The Fruit that Prayer Produces
Appearances can be deceiving. Surprisingly this was true even for the Son of Man in springtime. In Mark 11:20-25 we find what seems to be a strange lesson from a fig tree during Holy Week. Just two days prior to this scene, while Jesus and His disciples were on their way to the temple, they spotted a blooming fig tree in the distance. The expectation to find fruit was met with the disappointing reality that Jesus “found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13). What commenced was a curse that seems confusing until one looks deeper. Jesus was using His divine power to bring death, not life. Now, two days later, the pronounced curse resulted in the fig tree being withered away to its roots. In other words, the external reality of the tree now matched its destitute internal reality.
A New Season for New Fruit
The cursing of the fig tree is actually a two-part teaching that bookends the temple scene and reveals that Jesus was not only cleansing the temple but also condemning it. The purpose of the temple had gone far off track as the place for all to come and meet with God, and Jesus’ actions convey that the temple was soon to be rendered obsolete. To be clear, Jesus was not condemning commercialized religion occurring within the temple courts, just as He was not impulsively cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season. The current system for how people related to God would not be restored, but rather replaced. And since the leaders of the temple had deserted its purpose of being a “house of prayer for the nations,” Jesus uses this dramatic enacted parable to further teach His disciples about the fruit that prayer produces.
In response to Peter’s alarming observation about the withered fig tree, which very likely was symbolic of fruitless Israel, Jesus makes three key statements that reveal the fruit of a person who has cultivated the roots of a praying life.
Prayer Produces Bold Faith
Jesus first responds to Peter’s astonishment with the exclamation, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you…(Mark 11:22-23).” If a withering fig tree brought amazement, just imagine what the destruction of the temple would be like! Jesus uses exaggeration here to make a point that Mark has been seeking to reveal throughout his whole gospel: Jesus continually calls people into a bold, risky commitment of faith. In prayer, one lays hold of the object of our faith, God Himself. And with God, nothing is impossible. In referring to “this mountain,” Jesus is likely speaking of the temple mount that will soon be overthrown and destroyed, like the fig tree—He is not making some allegorical comment about the personal mountains we face via the trials of life. Rather, the one who exercises a bold faith in prayer can confidently proclaim that the current order of chaos, injustice, and wickedness will soon be replaced with God’s new kingdom order of peace, justice, and righteousness. While the finality of these things will not be fully realized until Jesus returns, prayer produces the kind of faith that can make the things of heaven a tangible reality here on earth.
Prayer produces the kind of faith that can make the things of heaven a tangible reality here on earth.
Prayer Produces Radical Requests
Jesus now proclaims a striking promise: “Therefore I tell you…(Mark 11:24).” The result of bold faith is making radical requests. But the “whatever you ask in prayer” is not founded upon one’s own selfish whims—rather, it is rooted in reverence. It’s not a blanket statement to ask for whatever one wants, but a powerful invitation to ask boldly according to God’s will and kingdom purposes. It is important to remember that Jesus is not speaking this word on prayer to an individual but to the plurality of His disciples. The emphasis here is primarily on communal praying and believing God to answer requests made within the context of united agreement. The tone of Jesus’ words conveys a sense of how our prayers seem to immediately move God into action. The astounding reality is that when we ask in faith according to God’s will, our asking and receiving become one.
The astounding reality is that when we ask in faith according to God’s will, our asking and receiving become one.
Prayer Produces a Forgiving Heart
This last statement demonstrates a core kingdom value. Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, forgive…(Mark 11:25).” An unforgiving Christian is an oxymoron. As it has been said, forgiven people forgive people. The authenticity of our vertical relationship with God is demonstrated by our horizontal relationship with others. One can have the appearance of spiritual maturity, like the fig tree had the appearance of fruitfulness, but getting close up will show the true substance of one’s character. Prayer patterned after Jesus will express the Father’s heart for others, even our enemies. For just days after this teaching, Jesus would hang on a cross and pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The authenticity of our vertical relationship with God is demonstrated by our horizontal relationship with others.
And so if we have anything against anyone, then let us humbly obey this directive by extending the same forgiveness to others that we ourselves have graciously received. And may our lives of prayer produce the kind of fruit that Jesus desires from us.
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