Attention please! Will the last person that literally moved a mountain like Jesus said, please raise their hand. Anyone? Me neither. It appears that we have a disconnect where reality meets promise. Or do we? We’d all like an effective faith that could move literal mountains with just a word. We read the promise of Mark 11:23-24, trying to follow the formula with hit and miss results concerning things far less formidable than mountains. Maybe we’re missing something.
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” (Mark 11:23–24, NASB95) Sounds plain. So why doesn’t seem to work all the time? Was there some sliver of doubt that got in the way? Did I in some way not believe that I had received? Maybe I just didn’t have enough faith? Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions.
The problem, as I see it, is that we’ve removed the diamond from its setting. We’ve ignored the immediate context and the larger context of Jesus’ statement.
This all began with a fig tree. On Jesus’ way into Jerusalem that day he was hungry and looked to the tree for fruit. There wasn’t any, so he cursed it and went his way. Once at the temple Jesus “cleansed” it of the merchants and money-changers. On the way back to Bethany at the end of the day, Peter noticed the withered fig tree which prompted Jesus’ comments. While Jesus didn’t point it out, it is easy to see a direct line between the fruitless fig tree and the corrupt practices at the temple.
We often stop there, but Jesus didn’t. Right after Jesus promised the moving of mountains, He went on to say without break or transition something very telling. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25, NASB95) Maybe our problem isn’t lack of faith but lack of forgiveness and being forgiven. Or you could look at it this way – what is the biggest mountain in your heart? What person or event or circumstance casts a shadow over everything? Could it be that forgiveness mixed with faith would move that impossibly stubborn mountain?
There are other verses in the Bible that touch on this same topic of receiving answers to prayer and seeing effectiveness in our faith. John wrote, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” (1 John 5:14–15, NASB95) And consider this from James, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3, NASB95) And remember in a previous article in this series that many of those in the “Hall of Faith” did not receive the promise during their lifetime, but the promise was fulfilled in due time.
Let me get practical for a moment. I know that my prayers and desires can be fueled by my own appetites and pains. I want the mountain moved to improve my view. What I’ve learned to do is ask God to reveal His will, listen, and then pray. Effective faith is not about improving our bank accounts but about extending light into darkness. Why was Jesus upset about the conditions at the temple? Because the merchants of religion were getting between God and the people.
How do we measure the effectiveness of our faith? Is it in the number of times our prayers have been answered? The difficulty of the mountain we were able to move? Let’s change our measuring stick to the same one Jesus used in the immediate context of Mark 11:23-24. Effective faith is fruitful faith. Are we ready in-season and out of season to connect, pray, teach, and do? Or do we only act like a follower of Jesus on Sunday morning? Are we growing in the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Are we by faith removing the mountains of unforgiveness, bitterness, greed, and fear that keep us from growing fruit?
Effective faith changes the landscape. However, before we can move the mountains in the world, we must deal with the mountains casting shadows in our own heart.