preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 May 2016, the Seventh Sunday after Easter, by Dr. Paul Cheung. The
scripture readings that day were Mark 11:20-24.
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree
20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to
its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi,
look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus
answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you
say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not
doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will
be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in
prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Have faith in God and we will be able to face the obstacles and uncertainties
Life is full of happiness,
yet we experience failure and disappointment time and again and we feel upset and
depressed. In a frustrating situation, can we be all right?
In Proverbs 12:25, it says, “Anxiety
weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”
When unfortunate things
happen to us, we may take a negative view to look at our life and ourselves.
This attitude makes us feel not all right. On the other hand, we may interpret
the unpleasant incidents from an optimistic perspective. So we may remain
hopeful and hold a positive attitude, and as a result, we can be all right in
It is not what we experience, but
how we respond to our experience that makes us happy or unhappy.
Optimistic thinking brings us the energy
to live with a happy and positive manner to deal with the problems. Also, research
shows that optimism is positively co-related to good health, greater longevity and
Dimensions of Explanatory Styles
Our thinking patterns determine
whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. There are different dimensions to
explain our experiences.
One dimension is permanence. Encountering
a problem or an undesirable incident, we may explain it in a permanent
dimension. For example, your boss is not satisfied with your performance in a
task. Pessimistic explanatory style explains that your boss probably doesn’t
like your performance in the future. Maybe he even doesn’t like you. This is a
permanent dimension. A very pessimistic person may think, “I fail this time. I am
going to lose my job.” Optimistic explanatory style, however, explains it in another
way. “Well, my boss doesn’t like my performance in this task. That is true. But
it only concerns this particular task. It doesn’t mean that he won’t be satisfied
with my future work performance.” The temporary explanatory style helps us remain
optimistic when we are faced with an unpleasant event. Since we remain hopeful
about the future, we have the incentive to improve.
Another dimension of explanation is
pervasiveness, which refers to explaining an unpleasant experience as a universal
or an individual case. For instance, Shelly has made every effort to try to
pass the examination. Unfortunately, she fails. Pessimistic explanatory style
explains that hard work is just a waste of time. Because of this thought, Shelly
may be unwilling to work hard again as she thinks hard work is useless. On the
other hand, optimistic explanation is that hard work cannot help her pass this
exam. That is true, but it doesn’t mean that hard work is not useful for other assessments.
Being optimistic, Shelly may continue to work hard. People with hope are more
likely to pay effort to improve.
Different patterns of thinking lead to different
emotions and behaviors. Facing
adversity, optimistic thinking can help us remain positive and keep the
motivation to move forward. For Christians, God is the greatest source of our
hope. When we are in trouble, we come to God. In 1 Peter 5:7, it says, “Cast all your
anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
Prayer can give us courage and confidence to face the uncertainties. Through
prayer, we feel God’s presence and get the strength
to handle the problem.
In Mark 11:24, Jesus says to His disciples, “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe
that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Jesus’ teaching emphasizes that faith in God is utmost important in our prayer and we have to trust that
God will do wondrous things for us. Such great faith is formed based on a very
close connection with God. In prayer, our interaction with God lets us understand
more and more about God’s will and this understanding guides us to pray according
to His will.
Jesus’ prayer is the best
example. Jesus knew what He would go through to fulfill the salvation – His
mission on earth. On the night when He was betrayed, Lord Jesus was facing the
upcoming suffering in agony, He prayed earnestly for the passion. In Luke
22:42, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you
are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Jesus’
prayer reflects His faith in God – trust God for His almighty power and trust
God for His will to do the best for us following God’s plan, God’s way, and God’s
During American civil war, Abraham Lincoln
and his generals were under a great deal of pressure. Seeing no sign of victory
and being desperate, one of the generals said to Lincoln,
“Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side.” Lincoln said, “No, let us
pray that we are on God’s side.”
is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according
to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
faith in God and pray that God will work according to His plan, His way, and
I would like to share with
you my favourite hymn “Great is Your faithfulness”
The hymn reminds me of God’s blessings. When we are distressed,
we are grateful to have “your living presence to cheer
and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, these
are the blessings your love will provide.”
Great is Your
faithfulness. That is the amazing truth – We have faith in God because of His faithfulness.
Life is like hiking on
a long mountain trail. We need to climb up the hill and take many steps. We feel
tired and sometimes exhausted. Occasionally we get lost, but remain hopeful
that we can reach the destination.
Facing challenges and crises,
have faith in God and certainly we can be all right.
We are grateful for Your dear presence with us in our life
journey. We cast all our worries and burdens on You because we know You care for
us. In good times and bad times help us have faith in You. May Your will be done on us. We pray in the
name of our risen Lord Jesus of Christ. Amen.