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Believe You Receive

A overview of believing what you say in prayer and expecting to receive from God

By William R. Cunningham (August 8, 1999)

 

Introduction

Pursuing the Truth Ministries is very much concerned about Christians knowing the truth in God’s word. We believe in an educated Christian and that education by the study of the Bible. We do understand that not everyone is excited about Bible study to the extent that they begin to make significant investments in Bible study tools. However, we do believe that all Christians should know the fundamentals of the Christian faith. All Christians should know what God said regarding primary teachings in the church community. We also believe that all Christians should validate teachings that are received from the pulpit, or any other platform for preaching.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not validate the teachings that they hear. Many Christians are content to go to church on Sunday, take notes from the pastor or preacher. That is all they do. They don’t study the Bible at home nor do they spend time to confirm what was taught on Sunday or what was heard on the television coming from the TV evangelist. This is where Pursuing the Truth Ministries comes into focus. Our purpose is to promote the truth in God’s word. No longer will Christians have an excuse of ignorance. No longer will Christians be able, with a clear conscience, to say they didn’t know.

One of the greatest misconceptions in the Christian community is God’s interaction in the affairs of people. In particular, we are taught in the churches and by various ministers that God will meet our every need and desire, and that we are all prosperous. We are told that all we need is faith in God and we can have the new home, new job, new car, etc. We are told to confess and to believe that we receive and we will have it. We are told to tithe to the local church so that we will open the doors to blessings. We are told to sow seeds into the ministry in order to produce a crop that we can harvest to meet our needs. We hear all these things and more pertaining to the Christian life. However, these things are not significantly taught in the Bible. What is missing?

We have forsaken our heavenly Father. That is what is missing. Typically, the love of God, salvation, living a Christian life according to the Bible, fellowship with God, Knowing Christ, and more are not emphasized in churches. However, there are some churches that do promote Christian education and having a personal relationship with God. These churches are priceless and a blessing to anyone that comes into contact with it. However, there are too many Christians that think of God as though He is a genie or grocery store. That is, we go to God when we want something and not for whom He is (worship). We think of the operation of the Kingdom of God in terms of what we can get and not what we can do (servanthood). My message to you is that God is not a genie. He is not a grocery store. God is our heavenly Father and he should be treated as such.

This study will deal with the teaching of "believe you receive." The teaching is that if we believe the things that we say and confess them then we will have whatever we say. All we need to do is to exercise our faith and God will honor that faith and grant us our desire. We are going to examine the scriptures for the truth of this teaching.

 

 

Believe You Receive

The "believe you receive" teaching can be stated as follows.

When you want something or when you want something to happen the just believe you receive and you will receive it. This is an exercise of your faith. You have to see yourself with the object that you desire or need and God will ensure that it happens or that you receive it.

This teaching is usually taken from Mark 11:23-24 so let’s look at this scripture.

(Mark 11:23-24 NIV) "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. {24} Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Let’s analyze this scripture to acquire useful information (data). First of all I must say that this scripture should not stand alone. It is important to the context of the scripture that we understand the overall picture. So let’s briefly discuss the background of this scripture.

 

 

Background

Let’s go to Mark 11:12-14. Here we see the incident where Jesus cursed the fig tree. This is very strange at close observation of the scripture because Jesus should not have expected any figs to be on the tree anyway. Consider verse 13.

(Mark 11:13 KJV) And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

The time for figs hadn’t come yet so why would Jesus expect to get figs from the tree? Edible figs would appear on the fig trees in March and would be ripe by May. The ripened figs were about six weeks away at the time of the scripture reference. These March-to-May figs preceded the actual fig harvest from the tree, which occurred from mid August to October. The key is to realize that the fig tree only had leaves. The scripture also told us that Jesus was hungry (verse 12) so that he probably planned to eat the bland figs. Since the tree had leaves, it also should have had the "pre-harvest" figs, which it didn’t. The tree would therefore not produce any harvest at all because it didn’t have the "pre-harvest" figs. The tree was in a sense pretending to bear good fruit. The tree was absolutely figless at that time and would be in the future. In other words, the tree, though looked to bear good fruit, would not bear any fruit so Jesus cursed the tree as a parable to teach his disciples a lesson. In some Jewish stories, extremely holy men could curse an object or people and destroy them. That is why the disciples didn’t seem to think Jesus’ action was strange and even commented on it when they saw the tree withered (verse 20).

 

 

The Overall Context

The overall context of the subject scriptures appears to be "coming judgement". It is believed that the fig tree incident was a living parable to demonstrate the coming judgement of God on Israel.

The context of the "believe you receive" teaching as revealed in the Bible cannot be ascertained without including verse twenty-two. This verse, as well as the entire chapter, is part of the overall scene. More specifically, verse twenty-two is part of the immediate conversation of Jesus Christ regarding believing that you receive. So in order to correctly develop a theology of "believe you receive" from this verse, we must understand the implications of verse twenty-two.

 

 

Faith in God

In Mark 11:22, Jesus said to have faith in God. What does that mean? To have faith in God means to totally rely on His omnipotence in relation to accomplishing what he has declared or promised. To have faith in God means to rely on Him and to totally rest in Him. Therefore, this trust is directed. We can only trust in what God has said or has made available to us. We cannot trust God for any or everything because he didn’t give us a blank check to consume on whatever we like. There is also the matter of the heart when we consider the "whatever" or the "anything" that we may desire. That is the topic of another study though. Suffice it for me to say that the desires of a person that fills his or her mind with the word of God will begin to conform to the desires that are acceptable to God, i.e., righteous. As true Christians grow, we develop more into the image of Jesus Christ.

The audience

Another very important thing to consider is the audience of Jesus during his statement. Who was he talking to? Was Jesus’ words intended for Christians, all people that heard it then and now, or to a specific person or group of people? He was talking to his disciples, which negates the fact that this statement is for all people. See verse twenty-one. We will discuss this later.

The Statement That Follows—Forgiveness

Immediately following the "believe you receive" scripture is a statement about forgiveness.

Mark 11:25-26 (NKJV) "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

We must also consider this in order to put Jesus’ teaching into proper and more complete perspective. We will discuss this later. Note that the typical posture for praying at this time was standing with one’s hands stretched out to heaven.

Mountain-Moving Faith

Jesus describes a faith that can move mountains. Is Jesus’ statement literal in that with this type of faith we are actually able to command the mountain to get up and be thrown into the sea? Will God honor such a faith to do this type of thing? The answer is no and yes. No, Jesus is not literal here, which we will discuss in a moment. No we are therefore not able to command a mountain to be thrown into the sea. Yes God will honor this type of faith however.

Moving Mountains

What does Jesus really mean by moving mountains since it is unlikely that he is being literal? There were some Jewish text that speak of "removing mountains" to indicate an infinitely long or virtually impossible task, accomplished only by the most pious person. The mountain therefore represented something that was deemed as impossible to accomplish. So the lesson that Jesus was giving appears to be that even the seemingly impossible tasks are not impossible to the person who exercises faith IN GOD. Remember what we said earlier about faith. It is not your faith that can "move mountains." It is the faith that you have in God to move mountains that is exercised here. It is your faith in God to make your impossible situation possible.

The Principle

Jesus gives us the principle of the operation of prayer by stating that mountain moving faith in God will cause the desired result of what was said. Jesus then applies this principle by saying that if we believe what we say when we pray, without doubting, then we will have what we say. Again, we must realize that this is not a blank check that Jesus is giving us. In other words, he is not saying that we can have absolutely anything that we pray for, which you and I know does not happen anyway. So there are some assumptions here that we must be aware of.

The Assumptions

One assumption to the seemingly "blank check" statement is that the words spoken by an individual are inspired by God, otherwise evil speech could cause blessings. Think about that for a moment. If Jesus was truly giving us a blank check then anyone, Christian or not, can claim this for himself or herself. That brings us to at least three ways of viewing this scripture.

His statement is meant for all people. The word "anyone" is used in some translations

His statement is understood with certain restrictions on what is said

His statement is meant for a certain group of people (the audience at the time)

Proper Interpretation

Which assumption within the scripture is correct? Let’s look at some facts to help us determine this. The King James and the New King James Version of the Bible use the word "whosoever" or "whoever" respectively. This can be misleading if the context of the scripture and of the conversation is not taken into consideration. It is therefore necessary to determine if the "whoever" is for a particular group or all people in general. Reading above this scripture gives us the much-needed clue for properly interpreting this scripture. Note what it says.

Mark 11:21 (NKJV) And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."

Now consider Jesus’ response to Peter’s statement. The Bible records the following. "So Jesus answered and said to them." Jesus’ statement places the context of his next statements in the realm of his disciples. The "whosoever" refers to his disciples only. Jesus was not giving a general teaching to the public. He was specifically talking to his disciples. What does this mean to us? This means that there is a definite limitation on the "whoever" in verse twenty-three. Furthermore, it puts definite restrictions on what we can ask for and expect to receive. Why? It is assumed that the disciples had the teachings of Jesus Christ in them and that they would live those teachings. It is assumed that the disciples would be about doing the will of God. It is assumed that their desires would be righteous. Consider some other scriptures that reveal the same thing.

  • John 14:12-13; 15:7, 16

  • Psalm 1:2-3

  • Psalm 37:4

  • 1 John 5:14-15

  • 1 John 3:21-22

The point here is not that Jesus’ teaching about prayer is not applicable to us today. The point is that there are certain restrictions on this scripture in that Jesus did not give us a blank check to use for anything we want. What we ask for must be in line with the will of God and it must not contradict his word. If any of these are violated then the promise in Mark eleven and elsewhere do not apply.

Application Today

Does this teaching apply to us today since Jesus was talking to his disciples. Yes, I believe it does. Consider what Jesus told his disciples before his ascension. I am using the New Century Version of the Bible hear because I think the wording really emphasizes the point I am trying to make.

Matt. 28:19 (NCV) So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This implies that Jesus’ teaching on prayer and believing you receive applies to us because the disciples were to teach all people its truths. We therefore can learn about the operation of prayer and the operation of belief and faith in prayer and the things that we say. Real confession is simply to say what God has said.

Believe and Prayer

Now we have enough information to make a reasonable assessment of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in verse twenty-four. First of all, when we pray to God we must believe in Him to do what we ask assuming that our prayers are in line with His will and that there are no objections from Him. In other words, we must exercise faith in God when we pray to God, which is what Jesus said in verse twenty-two. There are numerous times in the Bible where the faith in God of the individual was crucial to the desired outcome. Here are some for your reference.

  • Naaman healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27)

  • The demon possessed boy healed (Mark 9:14-29)

  • The woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22)

  • The ten lepers cleansed (Luke 17:12-19)

  • The persistent woman (Matthew 15:28)

True faith is not self contained, rather it is faith in God that we should have and practice. To say that we must have faith in order to do this or do that is very misleading. To say that I must believe what I say and have faith in my words is fallacy. God has the power to do all things. He has made promises to us and has made things available for us. We only have to tap into this by faith in order to receive his provisions. We cannot say conclusively what the mechanisms are that cause faith to work. We can, however, do what the scripture tells us, which is to have faith in God. This means the following are necessary in order to really practice Mark 11:22-24.

  • Relationship with God

  • Fellowship with God

  • Knowledge of God and his word

  • Knowledge of the operation within the Kingdom of God

  • Love and Trust in God

  • Confidence in God

I should also mention that faith applies to other things as well. For example, you may have faith in your car to start and take you on your way. You may have faith in someone to do what they promised and you may have faith in an organization to live up to its promises and agreements. However, the outcome of your faith relative to these human objects is not guaranteed. We are all susceptible to outside situations that may cause us not to live up to what we have promised. We cannot transcend our situations all of the time. Furthermore, some people and organizations are just not trustworthy to begin with.

Forgiveness

Jesus’ teaching on prayer does not end at verse twenty-four. It continues with verses twenty-five and twenty-six. Along with believing that you receive is the issue of forgiveness. Jesus said that we should forgive others when we pray. Our prayers should be done with forgiveness in our heart else God will hold our trespasses against us. This is consistent with what Jesus said in Matthew 6:12.

Forgiveness is a vast topic itself, which is covered in detail in my study guide "The Art of Forgiveness."

True Believing and Receiving

What is the truth about believing and receiving? There is one principle that is very consistent throughout the Bible. This one principle is simply obedience. Even salvation is based on obedience. God commanded us to believe in Jesus Christ (See 1 John 3:23). Obedience brings about God’s blessings. Therefore, obeying God must precede receiving anything from Him.

Another very important principle revealed in the Bible is trust in God. If we love God then we should trust him and believe what he says. If we believe what he says then we will do what he says. It’s that simple. Love begets trust and true trust begets action. We can rest in the provisions and promises of our heavenly father. We can totally depend on what God has said in his word. We can totally lean on the Word of God to accomplish what it is supposed to do (See Isaiah 55:11, Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3).

Therefore, our believing is simply to rest in what God has already done and what he has already said. We can’t make anything happen. Only God can grant us the desires of our heart and answer our prayers. It is only our faith in God that "things" happen and the answers to our prayers are realized. As I said earlier, we don’t know the complete operation of faith. There is some type of spiritual force, if I can call it that, that goes into operation when we pray and when we believe God. It is as though God has already answered our prayers and it is up to us to close the circuit so that the answer to our prayers can be realized. I don’t see a picture of God taking all of these requests from us and answering the many prayers as though they were orders in a restaurant. I see God already providing for us and giving us the instructions for accessing those provisions. Part of the procedure is to pray and ask God. Again, I am not saying that this is exactly how it works but this is partly my understanding of the operation of prayer and answered prayers.

So our faith is founded on facts. What are the facts? The word of God. What we believe must be consistent with the Bible and must be according to the word of God. Anything else is speculation or wishful thinking. Our belief in God is based on what God has provided for us and promised us. Therefore, what we believe is already provided by God and is therefore answered by God already. Two scriptures come to mind when I consider these things.

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV) Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Matt. 6:8 (NKJV) 8"Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Our prayers must be in line with the will of God in order for them to be answered. This means that what we say must be in line with the will, and therefore the word, of God. See my studies "Faith and Prayer," "God’s Will and Prayer," and "Fulfilling our Desires." So to expect to have whatever we say when we pray, relative to Jesus’ actual teaching, implies that what we say is in line with God’s will. This gets into the arena of conformity to the image of Christ. The more we fellowship with God and the more we feed on his word, the more our thoughts and therefore desires become more righteous.

Therefore, true believing and receiving is simply the purposeful agreement with God’s word and the corresponding actions or response to that word. Believing that you receive is simply the confidence that you have when you expect God to perform what he said and therefore expect to receive what you pray for. This expectation is based on what God has promised and what God has said. So true believing and receiving is trust in the omnipotence of God and the very fact that he will do what he said he would do. God is faithful and we can rely on that.

Another Perspective

There is one last perspective that I would like to bring out at this point. Our trust in God will enable the blessings of God to flow on our behalf. Obedience to God brings about his blessings and provisions. However, this is not total in a person’s life. For example, consider those who are not saved and have no faith in God. They are provided for and their basic needs are met. There is also the situation where someone is saved yet his or her needs don’t seem to be met. They are poor, homeless, jobless, etc. Why doesn’t faith work in these situations? The answer to that is the topic of another study and well beyond the context of this study.

Regardless of our standing with God (saved or not), we still have to operate according to the principles of the Kingdom of God. We still are responsible for learning how God’s Kingdom operates and then practicing or living it.

Another point is that there are probably many things that we do that God really doesn’t care about. In other words, God may not care about the kind of car you drive or the house you decide to purchase. See my study on "Fulfilling your Desires" for more information on this. It is evident, I’m sure, that we can accomplish things outside of the will of God. We can decide to pursue things that God does not desire for us. Of course we will bear the consequences of those decisions. A person may decide that they will accomplish something and begin to confess it. They have determined in their heart and mind that they will do something. Nothing can stop this person. They most likely will succeed. Perhaps they are operating in the will of God and don’t know it. Operating in God’s will does not necessitate salvation. Just consider the nations in the Old Testament that God used to capture the children of Israel. They weren’t God’s people yet they operated according to God’s will.

This means that we cannot measure God’s will by success. We can be successful apart from the will of God—at least the way we measure success. We have to consciously seek the Kingdom of God and all the other things will fall into place though we will err sometimes. It is not wise to seek success and say that your success means that God is with you. This can be very misleading because even some of the most godless people are "successful."

The key, I believe, is the following.

Matt. 6:33 (NKJV) But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Lesson Learned—Summary

What have we learned about the teaching of "believe you receive?" Here is a basic list of the things presented in this lesson.

  1. The overall incident appears to be a living parable about coming judgment based on the context of the scripture. We didn’t examine this aspect of the context. We only looked at the teaching of "believing you receive."

  2. The audience of Jesus’ statements is his disciples

  3. Believing you receive is limited by the scope and context of the teaching in the Bible

  4. Believing is based on God’s word, which means that our faith is founded on facts (the scriptures)

  5. Receiving is simply the manifestation of what God has already provided

  6. Answered prayers are realized because of our obedience to the word of God.

The truth of believing you receive is found in the restrictions that the teachings of Christ place on the things that we have a right to believe and expect receipt of. Our believing to receive is not all inclusive but falls within the boundary of God’s Kingdom and the operation thereof. Our receiving what we say is bounded by the will of God. So do not expect to receive whatever you say when you pray apart from God’s will and word. Know the will of God, trust God, and expect to receive whatever God has promised you or made available to you. Here is yet another reason for the development of a personal Bible study. See my study "Developing a Personal Bible Study" for more information.

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