Bookends on the Shelf of Answered Prayer

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I was recently considering that great “answered prayer text,” Mark 11:24, when I noticed something odd about the context. Here it is:

“And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:22-26).

Jesus had cursed the fig tree, and it had withered. The disciples are astonished by this, and Jesus tells them the import of the curse. He says to “have faith in God” (v. 22), and that if any of them say to “this mountain” to be cast in the sea, it will be (v. 23). What mountain? This mountain, the one they were standing on — where Jerusalem was. The fig tree was an emblem of Israel, and Jesus had cursed it. The mountain they were standing on was another emblem of Jerusalem, and if they pronounced judgment on it in faith, that judgment would certainly fall.

Then Jesus gives a more general promise. Whatever you want, pray for it, believing that you have it already (v. 24), and you will have your request.


But then we come to the other bookend for this shelf of answered prayers. When you stand praying, forgive. If you have anything against anybody, forgive them. If you forgive others, your Father in Heaven will forgive you your trespasses (v. 25). If you refuse to forgive, then you will not be forgiven yourself (v. 26). And by implication, the unforgiven do not have their other prayers answered either. But even if they were answered, what would it matter if the peripheral prayers were answered and the central request for forgiveness was refused? That would be like having your prayer answered “to make it to the airport on time for your flight” and your prayer for a flight that “didn’t crash” denied.

So here is the oddity. Before we shoot the moon in our prayers (v. 24), we want to make sure we are aligned with two fundamental realities in this world, and that we are aligned with them in our prayers. The first is the fact that God is a righteous Judge. He intervenes in the affairs of men. If we are not praying the prayers of imprecation found in Scripture, we are not really praying to the God of the Bible. And if we are not praying in a spirit of complete and total forgiveness for personal slights, wrongs, and offenses, then we are not praying to Him either. But what if we find those bookends inconsistent? We think, in our pretended wisdom, that they are an unmatched set. This would be a good time to remind ourselves that God knows more about answered prayer than we do.

Fix those two bookends right where they go, and then put your prayer diary on the shelf between them. Ask whatever you want, believing you have received it, and you will have received it already.

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