The verse included in today’s service as the verse of the day, Mark 11:24, is one of the most striking promises of answered prayer in the whole Bible: “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.” It is hard to know what to do with such verses, when we have all experienced unanswered prayer. If we do not receive what we ask for, does it mean our faith was not strong enough?
First of all we should trust Jesus’ promise here that his Father is both mighty and loving. He is able and willing to answer our prayers. We ought to ask boldly, trusting in his goodness and his power. Remember that, along with disappointments, we have also experienced stunning answers to prayer.
Second, we ought to ask with the right heart. When Jesus says, “believe that you have received it”, I don’t think he means that our prayers will be answered if, through an amazing feat of mind over matter, we’ve been able to sustain the mental state of believing that the mountain really will go into the sea! He means that the prayer should proceed from a deep trust in God. It should come from reflection on God’s will and the belief that this is the sort of thing God wants to give (cf. James 4:3). Moreover, we should be bringing our lives into line with what we are asking for (so in the next verse Jesus reminds us that if we ask for forgiveness, we should forgive others).
If our prayers remain unanswered, remember this happened to Jesus himself (Mark 14:36). However, perhaps there remains some unseen or future way in which God will bring those prayers into his perfect plan. He is, after all, able to do more than we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).