Prayer: The Secret Of Moving Mountains
In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus and Peter and James and John have had that marvelous experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. The other disciples remained below in the valley. When Jesus and Peter and James and John returned from the Mount, well, it is at that point that Matthew picks up the story in the 14th verse, Matthew 17. “And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus and, kneeling before Him, said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often, he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples but they could not heal him.’ Jesus answered, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then, the disciples came to Jesus privately, and they said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move hence to yonder place,” and it will move. And nothing will be impossible to you.’” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone, be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today, I begin with you a series of sermons built on the subject of prayer. Now, I have to confess to you, right here at the outset, that I am somewhat uncomfortable with the whole project, because, you see, it seems to me, at any rate, that we ought to spend less time talking about prayer and more time praying. You know how it is. It’s very easy to get a group of people together in the church to discuss the subject of prayer, but it’s not so easy to get a group of people together to pray.
However, I am going to embark on this series of sermons, even with that reservation and with some discomfort, because the Bible says that prayer is to be the first business of the church. And not just the church, but this church. And not only that, but I am at a point in my own personal sacred journey where I feel the need to rethink what the nature of prayer is, and what its disciplines ought to be. So, I want us to begin today by looking at this passage of scripture from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. A father had brought his epileptic son to the disciples in hopes that they would heal the boy. But the disciples couldn’t heal him. They didn’t have the power. Now, it is at that point that Jesus intervenes into what’s occurring. And Jesus has the power. And Jesus uses the power. And because Jesus used the power, the little boy was cured instantly, the Bible says. Now, afterward, after everyone had gone, the disciples came to Jesus, and they said, “Master, why couldn’t we heal that little boy?” And the answer Jesus gave to them speaks volumes, I believe, about the subject of prayer. Let me try to show you what I mean.
First, Jesus’s word here in this passage of Scripture speaks to us of the power of prayer.
David Redding, in commenting on this particular passage, says that these words of Scripture give us an unusual insight into Jesus own understanding of His extraordinary power. Redding says that as you read these verses, it becomes quite clear that Jesus meant by prayer not just a momentary utterance but rather a life of intimacy with God through personal communion. I like that. Yes. A life of intimacy with God through personal communion. I want to set that down right now as my definition of prayer. Oh, it’s borrowed, I will admit that. But I like it, and I’m going to use it, and that’s my definition of prayer. A life of intimacy with God through personal communion.
I know, as soon as I say that, someone here is going to want to say, “Now, come on, preacher. That definition of prayer is just too broad.” I will admit that. That’s okay. You see, I’m trying to make a point. I’m trying to convince you that prayer is more than simply closing your eyes and attempting to engage the Almighty in conversation. Prayer is more than coming to a place like this and sitting quietly and listening more or less attentively as some minister prays with you and for you. Prayer is more than simply retreating into the solace of your bedroom, there thinking certain thoughts which you then direct heavenward. Prayer is all of those things, yes. But prayer is so much more than all of those things. Prayer is a life of intimacy with God through personal communion. It’s more than a discourse, more than a conversation, more than a monologue, more than an exchange of words. It’s a whole way of life. And that’s the point Jesus is trying to make here. For Jesus says to His disciples, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place,’ and it will move. And nothing will be impossible to you.” That’s what He said.
Now, let’s understand something at this point. When Jesus used the phrase “mountain moving,” He wasn’t speaking of actual mountains. Let’s understand that. In the first place, I’ve never yet seen a mountain that looked like it was where it shouldn’t be. Mountains just don’t need to be moved. No, you know, it’s rather like the prayer of the old mountaineer who said, “Lord, I don’t ask for enough faith to move a mountain. I can take a few sticks of dynamite and move it if it needs moving. I’m asking for enough faith to move me.” Ah, yes, that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make. For you see, when Jesus used the phrase “mountain mover,” He was using a phrase which was very popular in His day. In that time, those people who were known to be great leaders and great teachers, those people who were known to be able to overcome and to solve life’s problems, those people who were known to be able to master life’s difficulties, those people were commonly referred to as “mountain movers.”
And so, what Jesus is saying here – and when He used the phrase, every single person listening to Him would have known exactly what He meant. What Jesus is saying here is simply this. If you soak yourself, if you immerse yourself in a relationship with God, if you saturate your life in the things of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, if you give yourself, if you surrender yourself to a life of intimacy with God through personal direct communion, then you are going to be able to overcome life’s problems and difficulties and hardships and tragedies. And nothing, He says, absolutely nothing, will be impossible to you. That’s what He says. That’s the promise He makes. And I tell you, there is power in that promise.
I want you to listen to the words of Dr. Alexis Carrel. He’s a man of science. But listen closely to what he says. “Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. If you make a habit of sincere prayer in your life, you will discover that your life is noticeably and profoundly altered. For there is a tranquility of bearing, a facial and bodily repose to be clearly seen in those whose lives are thus enriched. Prayer is a force as real as the force of gravity. As a physician,” Dr. Carrel goes on, “as a physician, I have seen people, when all other therapy has failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by nothing other than the serene effort of prayer. Too many people regard prayer as nothing more than just a formalized routine of words, or just a refuge for weaklings, or just a childish petition for material blessings. We sadly undervalue prayer when we think of it in those terms, for quite the contrary is true,” Alexis Carrel says.
When you and I pray, we literally, actually, consciously, deliberately attach ourselves to the great, vast, inexhaustible motive power that spins the whole universe. That is the power of prayer. And that’s what Jesus extends to us here, that promise. If you give yourself to a life of intimacy with God through personal communion, then nothing will be impossible to you. That’s the word of Jesus Christ.
But secondly, Jesus says here some words that speak to us of the discipline of prayer.
You know, Jesus taught us that we ought to pray without ceasing. And then, to underscore that teaching, He told the story of the unjust judge. You remember that parable? The story of how this unjust judge finally gave in to the ceaseless clamorings of a persistent widow lady. Well, now, what’s the point of the story? Obviously not that God is like the unjust judge, that God is unjust, and that the only way He will respond to us is if He is coaxed and exasperated to do so. No, that’s not the point at all.
Jesus – remember Jesus, the master of the use of ironic humor? Jesus tells this story and then twists the message right out of it. And He says that if you and I can actually influence an earthly magistrate in our favor, by sheer persistence, well, then, think how much more that will be true of our Heavenly Father, who made us and who loves us and who cares for us and who cares about what happens to us. He says, “Pray without ceasing.” Keep banging on the doors of heaven. Give yourself, in other words, to the discipline of prayer. For it is out of the discipline that there comes the power. That’s the message here, that if we give ourselves to the discipline of prayer, then we shall experience the power.
How does the psalmist put it? He says, he says, “I will call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and noon, I will pray, and the Lord will hear my voice.” That’s the discipline of prayer. Evening and morning and noon, not just for a week or so. I mean, persistence, by its very definition, means a considerable period of time. Out of the discipline of prayer, evening and morning and noon, out of the discipline of prayer comes the power. That was the problem with the disciples. They couldn’t heal the little boy. So, they came to Jesus and they said to Him, “Why can’t we heal him?” And Jesus said, “Because of your little faith.” Do you see what He’s saying? He’s saying, “You have not invested yourselves in the discipline of prayer to the extent that you are ready to receive the power.” Out of the discipline comes the power. Just as jogging and aerobics and things like that condition us physically, so it is prayer that conditions us spiritually. Prayer builds up spiritual muscle. And the fact of the matter is that God will not send His power flooding into our lives until we are strong enough spiritually to receive it. The fact that you and I have not yet experienced a full measure of God’s power in our lives does not mean that God cannot or will not grant it. No. It simply means that God is withholding the full measure of His power until we are strong enough spiritually to receive it. Out of the discipline comes the power.
Let me come at that in a slightly different way. Prayer is our means of communication with God. It is our line of communication to Him. And that line of communication must be kept open, not just occasionally, but constantly. Are you aware of the fact that, on the night that the Titanic sank, the passengers on board the Titanic so jammed that ship’s radio sending silly, senseless messages to friends and relatives back home, that other ships in the area could not get through to the Titanic with their iceberg warnings? That’s a parable of our lives, which are sometimes so jammed with trivial, frivolous activities that the saving word of God cannot get through. If we, on the other hand, keep those lines of communication to God open not just occasionally, but constantly, then the power of God will begin to flow into us. Out of the discipline comes the power. That’s what Jesus says to us here. Give yourself to the discipline of prayer, evening and morning and noon, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And out of that discipline, you shall receive power. That’s the word of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus says a third thing here, and what He says speaks to us of the availability of prayer.
Now, I haven’t been in the ministry for nearly seventeen years for nothing. I know the kinds of things that you are experiencing in life. I have looked deeply into the lives of many of you, and I know what you’re going through. And I tell you, sometimes, sometimes, I am brought to the point of tears to know the kinds of things that you are having to bear up under in the living of life. I know that. But I want to say to you now, to all of you, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances may be. I want to say to you now that this relationship with God in Jesus Christ, this life of intimacy with God through personal communion, is available to you, to every single one of you. This power is yours. It’s available.
And that means that we can pray about anything, anywhere, anytime. It means that God is always ready to listen to us. God is always on duty, twenty-four hours a day. He is available to you and to me. And when we begin to give ourselves to the discipline of prayer, when we give ourselves to the life of intimacy with God through personal communion, then we begin to discover God’s great mountain-moving, problem-solving power begins to flood our lives. You don’t believe that? Do you? Do you believe it?
Well, then, try this on. Wrap your heart around this. She had it made, or so it seemed. She was intellectually brilliant, financially secure, socially prominent. She was an accomplished journalist, a gifted teacher, long before the days of women’s liberation. She was the first woman elected to serve on the Board of Regents of the University of Texas. She had it made. Or so it seemed. One night, I received a phone call from her husband. It was the middle of the night. He asked me if I could come to their house as quickly as I could. I went. And when I got there, I found that, well – I found that over a period of time, she had become a slave to alcohol. And I guess you could say that that night, she hit bottom. And it wasn’t pleasant to see. And it wasn’t pleasant to be around.
Her husband and I tried to minister to her as gently and as lovingly as we could as the long night hours passed. And then, just before dawn, when she was able, we locked our arms and we locked our hearts. And right there, in their living room, we began to pray, pray as perhaps we’d never prayed before. After that, there were other prayers, many other prayers, many other conversations. And time passed. But the point I want you to see is this, that that night, that night, just before the dawn, that woman took what little faith she had at that moment – and believe me, it wasn’t very much. But she took that little faith. It was just a little mustard seed-sized faith. But she took that little faith, and with that little mustard seed-sized faith, just the beginnings of a commitment, just the beginning, with that little mustard seed-sized faith, she committed herself, from that moment on, to saturate herself in the things of God and the things of Jesus Christ.
And as a result of that, well, I really think that she can tell you better than I. Several years later, I received this letter. “Dear Howard, I think you deserve a report. Somewhere recently, I read where a man said to a reformed alcoholic, ‘I see you’ve mastered the devil of alcohol.’ The other man replied, ‘No, I haven’t. But I have found the master of that devil.’ Howard, our God has been so everlastingly good to me, that I now have no desire for it anymore. Better still, He’s been so good in giving me many things that are far more important.” And then, she goes on in the letter and she tells me how she’s started teaching a Sunday school class each week. And then, she says, wonder of wonders, that she’s been elected president-elect of the women of the church. And then she says that the Governor of Texas has now appointed her to the Board of Visitors of the great M.D. Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston.
And then, she says, “Most importantly of all, there is a small prayer group. There are just five of us. And we meet at my house every week to pray. Howard, this is a long letter, but I did want you to know that you were the vessel the Lord used to give me a second wind. I may not be able to fly like the eagle, and I may not be able to run without being weary, but at least I can walk and not faint, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ and to you. I love you and your family. I miss you, and always will. But I pray that God may use you in the same way for someone else.”
I can’t prove it to you. But I believe, with all the heart I’ve got, that that is the power of prayer. And that power is yours. Yours for the asking.
Let us pray. Merciful Father, Oh, the power there is in prayer, waiting for us to tap it. Enable us through the discipline of prayer, morning and evening and noon. Enable us to plug our lives into that power, the power to heal, the power to bless, the power to change, the power to save. And it comes to us, all of it, it comes to us from Jesus Christ. Amen.