In Mark 11:23, Jesus said, “I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” To be honest, that verse has troubled me for a long time. The mental image I get from Jesus’ statement is that of a huge mountain being suddenly lifted up and thrown into the sea; but never – not once in my life have I seen that happen. In reality, I can’t even find one example of a mountain going swimming in the entire Bible (with the possible exception of the flood, where God brought the sea to the mountain instead of vice versa).
Was this just a figure of speech from Jesus? Possibly. A parable? Perhaps. Still, that poses a problem for me: If Jesus said I could move mountains, but He was just using that as an exaggerated figure of speech, how do I know which of my problems fits into Jesus’ category of mountain? The actual problem lay in my interpretation.
Let me illustrate with a story: About a year ago my wife was looking through some boxes in one of our upstairs closet. She came across an old prayer list of mine. I had written it in the year 2000. That had been a year of many changes and lots of uncertainty. I changed careers, changed houses, had only recently married, and spent half of the year unemployed. During that period I had begun to use a prayer list on an everyday basis. Over the next couple of years I prayed with that list nearly every day. There was one entire page of personal requests and another page of prayer topics related to my church and its ministry.
Sometime during the next few years we moved to another house and this list got packed away into the box. As I read through the list, fifteen years later, I was stunned. Every item on both pages had been answered by the Lord! Some of them would only qualify as hills or ridges; others were full-blown mountain ranges. Some of them sounded really noble and spiritual (i.e. discipleship and ministry goals) while others sounded trivial or even slightly selfish (like asking for opportunities to work with certain people in the music industry, or wanting to break par with some regularity). The thing is: God answered them all!
Let me go back to Jesus’ statement and read you the very next thing He says: I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:23,24 HCSB – emphasis mine)
I assumed mountain moving was one dramatic, gigantic event. In reality, I realized that most mountains are moved one shovelful at a time. There is this beautiful picture in the book of Revelation of God sitting on His throne and in front of Him is a bowl, which is full of the prayers of the saints. This shows that there is a cumulative effect of praying. This is what I had missed. While a mountain being picked up and tossed into the sea might be more impressive, the mountain that is moved by shovels and front-end loaders is just as gone.
I began to look at my latest list, which I have been using for about 3 years now. I highlighted the mountains that were completely moved in green and the mountains that were showing signs of progress in yellow. I’ll be honest; there are a lot of requests that don’t fit either category. It is that way with mountain-moving. I don’t imagine the first hundred shovelfuls would even be noticeable if I started trying to move Lookout Mountain (the fact that I might get arrested would also impede my progress). However, the reality is that eventually even a great mountain could be moved one shovelful at a time. Thankfully, the time frame isn’t quite that long. First of all, every problem isn’t an Alp; and secondly, there comes a tipping point where God sees that you have cleared enough space for Him to bring in the heavy machinery and finish the job.
That great twentieth century philosopher Tom Petty put it this way:
“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith; you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part”
I have to agree with him, but it sure helps to picture each prayer I pray as one more shovelful off of that mountain, as well as one more prayer in that bowl in front of God’s throne.
Here are three pieces of advice from one mountain-mover to another:
- Pray with a list – It helps with your focus, as well as the cumulative effect.
- Use a Journal – Record each small bit of progress in the various situations. It helps bolster your faith.
- Keep diggin’ – When you feel hopeless, helpless, and joyless, just pull out your list and stick that shovel in the ground one more time.
So, how do you move a mountain? One shovelful at a time.
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin… (Zech. 4:10)