in our hearts. We have access to the power of God, which could toss Mt. Everest like a beach ball.
Now, should we actually pray for that? Probably not, as Jesus makes it clear in the Lord’s Prayer and also in 1 John 5:14 that believers are to pray “according to God’s will,” and for God’s will to be done on Earth and in our lives. In my few short years of following Jesus and studying Scripture, I don’t see anything showing that God’s will is to toss a mountain into a sea just for sake of it.
But the point is that we ought not be afraid to go to God with big prayers, with world-changing, eternity-shaping prayers that would make tamer people question our sanity! We ought to pray that God save lost people, that God be glorified in our lives as we overcome sin, that God bring reconciliation between families and friends and churches and communities, that God work through His church to change the world.
Jesus says we ought not doubt, because if we pray in this way, it will be done for us! If you pray for the salvation of lost people, God will save lost people! If you pray for help in overcoming sin, you will overcome sin! If you pray for God’s work to be done in the world, you get to see God at work and join Him in it!
Now, a couple of caveats. While all of this is true, we must understand it rightly to avoid making God a genie or having false views of who God is.
- We pray according to God’s will. It’s worth repeating: God is not the genie from Aladdin; He is not your fairy-godmother, and He does not exist simply to grant your wishes and make you happy. He exists to glorify Himself and by His grace He created us so as to allow us to find joy in worshiping Him and find ultimate purpose in glorifying Him. Prayer is one tool we have to enjoy God and glorify Him. We shouldn’t expect God to answer prayers that would rob Him of glory and cause us to sin.
- We are to forgive others (verse 25). If we are praying for God’s will to be done, for God to do big, God-glorifying things in our life through prayer, obedience is expected. After all, part of God’s will is that we forgive others. If we have forgiveness in Christ, we are to forgive others. So, if you pray for God to be faithful, seek to be faithful in your own life.
But what if God doesn’t answer the way I wanted Him to? What if I don’t understand? Has he failed to answer?
While God has promised to answer prayers according to His will, He has not promised we will understand, or even like, the way He answers. Remember, we pray, not to glorify ourselves or accomplish our will, but to glorify God and do His will. If we pray according to God’s will, it follows God will answer according to His will.
We may not understand His answers, but God is faithful. And we can trust Him. So pray big prayers. Change the world through prayer. Join God in His work through prayer.
Lord, may we pray big prayers. May we trust your faithfulness, even and especially when we don’t understand your answers. May we seek to advance your kingdom and your will on Earth through prayer. May we always pray in a way that glorifies you.