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There are no Bible verses that have suffered more at the hands of charismatic preachers than these I’m about to share with you. There are many of them but these rank as the worst. These Bible verses are a staple among charismatic Christians—a movement I belong to and cherish.
The misinterpretation and misapplication of these Bible verses have produced three kinds of charismatic Christians.
- Those who have seen their prayers answered because they did what these verses told them to do. They have tremendous stories of things that have happened in their lives. They applied the principles taught in these verses and voila, everything changed for them.
- And then there are those who prayed and prayed some more, and nothing happened. The ones who eventually left the charismatic movement, disillusioned by having no results in their lives.
- And there are those who still pray, pray and pray some more, hoping their persistence will pay off. They are desperate. They will hang in there until God blesses them. Like Jacob, they will not let go until God blesses them. They are still at it, even to this day.
The misery and carnage left behind by these verses are of untold proportions.
Let’s follow the story. Shall we?
Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14, 20-24
Jesus is in the city of Bethany. He is hungry. He sees a fig tree. The fig tree was a common fruit-bearing tree in Israel. He walks up to the tree and finds no fruit on it but only leaves. It wasn’t yet the season for fruits. He curses the tree. Unfair, right? Why curse the tree when it wasn’t due? Matthew writes, immediately the fig tree withered away. Mark writes, the disciples only saw the withered fig tree in the morning. Peter remembers what Jesus had said prior and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered away.”
And then Jesus says to them,
Mark 11:22 (BBE)
And Jesus, answering, said to them, Have God’s faith.
This translation translates in real-time what Jesus said. Notice, have God’s faith?
This is where it gets tricky. The charismatic preacher says, “God has a faith that speaks to impossible situations and changes them. He then uses Genesis 1:2 as a proof text. And God said, Let there be… The preacher then challenges us, the audience, to speak to our challenges, our troubles, our enemies, our mountains, to be removed and thrown into the sea. An impossible, God-like feat, indeed. And so we speak. Voices rise, fists are clenched, and bodies gyrate. After a few minutes, in typical Nigerian fashion, the preacher shouts, IN JESUS MIGHTY NAME WE PRAY. The crowd roars back, AAAMEN.
But then Jesus throws in a curveball, as he usually does.
Mark 11:23 (NLT)
I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, “May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.
Have no doubt? Yes, have no doubt in your heart. The Greek word for doubt is diakrino, which means to be at variance with oneself, hesitate, doubt. The qualifier here is, HAVE NO DOUBT. This is not grace but law.
Grace—here’s the reward because I (Jesus) have done something. Law—here’s the reward but you have to do something. You have to have no doubt. You have to be single-minded. You cannot waver. You cannot be of two minds. You cannot even hesitate.
Question is, what human being on the face of the earth has never doubted, never been of two minds, never hesitated? Who in this world does not doubt? The catholic pope, mother Theresa, my very spiritual mother, Jenny, me, you, who?
The answer is obvious. No one! C’mon. Don’t you see this is an impossibility? If I was a disciple, I’d go like, “Dude, you baited and switched on us. You gave us the promise—the mountain will be cast into the sea and then you gave us law—have no doubt.” I’d be furious and confused.
We all doubt. Human beings doubt. It is inherent in us. It is our default mode because we are sinful. Sin is the seed in us, and, doubt, the harvest. So when charismatic preachers challenge us to use these verses, they give us an impossible task. They put us under the law, and the law either makes us proud or shames us. For those who see answers to their prayers based on these verses, spiritual pride is the result. For those who see the reverse, shame, guilt, and condemnation are theirs.
And then Jesus continues,
Mark 11:24 (Wuest – The New Testament: An Expanded Translation)
On this account I am saying to you, All things whatever you are praying and asking for, be believing that you received them, and they shall be yours.
Again, this translation translates in real-time the tense Jesus used. Notice the present tense?
Again, Jesus gives them the law. Do and continue doing and only then will your prayers be answered. C’mon man. Oh, so now it not just speaking to my mountain, it’s having no doubt, in addition, I have to keep on praying, asking, believing and receiving and only then will I have those things? And so millions of us attempt to do what Jesus said we should do if we want to see great results in our lives.
Do you see the impossible heavy work levied on us? No wonder charismatic Christians are an anxious, aggressive, frowny, tired, and joyless bunch. All we do is P.U.S.H (PRAY UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENS)
What was Jesus doing here?
Theologians and Bible commentators have read this verse and told us Jesus cursed the nation of Israel. They are the fig tree that didn’t produce any fruit. They were God’s chosen people who had all the promises and covenants, yet, produced no fruit. That was the lesson to the disciples. This is consistent with the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant. If you didn’t do what God commanded you to do, God cursed you. And the reverse was true. (Deuteronomy 28)
But there’s also a lens through which we can look at these verses. It’s the gospel lens—the good news of who Jesus is and what he did for us.
Jesus is the only person on the face of the earth who had the faith of God and could speak to any difficult situation. Jesus prayed, asked, believed and received everything he prayed for. Why? He had no doubt. He was never double-minded. He was God and the perfect man at the same time. He had no doubt in him because he had no sin in him. All human beings sin, therefore, doubt. He had none of that.
Is this good news? Not at all. Why? Jesus becomes a perfect but unattainable example. Whoever tries to follow his example will fall flat on their face. No one can compare to him.
So, in front of the disciples stood the only man who ever lived who could do what he just prescribed.
Here’s the good news though. Here’s grace. Here’s the gospel.
Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, Jesus who has the faith of God, has no doubt, and always prays, asks, believes and receives, speaks on your behalf to every mountain you face. He does it for you. He prays, asks, believes, and receives for you, on your behalf. Wow, this is good news. He has no doubt. He will never doubt. He is perfect.
You don’t have to do the heavy lifting, Jesus does it for you. When you pray, you are like the spotting partner at the gym, slightly lifting the bar while Jesus lifts the weights for you. That’s what prayer really is. It’s joining Jesus in his performance for you. In this way, prayer becomes a joyful endeavor rather than a dutiful joyless action.
Do you know what this does to all of us? This kicks off the pressure on us to perform. The pressure to do. The pressure to say something to our mountains, and the pride, shame, guilt and condemnation that comes because we spoke and it worked (yay) or, we failed miserably because we had doubt (boo).
This truth changed my life. It changed my approach to prayer and praying. I no longer grit my teeth in prayer and no longer feel the pressure to pray and pray until something happens.
Imagine if you believed this truth, this grace truth, what would happen to your life? This truth would make you less frowny, joyful, free, and light on your feet. Why? The answers to your prayers, or, lack thereof doesn’t depend on your praying, asking, believing and receiving but on Jesus’ praying, asking, believing and receiving. for you. It’s all Jesus.
That’s what grace looks like.