Whenever the subject of faith and healing is brought up people often point to the words of Jesus in Mark 11:22-24.
“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” (Mark 11:22-24).
The first thing to keep in mind is that moving or casting a mountain into the sea was proverbial in those days for the miraculous. After all, why would any Christian want to make a mountain fall into the sea? The point of our Lord is to highlight the fact that otherwise humanly impossible things, things that require supernatural and miraculous power, can occur when prayer is filled with faith.
The instantaneous and miraculous destruction of the fig tree (see Mark 11:12-14) serves as an object lesson to the disciples of what can be achieved by faith in God’s power. It is as if Jesus says to Peter: “Pete, your comment tells me that you are amazed by the sudden and supernatural withering of the fig tree. But if you have faith in God, all things are possible through prayer.”
Several things must be considered if we are to make sense of what Jesus says.
First, we must recognize that the “belief” or “faith” here is not a case of a Christian forcing himself to believe what he does not really believe. It is not a wrenching of one’s brain, a coercing of one’s will, a contorting of one’s expectations to embrace as real and true something that one’s heartfelt conviction says otherwise. Jesus is not telling us that when doubts start to creep in you should put your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and say to those doubts, over and over again: “Lalalalala, I can’t hear you. Lalalalala I can’t hear you!” That’s not faith. That’s “make believe.” That’s spiritual pretending.
Second, on the other hand, we are responsible to take steps that will facilitate the deepening of faith in our hearts. We can do things, by God’s grace, that will expand our confidence in God’s goodness and his greatness and help diminish if not drive out our doubts. As I read and study and meditate on the character of God, my confidence in what he can do increases. As I reflect and ponder the grace and kindness of God, my confidence in his goodness grows and intensifies.
Third, clearly there are other factors that have to be taken into consideration when we ask God for things in prayer. Faith is not the sole condition for answered prayer. We have to ask him with the right motives (cf. James 4:1ff.). As for the men reading this article, we have to be treating our wives with gentleness and kindness and understanding (1 Pt. 3:7). We have to clean the slate, so to speak, in our relationships with others. This is why Jesus continued in his explanation of faith and prayer by saying in Mark 11:25,
“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” (Mark 11:25).
His point is that if you harbor unforgiveness in your heart toward others, it isn’t likely that God will answer your prayer, no matter how much alleged faith you think you have (see Matt. 6:14-15). And we have to ask in accordance with God’s will. It doesn’t matter if I am somehow able to banish all doubt from my mind and convince myself that I’ve already received what I asked for, if what I’m asking isn’t consistent with the will and character of God, the answer will be No.
No amount of faith will force God’s hand to do something that is contrary to our welfare. It doesn’t matter how persuaded you are or how much faith you have, you simply don’t want God to answer every prayer you pray! Look with the benefit of hindsight on some of the things you once believed you needed and were convinced that God would give you. Yikes! Thank you, Lord, for saying No to many of these prayers. It would have been devastating had you said Yes. Finally, sometimes God says No to prayers that are offered up in faith because he has something even better in store for us that he plans on giving at a more appropriate and suitable time.
My point is simply that it is irresponsible and insensitive to suggest, on the basis of this passage, that if someone doesn’t receive from God what they asked for it is because they are at fault in failing to have enough faith. The absence of faith may well be a factor, but it is not the only factor. There are other things that may more readily account for unanswered prayer.
Finally, the only way anyone can fulfill the condition set forth by Jesus is if God himself chooses to impart to us the faith he requires. Faith, ultimately, is a gift from God. When God wants to bless us with a miraculous answer to our prayer, he will take the initiative to cultivate and build into our hearts the fulfillment of the condition he requires. Therefore, each time as we pray, each time as we seek God for what only God can do, let us begin by asking God for an extraordinary, powerful faith. Let us ask God that he work in us to produce and sustain the confidence that he is pleased to bless.
Sam Storms is an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 42 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University.
In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam was also recently elected to be Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Society.
This article was originally published at samstorms.com