During a curious encounter with an unfruitful fig tree, Jesus admonishes the disciples to have more faith:

““Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:22-23)

What are we supposed to do with this teaching?

For many followers of Jesus, talking about prayer can lead to feelings of guilt. A passage like this can make things worse. Why can’t I move mountains with my faith? Keep in mind that the purpose of guilt is spiritual growth. It’s a warning sign that ought to point us back to God. Our capacity for guilt shouldn’t drive us away from God! Guilt ought to result in good things!

First, this isn’t a literal statement. At no point in the 2,000-year history of the church is their a record of someone moving a mountain into the sea through their faith.

Second, we ought to consider faith and doubt. Their relationship is better seen as a scale or continuum rather than an on or off switch. We have varying levels of faith and doubt, there is an ebb and flow between the two. We see this earlier in the gospel of Mark when a man with a sick child cries out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Finally, let’s address the failure to move mountains. When our prayers do not move mountains, is it because we have doubts instead of faith in our hearts? Maybe, and maybe not.

Following Jesus calls for a lifetime of developing and deepening our faith. As time passes, our trust in God ought to grow. We often pray without enough faith, becoming easily discouraged when we ought to be more confident and hopeful in the power of God. He is faithful.

Some “unanswered” prayers are sincere—fully faithful—but lack wisdom. When we ask for the wrong things, God doesn’t give them to us. God answers the prayers that are according to his will. Some doors are opened, and some remain closed.

If God doesn’t answer our prayers, it’s typically because God wants to increase our faith or our wisdom. Both options offer avenues for spiritual growth—let’s not wallow in the guilt!

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