“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” Matthew 21: 21-22
I was blessed to have grown up in Charlotte, NC, which was located almost directly between the beaches of South Carolina and the mountains of North Carolina. In our North Carolina churches, there has been a running joke for many years in response to the typical church question, “How is attendance?” The answer: “It’s up and down – up at the mountains and down at the beaches!” Either way you travel from Charlotte – up or down – the traveler eventually meets one of two awesome vistas – the ocean, with its awesome power and seemingly limitless horizon, or the mountains, with their towering strength, painted with the brightest sunlight on the mountaintops and contrasting with the deepest shadows in the valleys.
In the gospels we see Jesus preaching, teaching, and healing in both venues – by the sea of Galilee, or in the mountains of the Judean hill country. So much of Jesus’ teaching reflects the scene of where the teaching takes place, and in the verses above from the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has a mountain in view – probably the temple mount – as He teaches this lesson on faith. Verses 21-22 are two of the most misunderstood and abused passages in all of Christianity, used by unscrupulous preachers and religious charlatans to pile guilt on believers who earnestly seek an answer to prayer. We have seen and heard these false prophets say to their suffering congregations, “You did not have enough faith – that is why your prayers were not answered.” But is that the point of Christ’s lesson?
First, let’s remember that Christ taught us how to pray, and that prayer is very simple: “Our Father, who art in heaven….”. Every aspect of the Lord’s prayer, every petition, can be prayed fervently, with faith, and with a full expectation of an answer: “Thy kingdom come…Thy will be done…forgive us our sins…deliver us from evil…”. Second, and even more importantly, Christ is not telling us that the purpose of prayer is to move mountains in a literal sense. Why would we even pray for such a thing? There is no reason in heaven or on earth to pray that a mountain jump into the sea. Faith is not a characteristic in which the sole purpose is to demonstrate supernatural power. However, faith is the only characteristic in life that can connect us to the spiritual power and presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus never once made a mountain jump into a sea, but He did still the storm so that His followers would not be afraid; He did love, teach, forgive, and heal those who came to the seashores and the mountains to hear Him. Our faith in Jesus Christ can do the same things in our lives and in the lives of others – it can heal broken hearts, forgive long-held grievances, set aside old wounds and regrets, teach those around us about the love of God, and teach us how to love each other unconditionally. Those are the mountains in our own lives that only Jesus can move. In regard to answering all of our prayers, Jesus never presents prayer as a shopping list of personal desires. Prayer is not meant to give us a check-off list of the things God has given us as opposed to the things God has denied us. Rather, prayer is like holding hands with God – the feeling and the Presence of the Holy Spirit are far more important than the words.
Prayer is not about moving dirt – it is about the love between ourselves and our Creator, Who knows what we need. That love moves our hearts everyday into undiscovered places of hope and comfort, places where we need not fear anything that life throws at us. Prayer is not a demand – it is an act of faith. Christ prays with us and for us to the Father, and the Father, Who loves us, moves the mountains that keep us from seeing Him. Have you let God move the mountains from in front of you so that you can see God’s love? That is the true prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.