When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." (Matt. 21:21-22)
What was done to the fig tree?This statement follows the event observed by Jesus’ disciples, where he approached a fig tree and it had no figs, and he condemned the fig tree, saying:
“May you never bear fruit again.” (Matthew 21:19)The tree withered immediately, and Jesus’ disciples were amazed at how fast the tree withered - prompting Jesus to say the above.
Does this mean we should ask God for anything we want?The big point of Jesus’ statement, of course, is faith. “If you believe….” Many people and even some teachers among sectarian organizations interpret this to mean that we can become rich and powerful by asking God to get us whatever we want. All we have to do is believe, and then ask for stuff, and we will then have all the power, money, and fame we want, and we’ll be happy. Right?
Actually, faith and belief in the omniscience of God is the opposite of considering God our servant - that we can just ask God to give us whatever we want, and as long as we believe He will do it, He'll go get it done for us.
Such a mentality is putting ourselves as omniscient. It is the belief that everything revolves around us, and God is subservient to us.
The situation is precisely the opposite. Everything revolves around God, and we are God's (now rebellious) servants.
What is belief in God?To “believe” in God is to recognize God’s position as the Owner of everything and as the Supreme Enjoyer of everything. It is recognizing God as our Creator, and Protector. Having “faith” is trusting that everything that happens, happens by the sanction of God. "Faith" is also nondifferent from 'trust.' In other words, "faith" is trusting in God
Jesus' last sentence confirms this. Jesus says we will receive what we ask in prayer. The word “prayer” is associated with observing God’s omniscience and our reliance upon Him. Prayer is performed with humility and praise. Prayer is not an order. An order is given to an inferior party. A prayer is given to a superior person by an inferior person.
Furthermore, prayer also means that just because we ask something of God doesn't mean that He has to do that which we ask. It is God who chooses. Not us. Prayer is not an assumption. It is a submission.
If we are actually praying to God, we will not be asking Him to do something for our own enjoyment. Prayer is not asking God to make sure our football team wins. Prayer is not asking that we get some money to buy a fancy car. That is not a prayer: it might be craftily worded to sound like a prayer, but it is an order nevertheless.
A real prayer might ask God to help us come to know Him and love Him. A real prayer to God might ask Him to give us the means to please Him and do His will. A real prayer might ask God to help another person we feel for. But these prayer requests are never made with the assumption that God is our servant and He has to do what we ask of Him.
This is why Jesus says, "If you believe..." first. Believing in God means trusting that God has complete control, and whatever He does, He does for everyone's benefit because God loves every one of us. In other words, believing in God isn't simply understanding that God exists: It is trusting that God is our Best Friend and our Benefactor. It is trusting that God cares for us and truly loves us. That is the belief that Jesus is asking of us. It is trust, and trust is a facet of love.
In other words, faith means to take refuge in God.
Does God answer all prayers?Yes, but not always in the ways we want.
The reason God will often comply with a special prayer from one of His humble servants is that there is a loving relationship there. If they are truly trusting in God and taking shelter in God, they will not be asking God for frivolous things.
Such a person will not be taking prayer requests with a strategy to collect donations either. They will not be seeing God as his or her servant. In this mood, however, a person may request something to help another person. God, in His own time and in His own way, may comply with that request on behalf of His humble servant. This is based upon a loving service relationship, and Jesus is encouraging his students to develop this sort of relationship with God.
Jesus is also showing his disciples that the power to perform miracles was not coming from Jesus. They were coming from God, at Jesus' prayerful request. But we can see too, that Jesus was asking God to do things that were not meant to benefit Jesus: They were things that benefited others and brought others closer to God. Even with the fig tree, we see that Jesus utilized this as a teaching moment to praise God and teach others to depend on (trust) God.
The trap here is that if someone is thinking that they are going to test this statement by Jesus and ask that a mountain be thrown into the sea, this would not comply with Jesus' instruction. Jesus says that "if you have faith and do not doubt." So if one is praying for something as a test, they are already doubting. They already don't have faith.
If they have any doubt, there is no relationship. Therefore, a person who trusts God and has no doubts in His abilities will not be asking God to throw a mountain into the sea just to see if it will happen. Furthermore, they will not be asking for frivolous things or things for their own enjoyment. Why?
Because this consciousness of having faith in God and trusting in God is inseparable from the consciousness of being God's servant.