Producing Salvational Fruit by Faith-Filled Prayer
By Daniel Mayfield
The Connection between Prayer and Fruitlessness
For the past two weeks, prayer has taken a central position in each message as we saw the power prayer wields to cleanse our temples of all impurities and the necessity of a life of prayer to properly grasp the Bible.
Every problem faced in the temple was due to a lack of real, connected, humble, spirit-filled, God-seeking prayer. From the vendors who came to temple for personal profit and self-glory to the Scribes and chief priests who were angered by miracles from God and who didn’t understand the application of Psalm 8, a lack of prayer was the culprit.
Now what kind of an adjective would be fitting to describe people who come to God and neither glorify him nor understand his Word? I think the most fitting adjective to describe such a people is “unfruitful.” They were an unfruitful people.
Let me briefly show you how the New Testament uses the word “unfruitful.”
In Matthew 13:22, Jesus said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” So those vendors and profiteers were blinded by riches and were therefore spiritually unfruitful.
In Titus 3:14, Paul says, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” So when Jesus performed those awesome works in the temple, and the scribes were angered by it, they proved to be unfruitful.
In 2 Peter 1:5-8, Peter says, “5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So there’s a kind of knowledge one can have that is an unfruitful knowledge—like those Scribes who knew Psalm 8:2 but didn’t know how to apply it to real life.
Now I show all of these passages about what it means to be unfruitful because I think it has a direct connection with the following set of verses.
The Curse of Fruitlessness
18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.” (Matthew 21).
Now Matthew doesn’t give any additional commentary on why Jesus did this, but I think the answer is obvious by the ordering of the events.
Jesus was hungry —> He saw a fig tree —> He walked over to the tree and looked for fruit
—> He found only leaves —> He cursed the tree and immediately it died.
What’s the conclusion? There should’ve been fruit! This is an object lesson of sorts to say to the disciples, “Look what happens when things don’t bear fruit! I curse them. And they die.”
Earlier in Matthew, John the baptist said, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
If there’s one thing we don’t want when Jesus passes by, it’s to be unfruitful! Now, a few minutes ago, we saw a direct connection between an unfruitful people and a people who weren’t praying. People who do not pray with sincere and regular prayer are people who are very, very spiritually unfruitful. And they’re the kind of people to whom Jesus will say, “No fruit will every come from you again! You had opportunity, and squandered it, so even now while you live, I’m placing a pre-hell judgment on your life.”
That kind of thing can happen. In Romans 1, Paul says that people reached a certain level of wickedness because they continuously suppressed the truth, and God eventually gave them up. And as a result they went on to do all the worst kinds of things people can do.
This is why Isaiah said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.”
So the call to action this morning is to bear fruit! Now, if a lack of prayer renders an unfruitful spiritual condition, what would naturally render a fruitful spiritual state? A life filled with prayer. And not just any kind of prayer, but the kind of prayer Jesus outlines in the following verses. I hope these three weeks of lessons have placed a heavy burden on your hearts to be prayerful! Pray constantly!
A Believing Kind of Prayer
“When the disciples saw [that the tree had withered], they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’”
Now for every good spiritual fruit, there is a poison which renders that fruit rotten. For example, the spiritual fruit of love may be poisoned by jealousy; the fruit of peace may be poisoned by mistrust; the fruit of patience may be poisoned by unfair judgments.
This passage describes two fruitful activities of the people of God and gives warnings regarding their poisonous counterparts. The first is shown after the disciples marveled at the withered tree, and Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.”
Did you see the fruit along with its poisonous counterpart? If you have faith and do not doubt. So, the poison to faith is doubt. If your prayer is void of doubt, you’ll be a powerful individual! Great, mountainous obstacles to your faith will be heaved into the seas of destruction as you, in faith, come to the mountain and say, “I’m coming through. Outta my way!”
Roots of thistles and unfruitful plants will be withered as you, in faith, say, “You’re a waste of my spirit. I’ve cultivated all sorts of energies into you, and you’ve brought me nothing of substance. Curse you!” If you have faith and do not doubt, you’ll be fruitful in that way. That’s the first pairing.
The second pairing is found in verse 22—“And whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Now the ESV doesn’t read it quite like that, but that’s the way the NASB and KJV read it, and that’s the way the Greek reads it. “Whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
That word, “believing,” is a participle; it is a description of the kind of prayer that yields answers from God. It is a believing kind of prayer; which may seem obvious—like, of course it ought to be a believing prayer! But truly there are hosts of unbelieving prayers offered before the throne of God.
So the fruitful activity is to offer up believing kinds of prayers, which means the poison to such prayers is unbelief.
Here’s what we need to understand: For every action of faith, there’s always going to be the crouching tiger of doubt just waiting to pounce and render your faith useless. And for every prayer you offer, there’s going to be the insidious poison of unbelief seeking to strip your prayer of its power.
So if we were to put these ideas together, Jesus is challenging us in this way: We will be fruitful, useful, powerful, blessed children of God if we are regularly offering believing prayers of faith, free of doubt. Let me say that again: We will be fruitful, useful, powerful, blessed children of God if we are regularly offering believing prayers of faith, free of doubt.
This knowledge is like the nut and bolt that holds together everything we’ve studied for these three weeks. The first message concerning prayer said, “The temple (which is both the church and our physical bodies) of God must be a house of prayer, or God will never get the glory, and all manners of unrighteousness will dwell there instead.” The second message said, “The Bible’s wisdom will never be understood apart from a life of constant prayer.”
But what we know now is the quality of prayer God expects when we approach his throne. If you’re looking into the temple of your body and see all sorts of self-seeking, self-glorifying sins, and you begin praying for the Lord’s help, you must be certain that it is a prayer of belief! Otherwise the prayer will never be answered, and your doubt will shoot that prayer right out of the sky before it reaches God’s ears. The nuts and bolts which hold together a life of prayer are these truths that prayer is poisoned when it doubts or is unbelieving.
Symptoms of a Doubtful, Unbelieving Prayer Life
So let’s spend the remainder of today’s message looking at some symptoms of a doubtful, unbelieving prayer life. I’m going to provide four.
(1) Your prayers are poisoned by doubt if you’re constantly powerless in spiritual pursuits.
In other words, let’s say you know the Lord’s will on a matter—like, he says to be pure. And no matter how hard you try, you just can’t conquer a particular impurity in your life. You are powerless to defeat it.
The only reason that will ever happen is when your faith has been poisoned by doubt. And I say that because, when the disciples marveled at how Jesus made the tree wither, Jesus said, “Truly! You’ll be able to do much more than this. You’ll be able to tell a mountain to get out of your way!”
There is no lack of power behind the true prayer of faith. The God who upholds the universe is an infinite power source. So if you’re powerless, it’s probably a symptom of doubt in your prayers.
(2) Your prayers are unbelieving if you are surprised by answered prayers.
Have you ever prayed for something, and then when it came to pass, you were shocked? “Boy I didn’t expect this at all!” What do you mean you didn’t expect it? You prayed for it! Well yeah, but I didn’t think God would actually do it.
I always wonder if those answered prayers were God’s answer to another person who actually prayed in faith—and we just received the fruit of it by extension. James said, “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.”
(3) Your Prayers are unbelieving if you don’t give a lick about Jesus’ advice
There are two Jesus’s often in competition in mainstream evangelicalism. One of them is the Jesus of the Bible, and the other is the Jesus of my imagination.
Both of them are said to have died on the cross, both of them are said to have forgiven sins, but one of them is real and the other is a lie of the devil—the father of all lies. The fundamental difference between the two is that one of them is savior and the other is Lord and Savior! Did you hear the difference?
There’s no such thing as a saving Jesus who doesn’t demand of you your whole life! If you say, “Jesus, I love you, and I’m so thankful you saved me from hell; but I can’t get on board with some of the stuff you said. So, I’ll live my way, and I’ll believe my way, but I’ll take your gift; and maybe one day we can really get to know each other in heaven.”
Jesus neither knows nor accepts the prayers of a person who thinks that way. They are unbelieving prayers; because Jesus said to pray, “Your will be done; Holy is your name!”
(4) Your prayers are unbelieving if you remain restless after laying your requests before God’s throne.
Have you brought your cares and concerns before God’s throne, yet walked away biting your nails in anxiety? Have you prayed about something, though laid in bed, restless and without peace?
Prayer is like a drain for our every anxiety. It should be that in prayer, with each passing statement, a boulder of burden is removed. In prayer, each passing word ought to feel like a burden-removing sigh of relief.
Let me finish this morning’s lesson by reading to you Psalm 71. Just listen along to hear the change of tone in the Psalm as it progresses. And there are many many other Psalms like this, but this is a great Psalm. It illustrates the way prayer moves us from bursting, tense, anxious, ticking time bombs to cool, collected sons of God whose spirits are resting securely in the power of God.
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! 2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! 3 Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. 5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. 6 Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
7 I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. 8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. 9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. 10 For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together 11 and say, “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”
12 O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! 13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed; with scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt. 14 But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. 15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. 16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. 18 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. 19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? 20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. 21 You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. 23 My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. 24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.
In verse 13, he says, “May my accusers be put to shame!” and in verse 24 he says, “they have been put to shame.” When you walk away from prayer, it should feel as though the requests you laid before the Lord have already been answered.
Prayer is the powerful strength of God to cleanse temples; it is the means to gain insight and to understand his Word; and it is only effective if we pray believing prayers with no doubt.
So this morning, if your prayers have been filled with doubt, begin today with this prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
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