As a younger believer I remember reading passages like the one above and thinking that if I only believed strong enough, I could move mountains. I did not have a clue that the Lord here wasn't referring to literal mountains - and I do remember praying once or twice for some small mountains to just move a little bit... Nothing happened. Then in studying out the Bible and church history, I realized no one in the history of the world ever moved a literal mountain by faith - so what exactly did that verse mean?
In the context of prayer and moving mountains, the mountains are the difficulties in each believer's life, those vast towering rocks that loom above us, dismaying us, hindering us. Jesus said that even if we had the smallest amount of faith (that means claiming some Bible promise or principle from His Word - Romans 10:17) about something, we can pray about it in confidence, and if it is the Lord's will that mountain will be moved.
Verse 21 is removed in some modern versions - which is not surprising, considering that Jesus here gives fasting (with prayer) as one of the ways to defeat Satan in our lives. The Devil certainly does not want you resisting him and praying for the mountains that he put in your life to be moved out of the way!
Luke 17:5-6 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
Here the disciples are asking for more faith - and Jesus tells them they just need a little bit, as much as a mustard seed - which is the smallest among seeds. It is not the amount of faith that moves the mountains hindering us, but the source of the faith (the Word of God) and the object of the faith (The Trinity: God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit).
Mark 11:22-24 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Matthew 21:21-22 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
What makes this tiny bit of faith so effective? Because it is a faith that relies on the Lord, that trusts in His Word, and that seeks to do the will of God. If God wants that mountain out of my way, then I will pray that He moves it, and have the assurance that He is moving it in His time and in His way - but faith claims His promises and expects Him to act upon then when I do my part. My part here is to believe that He will do what He said He would!
Charles Spurgeon said, "Prayer moves the arm that moves the world."
Zechariah 4:6-7 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
After the Babylonian captivity, some of the leaders of Israel sought to rebuild the temple - yet were hindered by many difficulties, the greatest of which was some of the surrounding nations who sought to hinder their construction of it. But it was the Lord's will that His temple be rebuilt, so He gave the exhortation which we read in Zechariah. Basically God said to this leader of His people: "It doesn't matter how much strength or power you have, I will move this mountain by My Holy Spirit - nothing and no one will be able to stop Me from doing so! Just keep trusting Me, and this mountain that is hindering you will be removed!"
Likewise, when I pray in faith, the Holy Spirit will work to remove the mountains that I could not remove on my own. It doesn't matter how much strength or power I have, what matters is the object of my faith. Is there a promise in the Bible I can stand on? Have I done my part of the promise? Then I can pray in complete faith, and look forward to God's Spirit moving that mountain into the sea! Not because I deserve it, but solely because of His grace.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
A bit of a hard hitting passage! In the context of spiritual gifts and abilities that God gave to His church, He tells us that charity (ie. love toward both God and man) is a more excellent way. If I had all faith - if I had all assurance from the Word of God - that it was God's will to remove all the mountains in my life and in the lives of others, and I prayed for Him to do so, but I did not have love, then I am nothing! What good is it if all my problems were removed but I left my First Love? Am I seeking to remove mountains because of my own selfishness, my own self-seeking, because my flesh desires to have it easy for a while? Then it is for the wrong reasons!
If I am asking the Lord to remove the mountains in my life because I love Him and want to be able to serve Him more, because I want to be used by Him in a greater capacity and that to do so I would need that particular mountain removed - if I truly believed that it was according to His will and that is what I am seeking more than all else, then I am praying in love. If I am pleading with the Lord to open the hearts and understanding of the lost and petitioning Him to remove those mountains hindering them from believing and receiving Gospel of Christ, then I am praying in love.
Isaiah 40:3-5 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Luke 3:4-6 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Isaiah 41:14-16 Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
Am I praying for those mountains to be removed solely for myself - because I want to impress others or want the glory for myself, or because I want to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ in all I do? Because I want to be able to do more for His glory? Because I want more souls saved for His name's sake? Because I love Him and desire solely to be closer to Him and do His will?
Then those mountains will become molehills - or to use Scriptural language, those mountains will be moved into the sea, completely out of the way. How's your faith?
One final thought:
Sometimes the Lord is best glorified in our lives by the mountains (the trials, the difficulties) He has placed in our way. Why is that so? Because often it is the mountains that cause us to draw closer to Him, to cling to Him, to let Him have His way in our heart.
Song of Solomon 2:17 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
Bether means "division." The believer's prayer here is not for the mountains to be removed, but for the Lord Jesus Christ to come leaping over the difficulties that divide us from Him; crying out in heartfelt prayer for Him to draw near. Which is better? No mountains - or the Saviour's presence between us and the mountains? I know which I would rather choose! With the Saviour's presence, working in me and through me, I have all the grace and strength I need to face the mountains, whether they are ever moved for me or not.
When I lose sight of the goal,
and take my eyes off of the prize,
When all I can see are the mountains
that rise before my eyes,
When all I can feel are the waves
that come breaking over my soul,
Precious Jesus, I need Your touch,
to heal me and make me whole.
I've fought the good fight, at times it seemed rough,
I've kept the faith, even when it was tough,
I wish I could finish my course with ease,
but sometimes I waver in times like these.
My heart is weighed down and burdened with care,
Lord, I lift up to You this silent prayer.
Don't let me falter - let me be steadfast,
Give me a hope that will be sure to last -
A confident expectation that all will work out for good
Even when it seems there's no way that it possibly could.
When my own strength begins to fail,
Anchor my faith within the veil,
Where Jesus is.
Poem October 17th, 2001
The Answers Why
I asked the Lord one day why there were so many mountains in my life,
So much grief and heartache, so much trouble and strife?
I read His Word very carefully, looking for the answers why,
And deep within my soul, I heard His Spirit reply.
I am working all things out for your good;
Removing the debris that shouldn't be there.
There is so much damage that sin has done,
There is so much I need to repair.
There are works that I am doing - if you could only understand -
I am fulfilling all My promises according to My Plan.
The mountains are for reminding you of My goodness and My love,
The weakness is to cause you to lean upon My arms above.
Rest upon My provision, and trust that I will guide you along Life's way,
And rejoice in My grace and mercy that will lead you safely Home one day.
There's a work I am doing inside your very heart,
So one day up in glory, My likeness to you I will impart;
So don't fret about the things that you don't understand,
Just trust my eternal wisdom, and know it's all according to My Plan.
Poem December 20th, 2002
Devotion May 24th/06