Reacting to the Fig Tree

One of the things that I struggled with when developing the Reflective Bible Study method (Resting, Relating, Reflecting, Reacting, and Sharing) is with the reacting section. Many people have the belief that just reading the Bible will change their life—and in all truth, just immersing your mind in the words of the Bible and its truth does change your heart . . . up to a point.

There are others however, who would take and look at the reacting section and immediately jump on the idea that the ultimate goal of the studies is not the text (the Bible), but what I can do to be accepted by God. This conclusion is completely false and the fear of people taking the process to this extreme prompted me to think about simplifying the five sections down to four or even three (eliminating the sharing section as well) and focusing completely on prayer, the passage, and relating to the text.

But recently, while studying in the life of Jesus about an encounter He had with a fig tree, I had the realization that both the reacting and sharing sections are needed, and they are both placed exactly where they need to be. There are two gospels that record Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22 & Mark 11:12-14; 20-26) and I personally like the extra details that Mark includes about this event.

Both accounts tell us that Jesus came up to a fig tree that was covered with leaves, and that Jesus ultimately curses the tree for not having figs, but Mark tells us that this encounter happened out of season—that it wasn’t the season for figs trees to be bearing fruit. Wait a second! Jesus cursed the tree for not having figs when He (who created the development cycle of the fig tree) would have known that it shouldn’t have figs on it during that time of the year. This seems strange and a little uncharacteristic of Jesus.

Also, if we just look at Matthew’s account, we can easily uncover that this tree looked deceiving. It looked healthy and vibrant, but it wasn’t bearing fruit. This passage can symbolize (correctly) that we need to have fruit (actions & character) showing in our lives for us to be blessed by Jesus and not cursed. Nevertheless, what would be the purpose of cursing a tree that wasn’t even supposed to have fruit on it in the first place?

We can find the answer to this puzzle when we read the last portion of Mark’s account [v. 23b & 24]—when Peter comments the next day how the tree had completely dried up to the roots. Jesus immediately talks about what we can do when we have faith with no doubt in our minds and both Jesus’ act of cursing the fig tree, and the ‘moving a mountain’ example He gives don’t seem very spiritual or practical. And here lies the key: Believe that what you say will happen, act as though it is a done deal (with no doubts), and God will answer your request—even if it isn’t spiritual in nature. (I’ve even seen this truth played out in people’s lives with negative results rather than positive ones. Lesson: Be careful what you ask for!)

Mark also gives us another element about prayer that we should pay attention to—he tells us that if we are praying, and then feel prompted or realize that we are angry with someone, we should push pause on what we are currently praying about, and forgive the other person for how he/she hurt us before continuing. Holding anger in our hearts while we try to move forward will only short-change our efforts and God’s ability to use us for His glory.

Some key points to remember:

  1. Not everything we pray for needs to be spiritual in nature—God is interested in our physical, emotional, intellectual, and social lives as well.
  2. We should always have a forgiving nature—especially in prayer—because holding anger or bitterness in our hearts will hold us back from being able to be fully used by God, and it will limit the power that God has promised to give us.
  3. We need to act and ‘bear fruit’ in our lives (which means being constantly learning and intentionally growing with the goal of becoming more like Jesus), because it is with this fruit, that God is able to use us to bless others, and through us blessing others, we will in turn be blessed.

Have a great weekend, and let’s keep studying God’s Word together!


P.S. Did I miss something, or would you like to respond? Join the conversation below!