“Put your trust in God. Because truly I tell you, whoever of you says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted and thrown into the sea’ and has no doubt within his heart – but trusts what He says – it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever things you pray and ask for, trust that you will receive and they will be granted to you. And when you persist to pray, be forgiving of anything done against you, so that your Creator who is in the spiritual realm will also forgive you for your own offenses.” (Mark 11:22-25)Many have excerpted portions of this statement by Jesus and co-opted them for their own purposes. This statement has therefore been the subject of misinterpretation as a result.
God is not our Genie
The supposition by some about this statement is that Jesus is telling his students that we can get whatever we ask God for. As if God is some sort of Genie in a bottle and all we have to do is rub the bottle and we will get whatever we ask for.
As if God is some sort of servant, just waiting to fulfill our wishes. And as long as we believe that we will get what we will ask for, we will get it.
As if God is just waiting around for us to ask for something - and then He goes and fetches it.
Of course, this is a twisted theology - it is not even a theology. It is not even seeing God as God. It is seeing ourselves as God and God as our servant.
This philosophy is basically seeing ourselves as the center of the universe. That everything revolves around me and the only purpose of Jesus and God is to supply me with whatever stuff I ask for.
The result of this philosophy is seen throughout the sectarian institutions that suppose they represent Jesus:
- They teach people to pray to get wealthy.
- They teach people to pray to become successful in their career.
- They teach people to pray for good health.
- They teach people to pray to help their football team win.
- They teach people to pray to become popular or famous.
The 'belief card'
Those who teach this philosophy try to convince us that we will get whatever we pray for - as long as we truly believe that we will receive it.
They say that the whole point of Jesus' statement is that the only reason we aren't getting what we want in life is that we have some doubt that we will receive what we ask for.
They will tell us that after we prayed for wealth, or health, or material success or to win that football game and it didn't happen - we didn't receive it all because we had some doubts that we would receive it.
So they preach: We should ask God for whatever we want in life - and have no doubts so we will receive everything.
The end product is the same: God's purpose is to fulfill our desires. And our purpose is to get what we desire.
This is what landed us here in the first place
Such a philosophy is what landed us in the physical world - away from God - in the first place. We are here in the physical world because we became self-centered. We became absorbed with making "me" happy.
Such self-absorption is our disease. It is the disease of the physical world. Just look around. Have you ever wondered what's wrong with this world? Why there is so much fighting? Why there is so much greed? Why there is so much bullying going on? Why there are wars? Why some people are starving while others have so much food they are throwing it away? Have you ever wondered why some countries imprison those who stand up politically?
Have you ever wondered why there is so much injustice in the world?
The answer is self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is at the root of all crime, all war, all injustice.
Self-centeredness rules this world because this is the world of the self-centered.
This is the world where those who are self-centered are allowed to play out our self-centered desires. It is the place where we are allowed to take on a particular role and position, and use that role and position to try to gather up as much power and authority as we can in one lifetime.
Self-centeredness even motivates some to twist the scriptures to accommodate desires.
What did Jesus want his students to pray for?
Jesus was definitely using the analogy of the mountain being thrown down as a metaphor. So what did he want his students to pray for if not for self-centered things? We can see what Jesus suggested they pray for from his "Lord's Prayer" from the Gospels of Jesus:
"Therefore, you can pray in this way: 'Our spiritual LORD, Holy is Your Name. Show us Your sanctuary. May Your will be done on earth as it is in the spiritual realm. Give us today the food that sustains life. Please forgive our offenses, as we forgive those who offend us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from wickedness.'" (Matt. 6:9-13)Notice the primary elements of this prayer are to glorify God ("Holy is Your Name"), to ask Him if we can take shelter in Him ("show us Your sanctuary"), and more importantly, ask if we can please God with our lives:
"May Your will be done on earth as it is in the spiritual realm."Notice also that taking shelter in God is also the meaning of Jesus' statement in Mark 11:22 above:
"Put your trust in God."As for "the food that sustains life" in the Lord's Prayer: This "food" was discussed metaphorically by Jesus many times. It is the food of the soul - the food of love for God:
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, saying, “Rabbi, please eat.” But he told them, “I have food to eat that you do not know.” Thus his disciples were saying amongst themselves, “No one brought him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do what pleases Him who sent me and to complete His work." (John 4:31-34)
Seeking a change of heart
Unfortunately, many sectarian teachers have been misrepresenting Jesus' teachings. Jesus' message isn't that we are the center of the universe and God's purpose is to fulfill all our desires.
Jesus' message is that God is the center of the universe, and our purpose is to love Him and become His loving servant. This was communicated clearly by Jesus:
“Abba – LORD, everything is possible for You – please let this cup be taken from me – yet not what pleases me but what pleases You.” (Mark 14:36)Jesus' prayer here clearly communicates that he doesn't want his life to be about himself. Jesus wants his life to be about pleasing God and glorifying God.
This is also what Jesus was recommending to his students. We should definitely have faith that God will be there for us, and will answer their prayers.
But Jesus wasn't suggesting we pray for material things or self-centered things. He was suggesting we ask God to guide us. He was suggesting that we turn to God and trust in Him to help us have a change of heart. He is suggesting that we ask God to help us learn to love Him and serve Him.
Then - as long as trust in God - He will be there for us - and truly guide us and bring us spiritual growth. He will allow us to come to know Him more and more and allow us to come to love Him and all His children.
Still, it isn't as though all we have to do is ask, and believe we will get it. We have to do the work. We have to be prepared to change our heart from being self-centered to being God-centered.
This is communicated clearly at the end of Jesus' statement. Asking for God's forgiveness is the initial step of someone who wants to change their heart from being self-centered to being God-centered.
The practical change
Consider this practically. Let's say that a schoolyard bully has gone around the school calling people names and beating people up. Then one day he walks around asking people to forgive him for his being a bully and hurting them in some way. What is this? This is the first sign that the bully wants to change his ways, right? By asking for forgiveness, he is effectively telling them that he wants to stop being a bully.
In the same way, by asking God to forgive our offenses, we are taking the first step at turning our lives around. We are communicating to Him that we do care about Him and want to change our ways. We want to care about Him more than we care about ourselves.
Jesus takes this further by communicating that God's forgiveness will come lock-and-step with our forgiving others for how they may have offended us. It is only with such a change of heart that we become purified.
Just think about what this takes - the consciousness to forgive others even if they aren't asking for our forgiveness. Such a consciousness requires compassion. It requires understanding. It requires some love for others.
This is what Jesus is wanting his students to seek. He wants them to seek a change of heart - a change of consciousness from feeling that we are the center of the universe. A change of consciousness to seeing that we are not the center - that God is the center - and we are His subjects. We are His loving servants.
This is the consciousness of the spiritual realm. And this was Jesus' consciousness, as he confirmed when he spoke of his own motives:
“By myself I can do nothing; As I hear, I make choices, and my choices are just because I do not seek to please myself but to please Him who sent me." (John 5:30)