Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
Years ago I read an informative and helpful little book entitled, I Know It When I See It! It dealt with the fact that some things are hard to define, but easy enough to recognize. For instance, it may be hard to say what makes a great paint job on a car, but it can usually be spotted easily. It is just as true that the converse of this principle is true – It is sometimes easy to see when a particular quality or trait is missing. Take the same idea of looking at a paint job; I may not know whether it is great or not, but if it is splotchy and the color is inconsistent and dull, I can know that I am not looking at a great paint job. In this case, I can know it when I don’t see it!
The same is true with biblical interpretation. Sometimes it may be hard to know when one has THE right interpretation of a passage, but it is easy to see when one doesn’t have it! Today’s message will deal with a passage which has been wrested for centuries. As an interpreter, I do not have to know what a passage means to know what it does not mean. And in the case of the text we will consider today, that is my specific point. Consider with me the following text: “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11.23-26).
On the surface this passage seems to be saying that as a believer I have God’s assurance that He will give me whatever I ask – NO EXCEPTIONS. In fact, it is common to hear ministers and preachers use this passage (and other similar ones) to state this concept. However, such a surface explanation is just that - a surface explanation. I may not know what the passage teaches, but I know what it does not teach. For instance, I know it does not teach that I can ask God to forgive my sins and expect to have them forgiven unless I meet certain conditions. I can ask a thousand times for God to forgive me, but until I have met His conditions, He assures me I WILL NOT RECEIVE forgiveness. Note the words that follow the apparent “blank check” to the believer. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” This is a clear statement that God will not grant this particular wish unless I meet the conditions required to receive the gift. Again, I don’t have to know that the passage means to know what it doesn’t mean.
What does the passage mean? Allow me to suggest a possible interpretation. The phrase which immediately precedes today’s focus text is, “Have faith in God.” (Mark 11.22). To have faith in God is to trust Him to do what He says about Himself, His character, and His actions. To have faith in God concerning anything, God must reveal Himself – otherwise it is just a baseless wish. I might wish God would give me a million dollars, but I CANNOT have faith that He will. I can’t have that faith because He has not revealed it. If God ever said or implied that He would give me such a sum of money, I could certainly have such faith. But, He didn’t and therefore it is impossible for me to have faith it will occur.
We could paraphrase today’s twisted text by saying, “You can be assured [have faith] that God will do what He says as long as you hold up your end of the bargain!” In that context, this assurance holds: “Whatever things you ask” in prayer, you will receive!
1. Are there conditions to a believer having his/her prayers answered? If yes, list some.
2. Are there things that God will not do even if a believer prays for them? If yes, list some.
3. Can I have biblical faith in a thing which God has not revealed? If yes, how does it qualify as “biblical” faith? Why is it not a baseless wish on my part?
4. Does God ever alter His actions based on our actions? If no, what possible explanation can be given as to the need to pray? If God’s actions do not, in some cases, depend on our actions, what did Jesus mean when He said we are to forgive THAT God can forgive?
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