Good morning, Friends!
I want to talk about prayer with you this morning. Prayer is supposed to be at the heart of our life together. We all discover new things, we’re all on different journeys, and we all come from different places. But praying to God is something we’re all supposed to do.
The Bible has a lot of things to say about prayer, and I’d like us to look at them together over the next few weeks. We have a lot of things we need to do here at Springfield Friends. But I think that almost all of them are going to require a lot of prayer.
So, let’s take a look at one of these “prayer Scriptures,” and see if there’s anything we can learn from it.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and doesn’t doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.”
– Mark 11:22-26
When I was a boy, the Interstate highway system was still being built. Back before then, it was all just two-lane state highways and dirt roads in our part of Vermont.
Travel was a lot slower then. It took hours more to get places than it does now. In the winter time, we hardly traveled at all.
And then, one year, a bunch of surveyors started showing up in the town over in the next valley. They walked all over people’s fields, and they put up mysterious stakes on the hillsides. Grownups said they were marking out a route for the new highway, that would let you drive from one end of the state to the other in just three hours.
We all laughed. We all knew that driving down to the state line took all day.
The next season, crews showed up with drilling rigs. They bored thousands of holes, all up and down where the surveyors had been.
Then they started blasting. Day after day, you could hear the explosions. Bulldozers and trucks came and hauled away the rock and pushed the dirt around.
It was exciting, but it was also scary. We thought that the mountains had been there forever, and that things would always be just the same. We couldn’t imagine the hills being carved away, all along the river, heading north and south.
You’d go away for a week and come back, and there would be a whole new valley, where an exit ramp was going to be. It took a few years, but every year, there’d be a new section opened up. Nobody could believe the the work that was being done.
Mountains are very real things. They’re also symbols – symbols for the power of God and the presence of God. You always have to ask whether something is symbolic or literal in the Bible.
When this morning’s story was first told, Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem. People were watching Jesus, expecting him to do something. The place where he was teaching was on Mount Zion, the place where the Temple was built. That mountain was supposed to stand there forever. It was a symbol of stability.
And Jesus says, “Have faith in God. If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
That’s a pretty powerful saying. And it’s got all kinds of problems. I’ve never been sure if I understand it completely, or if I don’t understand it at all.
Mountains don’t usually move. Or if they do, they move very slowly. Maybe an inch or two a year. Maybe not at all. And that’s OK.
If you wait for a mountain to move, usually you’re going to wait for a very long time. Tectonic plates move, and erosion happens, but it’s a very slow process. Geological time is very slow time.
And basically, that’s good. When something as big as a mountain moves, it usually means disaster. We like the safety and stability of things staying still. When an earthquake hits, people usually pray for it to stop!
I also thought, as I was studying this passage, that moving a mountain is sort of like moving heavy furniture around the house. Anybody ever done that? My mother used to make us move furniture around all the time.
If you ask somebody to move a mountain for you, you may not like where they put it.
If you ask people to keep moving that heavy sofa 2 inches to the left, or to try moving that heavy book case to 6 different places, the movers aren’t going to like you very much. They’re going to say, “The heck with it,” and drop your stuff in the middle of the room and walk out.
If we ask God to move a mountain, we’d better be pretty sure where we want it moved. And we’d better not plan on asking God to move it a second time.
Jesus said that moving mountains involves faith. The whole point of this reading is for us to have faith. Whether the mountain is literal or metaphorical, faith is the real issue here.
You don’t have to have faith that’s equal in size to the mountain you want to move. This same story is found in another part of the gospels. In Matthew chapter 17, Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
That’s an important theme in the Bible. Nothing is impossible with God! We heard that a few weeks ago, during the Christmas story, when the angel came and spoke to Mary. We hear it over and over, in many other places in the Bible. Nothing is impossible with God!
The lion will lie down in peace with the lamb. The kingdom of heaven will come down here on earth. Sins will be truly forgiven, enemies will be reconciled, obstacles will be overcome, people in chains will be set free, the lame will walk. Nothing is impossible with God! Mountains can be moved, if we pray.
The point isn’t how much faith we have. The point is that we use it. It’s one thing to want things to happen. It’s another thing to ask, with all our heart, and then to go ahead and live and act and build.
Why doesn’t this stuff happen more often? Why don’t we pray all the time for mountains to be moved?
Sometimes I think we let fear get in the way. We’re afraid of what would happen if the mountain actually moved. We might not be able to deal with it. What if the world really changed?
What if our church really grew? Do you think we could we handle it?
Or what if our worst enemy said, “Hey! Let’s be friends again! I forgive you. Now you forgive me.” Could we do it? Or is it easier to go on being enemies forever?
I think sometimes we’re afraid that if we ask God to move a mountain, that God might say, “Sure! How about giving me a little help? I’ll lift one end, and you lift the other.” Are we ready for that? What if we ask, and God says, “Sure thing!” Are we ready to help make it happen?
I hear people all the time who say to me, “I’m so lonely. I feel so isolated. I wish I had more friends!”
And I say, “What are you doing to make that happen? Are you making any moves? Are you reaching out? Are baking any cookies? Are smiling at people? Are you acting as though you confidently expected people to respond to you?”
I hear people say, “I wish there was a group that I could belong to. I always feel like I’m on the outside.”
And I say, “Yeah, there are plenty of people who feel that way.” What’s the difference, between people who just feel that way you do, and people who act on it?
Are you going to wait around forever, and just hope that the right group is going to form, by magic? Or are you going to pray for that special group to gather, and share your prayer with other people, and be on the lookout for whatever the first, small signs are that your prayer is being answered?”
Prayer isn’t magic. Faith isn’t just wishing that things would happen.
You need to know what you want. It needs not to be something that’s absolutely against what God wants. We shouldn’t say, “God, I’m upset with that person, and I want you to arrange for them to die in a car crash.” That’s not OK.
But when we pray, we need to take a step of faith. We need to put something that we have – our time, our work, our skill, our energy, our possessions, our money – we need to put something important that we have out there, and use it – risk it! – on behalf of what we’re praying for.
It doesn’t have to be a big step. It can be one the size of a mustard seed. But we have to take that step, and not pull back.
If we want a mountain to move, we have to move ourselves. We can’t just sit there, hold up our hands, and wish for it to happen.
I meet people all the time who have what I call a passive desire for change. They want a better church, but they’re not willing to do anything about it. They’re full of ideas about what should be done. But they’re not willing to do anything themselves.
There’s always a giveaway phrase. If you hear a personsay, “Somebody should do something,” that’s a passive faith, and 99 times out of a hundred, it won’t be effective.
When I hear someone say, “I want this to happen, and I’m willing to work on it myself,” that’s an active desire for change. That’s an active faith. That’s a prayer that’s going to move mountains.
The key word to watch out for is “somebody should”; the phrase I always want to encourage is “I will”.
This meeting wasn’t built by people who said, “Somebody should.” This meeting was built by people who had the faith to say, “I will.”
I don’t care if the steps we take today are small ones. Almost everything starts out small. I want people who take their dreams and desires into prayer, people who ask God and listen to God and pray to God, and who come out of their time of prayer and say, “Lord, I WILL!”
That’s the kind of prayer that moves mountains.
It’s OK for us to limit the number of activities we do, so that we can do those few activities well. It’s OK for us to stretch our limits, to try to do more and then re-adjust our plan.
It’s OK to have a vision for a greater, bigger, better, richer, deeper, more attractive place than we have now.
We are usually capable of doing much more, or much better, than we usually think we can. Our shyness, our fear and our baggage hold us back from doing a lot of great things.
Nothing lasts forever. The needs of the day change. New people arrive. Resources ebb and flow.
We probably have less money in the bank than we had 10 years ago. Our budget is smaller, but we’re still giving generously.
We have more people here at worship. We do! Worship attendance is up almost 30% since this time last year. We had four babies born in the last few months. We’ve fixed a lot of things that needed fixing. We have thoughtful, experienced, enthusiastic people at every level.
This is not a place where things get handed to you. This is a place where people come to worship, and find friends who share their vision and agree to work together on it.
This meeting is a gathering of ministers. Everyone is a minister. We work during the week, and we gather here to pray and to be encouraged and strengthened and to dream together. We meet to pray, and then we go out and put our faith on the line in our daily lives. We ask God to help, and then we trust God to help us.
And if all we have is the faith of a mustard seed, that’s OK. We can help each other a lot, if we put all our mustard seeds together.
Mountains get moved when people get together to move them.
Do you want to see something changed here in our meeting? We can do that. People here at Springfield Friends are remarkably open to trying new things.
Want to see some changes in one of our programs or ministries? God can help make that happen. We don’t have to put up with things the way they are.
Want to work on improving our community, or work on making peace? God doesn’t oppose those things. And as the Bible says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Nothing is impossible for God.
Is there anything in your own life you want to let go of? A fear, or an addiction, or a hurt, or a disappointment? Do you ever feel like there’s a mountain standing in the way between the way your life is now, and the way you feel God calling you to live?
God is in the mountain-moving business. And a lot of the biggest mountains are ones we make ourselves. If we ask God to help us, if we pray and let God lead us the next step, if we plant that mustard seed and ask God to help it grow, amazing things can happen.
I don’t like to boast about things I’ve prayed for. Because I think God is the one who always deserves the credit.
But I have seen churches turn around. I’ve seen enemies reconciled. I’ve seen addictions overcome. I’ve seen a physical well bring fresh water to a desert, because people prayed and worked together for it.
I’ve seen people get up from a bed, when the doctors had told everyone there wasn’t any hope.
I’ve seen a child brought to a hospital with a crippled arm, so heavy with tumors she couldn’t even lift it, and I’ve seen that same little girl go home laughing and waving both arms in the air.
If things like these can happen, why should we limit what we pray for? Why should we hold back when we pray?
There are lots of other issues about prayer, and I want to talk about them with you together over the next few weeks. But the basic point is that prayer really can move mountains.
I want us to take that thought into open worship. I want us to take that promise into our hearts. The size of our faith doesn’t matter. The size of the mountain doesn’t matter. Size is just not a really important thing with God.
God set the world in motion, and all the stars. Do you really think that any mountain, which seems so great to us, is all that big to God?
I want you to identify one or two things which bother you. We need to grow. We need to change. We need to be free of things. We need to be healed. You pick what seems like a mountain to you.
Take it to God in prayer. Say, “Lord, I don’t know how it’s going to move, but I believe that you can move mountains.”
Pray it again and again. Don’t give up. Say, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” It’s OK to have doubts and questions, but don’t let them take over your heart. In your heart, in the center of your being, believe in God. Believe in God’s love and mercy.
Don’t expect that God’s going to do it all. Don’t just sit there and fold your hands and say, “OK, Lord, you can do everything now!”
God can move mountains, but sometimes we need to help. Sometimes we’ve got to get out of the way from where it’s going to land. Sometimes we’ve got to let go of the mountain, before God can lift it.
Let’s take this into open worship, and pray together.
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown