You Can Move Mountains: God’s Answer to Impossibility
July 8, 2020
“If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” (Mark 11:23).
We all have the same question when we read these words:
Is this for real?
When Jesus talks about a mountain being cast into the sea, should we take him seriously? I have never seen a mountain cast into the sea. I’ve done my share of traveling, have visited every state in America, and have been to some amazing places. I’ve ridden a boat on the Sea of Galilee, climbed to the top of Horn Peak in Colorado, floated down the Volga River, climbed a Mayan pyramid in Belize, and visited the salt palace outside Bogota, Columbia. I rode in a tiny rowboat to the lip of Iguassu Falls in South America. I walked on a frozen lake at the Winter Palace in Beijing. I took a ride on the Big Shot at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, some 900 feet above the desert floor. I’ve been amazed more than once and left speechless many times. But I’ve never seen a mountain cast into the sea.
I’ve never seen a mountain cast into the sea
That’s precisely our problem with this text. Jesus invites us to talk to a mountain and command it to be cast into the sea. Not only have I never seen a mountain cast into the sea, I’ve never talked to a mountain either. As I think about it, I don’t know anyone who has. To go one step further, I’ve never thought to myself, “I wish I could cast that mountain into the sea.”
Why would anyone want to do that?
But it’s right there in black and white in Mark 11:23. What are we to do with this text? Our first inclination is to explain it away somehow. As a friend of mine was discussing this promise with his young son, the boy started looking around for things he could order to start moving, like a lamp or a bed or a couch. The father immediately cautioned his son against tempting the Lord. But at least the child took Jesus seriously, which is more than most of us do.
We’re in a series called Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Have, You Can, You Will. It would be hard to find a bigger promise (or a more unlikely one) than the one in our text. I invite you to take a journey of biblical exploration with me. Let’s see if we can discover what Jesus is saying to us.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered (Mark 11:22).
How simple this is. Only four words—“Have faith in God”—yet how revolutionary they are. I remember hearing E. V. Hill preach a 40-minute sermon on just two words: “God is.” In his own unforgettable style, he pressed home the point that everything in the universe flows from this one truth. Figure this out and you’ve got a handle on life. Deny this and nothing else makes sense.
Either God is or he isn’t
Either God is or he isn’t. And if he is, that changes everything. The voice from the burning bush told Moses to tell the people that “I AM” has sent you (Exodus 3:14). What does that mean? The only further explanation is “I AM that I AM,” which points to God’s eternal self-existence. If you know that “God is” and that he is the great “I am,” you know the most fundamental truth in the universe.
In Psalm 81:10 God gives a wonderful invitation to his children, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Ask what you need, God says, and I will do it for you. People often call Jeremiah 33:3 “God’s telephone number” because it contains a very clear promise: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (NASB). I heard a man say, “Lord, teach us to pray big prayers. So much of what we pray is just details.” I found that a helpful and challenging thought. It’s not that the details don’t matter. They do, but sometimes our prayers suffer because our vision is so small. If we want to honor God, we will believe what he says and then act on that belief by praying large prayers that require an Almighty God to answer them.
Bring an umbrella when you pray for rain!
During a drought in England, a pastor called his church to a special prayer meeting to ask God to send much-needed rain. Though it was a bright and cloudless day, Mary came with an umbrella. Why? “Since we’re praying for rain, I thought I should bring an umbrella.” Everyone chuckled and the minister laughed and patted her on the cheek. As they were praying, the winds rose, the clouds rolled in, and sure enough, the heavens opened, and down came a torrent of rain. Mary was dry while the congregation went home wet. That’s what faith does. It brings an umbrella to a prayer meeting when you are praying for rain!
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:23).
In one sense, this is clearly hyperbole: Jesus uses an absurdity to point out the great possibilities of prayer. But the words are literal in this sense. When he says “this mountain,” I think he was standing on or perhaps pointing to the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1), a literal mountain the disciples had traversed many times. That particular mountain might be cast into the sea.
It’s not as if Jesus is saying, “Peter, you can do this. You can take the Mount of Olives and cast it into the Mediterranean Sea.” That’s not the meaning. Peter couldn’t do it, neither could James or John or any of the apostles. For them, it was a total impossibility. But it wasn’t impossible for God! That’s the whole point. Remember the context. Jesus has just cursed the fig tree, and the disciples marveled that it withered so quickly (Mark 11:20-21). Those verses come just before this passage. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “So you were amazed at what I did to the fig tree? What I did to the fig tree, I can do for any mountain you face if you have faith in God.”
The hardest part is talking to the mountain
For a disciple to cast a mountain into the sea, two conditions must be met, both humanly strange:
- He must talk to the mountain.
- He must not doubt in his heart.
What’s the hardest part about casting a mountain into the sea? Most people would probably answer, “Having faith,” or “Not doubting in your heart.” I submit that the hardest part is having the courage to talk to the mountain in the first place. What kind of person looks at a mountain and talks to it? If you do that on a regular basis, people will begin to question your sanity. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus tells his disciples they must do.
Years ago I read a fine little book by Elmer Towns called Say-It Faith. He argued (on the basis of this text and many others as well) that God honors those who dare to say out loud what they are asking God to do. Great leaders galvanize their followers by saying out loud, “This is where God is leading us.” It might be to send missionaries to an unevangelized tribe, or it might be to raise $10 million for a new sanctuary, or it might be to ask God to heal someone of Covid-19. Leaders talk about their impossible dreams openly and they pray publicly about what God has laid on their hearts. This releases God’s power in a unique way because it puts the impossible issue on the table where everyone can see it. As long as you keep silent about your dreams, they are much less likely to come true.
Like Babe Ruth at Wrigley Field
That has always made perfect sense to me. It’s like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield and calling his shot just before he hit that legendary home run at Wrigley Field. When you speak to the mountain of impossibility, you are doing what Jesus said to do. Here’s Philip Yancey’s definition of faith: “Faith is believing in advance in something that will only seem logical when seen in reverse.” Sometimes (often, in fact) God calls us to believe him for things that humanly speaking make no sense. But when we dare to believe God, we see in retrospect how logical it was. But we must believe God first even when it defies “common sense.”
We all have mountains of difficulty in our lives. Sometimes they are great tasks laid before us and we have little personal strength with which to meet them. Sometimes those “mountains” are broken relationships or habits of sin. Your “mountain” may involve believing God regarding a health issue or a loved one who is far from the Lord. Or it may mean trusting God amid a failing marriage.
One major part of seeing the mountains move in your life is having the courage to speak to the mountain because you believe God can cast it into the sea.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
This promise has three parts. It is comprehensive: “Whatever you ask for.” It is conditional: “Believe that you have received it.” It is definite: “It will be yours!” Note the change of tenses: There is the present: “whatever you ask for.” There is the past: “you have received it.” There is the future: “it will be yours.” We are to pray in the present, with the assurance God has already granted our request, even though the answer will not come until the future.
God answers even before we ask
Sometimes in the Greek language the writers will use what is called a “proleptic aorist.” Romans 8:30 offers an excellent example when it says of the children of God, “those he also glorified.” He speaks of believers as having already been glorified in heaven. That glorification is still future for those of us living on the earth. But it is so certain of fulfillment (because God has determined he will do it) that the writer speaks of it as if it had already been done.
Because God is God, we may be sure he is at work answering our prayers even before we pray them. Because God lives outside of time, the prayers we pray today are certain of fulfillment yesterday, even though we won’t receive the answers until tomorrow! Think about that for a while.
Believing in advance is like a young couple who puts up a nursery even before the wife is pregnant. Or it’s like a “hope chest” prepared by a young lady for the day she will be married. Ron Hutchcraft says it’s like buying a Christmas present in September but hiding it until December. We stash the presents in the closet and then get them out when Christmas draws near. You can’t give the presents early or it will spoil the joy. In prayer our part is to trust God completely while we wait for the answers to come. “If your Father wants you to have it, it may not be in your hands, but it’s already in the closet.”
Say it out loud!
One other point should be made. Sometimes when we pray, we have a promise of a specific blessing and we may then pray with total confidence. But often we pray not knowing what God will do. Not every prayer falls in the category of verse 24 because God doesn’t always give us that kind of faith. Jesus Christ is God. He is the King of Kings. He governs the universe. Sometimes when we pray, he gives us faith to believe for amazing things. Other times we pray with less certainty, still trusting that the Lord knows what is best.
In light of Jesus’ teaching, we may draw the following applications. When we pray, we should:
- Pray for something definite,
- Say it out loud,
- Not question God’s ability,
- Persevere in prayer, and
- Wait for God’s answer.
Moving Mountains in Haiti
A few days ago I received the news that Pastor Sidoine Lucien had died at the age of 89. I was glad and sad at the same time because Pastor Lucien was one of the greatest men I have ever known. I was glad because he has gone to heaven, but I was sad for his family.
I got connected with him when his sons Caleb and Henoc were students at Dallas Theological Seminary. We became friends when they started attending the church I pastored in a Dallas suburb. In 1986, Caleb and Henoc invited me to come to Haiti to preach in an outdoor crusade, in the village of Pignon, in the northern part of Haiti. Back then, they had no paved roads, no running water, no sewage system, and very little electricity. There in the middle of all of it was Jerusalem Baptist Church, founded and led by Pastor Sidoine.
Pignon: A Place of Miracles
It was (and is) a place of miracles.
In one of my books, I wrote about that first visit to Haiti:
Pastor Sidoine Lucien, a native-born Haitian, founded the Jerusalem Baptist Church in 1977 with about 65 people, 47 of whom had the last name of Lucien. The first time I visited Pignon, they met in an open-air sanctuary that in America would seat maybe 250 people. The Haitians packed in four times that number. Most weeks the offering was under $100. They were running a church of 1000 people with six associate pastors, three homes for widows, an elementary school, and they were starting an orphanage and buying land to build a Christian camp, all on a budget of less than $2,000 a year. I would say it can’t be done, but I saw it with my own eyes.
The pastor is a good man with a giving heart. During the time I stayed in his home, I couldn’t figure out who was in his family. There were too many people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. People would come to bring food, come to get food, people would come in, start cooking for a while, then they would leave. Fifteen or twenty kids would come in, then they’d leave. “Who are these people?” “They are my family.” One night I met a little girl about 8 or 9 years old, the daughter of a witch doctor. What was she doing there? Even though her father is a witch doctor, he knows and respects Pastor Lucien. He told his daughter to go live with the pastor because “he will tell you about Jesus so you won’t go to hell like me.”
After I had been in Haiti about a week, I saw people walking barefoot for 2 1/2 hours on dirt roads to come to church services. I saw women come to the house with 3 or 4 chickens and make it into a meal for 50 people. I saw them give and give and give. Finally, I had to ask, “How do you do this?” ”Our church is not like the other churches of Haiti,” Pastor Lucien replied. “In the other churches, most of the pastors are dictators. They have never learned anything else. They just say, ‘Do this, do that.’ Their people have to do it. God showed me a different way. All I do is help the people he sends me. When I help them, God sends me more. And he always gives me whatever I need.” Then in broken English, he gave me the best one-sentence statement of what it means to be a servant that I have ever heard: “When I help some, God helps me.”
Pastor Sidoine lived long enough to see his dreams come true. There is now a network of churches, orphanages, a disaster relief ministry, homes for widows, a camp, a Christian school system, and even a college. From a tiny beginning in an unlikely place, Pastor Sidoine’s ministry now touches the nation.
“He has poured enough in us”
After his death, one of the young men he had discipled said, “He has poured enough in us,” meaning, “The worker is gone, but God’s work goes on.” When Pastor Sidoine and his wife came to Pignon, they faced a mountain of impossibility. But through prayer and faith and perseverance, the work was done. Despite facing an endless stream of obstacles (Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a perennially unstable government), this good man spoke words of faith, and in God’s good time, the mountain began to move and eventually it crashed into the sea.
Why should this surprise us? It’s what Jesus said would happen.
Let no one think that these words of Jesus don’t apply to us today. Mountains fly into the sea all the time. We don’t see it because we’re not looking for it.
No Prayer Offered in Faith Can Fail
Writing on this text over 150 years ago, Charles Simeon said no prayer offered in faith can ever fail. Sometimes God answers exactly as we have prayed. Often his answers come in a different fashion. The answer may be delayed, or the Lord may substitute something better, or he may give us grace to bear what we asked might be removed from our lives. Yet in all this, God still answers prayer.
God always answers believing prayer. Always!
God always answers believing prayer!
The only limit on prayer is the will of God. If our prayers are within the circle of God’s will, we may ask what we will and God who knows all things will answer our prayer according to his will.
That’s the Big Promise for today: You can move mountains. It’s in the Bible, and we can all read it. Are we willing to believe what Jesus said? There is another way to say it. By yourself, you can never move a mountain, but God can. So ask him! Ask him to do what only he can do. When faced with a mountain of impossibility, go to the Lord and beg him to move that mountain for you.
In the end prayer is not a burden, not a duty, but a blessed privilege. We should not pray because we must but because we want to. Why bother praying if you don’t believe God will answer you? Let us pray with confidence, expecting God will answer our prayers. Nothing is too great to ask and nothing is too hard for the Lord.
So let the people of God keep on praying. Claim God’s promises. Say to the mountain, “Be cast into the sea.” Then stand back and see what the Lord will do.