This passage comes after Jesus’ triumphal entry. He had left Jerusalem and was returning to the city. The imagery here is clear. Using the fig tree, Jesus is teaching us that wherever there is true life, there is fruit. And wherever there is the appearance of life, but no real fruit that is hypocrisy, which God judges. This is the moral of the real life picture Jesus gives us by His actions. Christ regularly preached against hypocrisy: the tree had leaves – appeared real, but had no fruit. Fruit is the evidence of true life.
The second part tells us that the disciples were amazed. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered immediately. Here Christ, instructing His disciples, reveals to us more about prayer in this almost afterthought to the cursing of the tree. This phrase is repeated twice, “If you have faith and do not doubt” (v21 & 22). It is the conditional requirement, the prerequisite, for our prayers to be effective. We must have faith. So, we ought to do all we can when we gather to pray to remember how important faith is and to encourage one another’s faith before we pray.
Three ways our thoughts about God can strengthen our faith: 1) Who God is, 2) what He says to us, and 3) His relationship to us and ours with Him. First, who God is referring to His character. We can look at Titus 1:2, for example. “The God who cannot lie.” Then, second, what He says. Matthew 7: 7 and 8, He commands us to pray. Third, our relationship. God describes our relationship to Him in prayer as children making a request of their parents. Luke 11:11-13. We must believe these three things, which will strengthen our faith.
This is what faith is about. Do I believe God is who He says He is (His character), do I believe His words (what He has said to us), and do I believe in the relationship of adoption (a Father toward His children)? As we meditate on the Lord, on His commandments regarding prayer and our relationship with Him these can strengthen our faith. They are the foundation upon which we pray. Faith is the rocket fuel or engine of prayer. Prayers go nowhere if faith is not energizing them. May this meditation strengthen our faith.