This post is part of a Lenten reading plan created to compliment the Lenten sermon series at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo. You can follow that reading plan here.
Today’s reading: Mark 11:20-26
Key Verse: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours" - Mark 11:24.
If I were permitted to edit the Bible (which I'm not!), this might be one of those verses I'd be tempted to cross out. It is, after all, a verse that self-serving religious leaders have used to enrich their own coffers by urging their followers to simply name and claim the richest of blessings from the Lord. They are always quick to add that a donation to their ministry wouldn't hurt the cause.
Honestly, my frustration with this verse results from a more intimate place. Who of us haven't cried out to God for something in prayer only to have that prayer go seemingly unanswered? I know I've been there. In such moments, we're left wondering if the trouble was a lack of faith on our part or a lack of hearing on God's.
It helps a little to know that even Jesus had requests that went unfulfilled. In just a few days he will pray as fervently as anyone has ever prayed, "Take this cup from me." The cup would not be taken away from Jesus till he'd drunk is suffering dry.
Why the promise, then? Why did Jesus tell us that if had even the faith of a mustard seed we'd move mountains?
Jesus' prayer in the garden helps us understand. He began that prayer not with his request, but with a name, "Abba. Father." Jesus encourages us to ask our Father in heaven for what we want because he knows that more often than not, God longs to give us the desire of our hearts. So while it's true that this verse doesn't "work" like a vending machine works - put in your coins, push the button, and out comes your heart's desire - it does work in the way any relationship works. We ask, not to manipulate those we love, but to engage them with our own hearts desire. More often than not, they will respond in love because their heart's desire is to meet our needs.
When God doesn't seem to answer our prayer, perhaps, it's because he knows that what we ask for is not what we need most of all.