Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22, NET)
We are very much prone to make excuses for prayer not being answered, and call them “the biblical conditions,” when in reality it was faith that we lacked. Too often Christians pray limply and lethargically and then tack on to the end the phrase “if it be Thy will,” and that type of praying does not measure up to the standard taught here by Christ in this passage.
Faith is always in harmony with the revealed will of the Father. Faith must always rest upon a command and an expressed will of God. Faith is not wishful thinking, nor a positive mindset, nor basic human optimism. Ellicott’s Commentary reads:
Here again there is the implied condition (as in Matthew 7:7) that what is asked is in harmony with the laws and will of God. If it were not so it would not be asked in faith, and every true prayer involves the submission of what it asks to the divine judgment.*
True faith embraces the will of God positively, desiring it to be accomplished. Faith also is characterized by submission to His will and love for His will to be done. Faith must put aside all selfish pursuits as well as all apathy and lethargy toward God’s will.
Christian Faith is not the same as Buddhist detachment: Buddhist teaching of detachment or non-attachment seeks to free oneself from one’s own thoughts, so as not to be harmed by them. This often seems to the Christian to be similar to the Christian teachings of surrender to the will of God. Though both religions share some language there is a significant difference. Buddhism seeks to find a place where the individual is not harmed by anxious and worrisome thoughts, or conflicting thoughts. Christianity, however, seeks to simply surrender to the will of God, and find its unity in serving Him and following His Son Christ. The Christian process of fulfillment in life is one of surrender and worship of Christ, being drawn to the glorious revelation of the living Lord. It is a personal relationship through faith with a living Lord.
Faith always embraces a future hope. Faith for the Christian is not merely in the death and resurrection of Christ, not merely in the philosophical or metaphysical truths of the faith, it is also and especially invested in the future hope of Christ. So for the Christian we are always seeking to move mountains so that the world can see the face of Christ.
This passage and phraseology holds an allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy:
Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley. The splendor of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time, for the Lord has decreed it. (Isaiah 40:4-5)
Miracles are performed by the power of God for the will of God and for the benefit of His plan. Faith must surrender to the eternal purpose and plan of God. We are to love the thought of people hearing about Christ and believing in Him, we must love the idea of the growth of the church, we must love the idea of the return of Christ and His eternal kingdom.
Faith embraces the eternal kingdom of God, and see the benefit of it. So how is your faith? When you can find your requests exist in the will and purpose of God, when you love the doing of His will, when you love Him, then you will find new power in your prayers.
* E. H. Plumptre, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol VI (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1959, from the original 1878), p. 131.