What is Mountain-Moving Faith?

From Jackie via Facebook:

Hi David, I have a question. If I have been given authority from Jesus to move mountains, to see miracles happen, and so much more, why then when I pray for such things aren’t they happening? What am I doing wrong?

Jesus spoke of “moving mountains” in two passages: Matthew 17, in regard to the deliverance of the demon possessed boy, and in Mark 11 (also in Matthew 21) in regard to the cursing of the fig tree.

In both situations:

  • Jesus did something remarkable
  • His disciples marveled
  • Jesus explained how He did the remarkable thing
  • Jesus inspired the faith of His disciples
  • Jesus obviously used a metaphor – a figure of speech

Matthew 17:19-21 – The Deliverance of the Demon-Possessed Boy

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

[20] Because of your unbelief: Jesus laid the inability of the disciples to cast out the demon at their unbelief. To be successful in a battle against demons, there must be trust in the Lord GOD who has complete authority over the demons.

[20] If you have faith as a mustard seed: The faith that we must have has more to do with what kind of faith it is than with how much faith there is. A small amount of faith, as small as a mustard seed (a very small seed), can accomplish great things if that small amount of faith is placed in the great and mighty God.

Little faith can accomplish great things; but great faith can accomplish even greater things. What matters most is what our faith is in, the object of our faith. “The eye cannot see itself. Did you ever see your own eye? In a mirror you may have done so, but that was only a reflection of it. And you may, in like manner, see the evidence of your faith, but you cannot look at the faith itself. Faith looks away to itself to the object of faith, even to Christ.” (Spurgeon)

[20] You will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”: According to F.F. Bruce, Jesus used a phrase that was common among the rabbis of His day. They would call (to paraphrase) a distinguished rabbi a “mountain mover.” Jesus told us that faithbrings us into this status, this place in God’s work.

Mark 11:20-24 – The Cursed Fig Tree

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

[22] Have faith in God: Jesus explained that this miracle was really the result of a prayer made in faith, and He encouraged His marveling disciples to have this kind of faith, trusting that God would hear them also.

[22] In God: Jesus made it clear that prayer must be offered in faith, and faith must be in God. Faith is trust, confidence, and reliance upon someone or something.

Some, using Greek transliterations, have said Jesus was really saying that we must “Have God’s faith.” But Greek scholars object to this understanding of the phrase “have faith in God.”

[23] Whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed”Mountain was a popular figure of speech for any insurmountable problem; Jesus said that as we believe, God could overcome any obstacle.

  1. “The phrase about removing mountains was a quite common Jewish phrase. It was a regular, vivid phrase for removing difficulties.” (Barclay)
  2. This promise of God’s answer to the prayer made in faith was made to disciples, not to the multitude. “Nor should we interpret Mark 11:24 to mean, ‘If you pray hard enough and really believe, God is obligated to answer your prayer no matter what you ask.’ That kind of faith is not faith in God; rather it is nothing but faith in faith, or faith in feelings.” (Wiersbe)

1 John 5:14-15 – Our Confidence in Prayer

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

[14] If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: In this, we see the purpose of prayer and the secret of power in prayer. It is to ask; to ask anything; to ask anything according to His will; and once having so asked, to have the assurance that He hears us.

  1. First, God would have us ask in prayer. Much prayer fails because it never asksfor anything. God is a loving God, and a generous giver – He wants us to ask of Him.
  2. Secondly, God would have us ask anythingin prayer. Not to imply that anythingwe ask for will be granted, but anything in the sense that we can and should pray about everything. God cares about our whole life, and nothing is too small or too big to pray about. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

Next, God would have us ask according to His will. It is easy for us to only be concerned with our will before God, and to have a fatalistic view regarding His will (“He will accomplish His will with or without my prayers anyway, won’t He?”). But God wants us to see and discern His will through His Word, and to pray His will into action. When John wrote this, John may have had Jesus’ own words in mind, which he recorded in John 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. When we abide in Jesus – living in Him, day by day – then our will becomes more and more aligned with His will, and we can ask what you desire, and more and more be asking according to His will. Then we see answered prayer.

  1. If something is God’s will, why doesn’t He just do it, apart from our prayers? Why would He wait to accomplish His will until we pray? Because God has appointed us to work with Him as 2 Corinthians 6:1 says: as workers together with Him. God wants us to work with Him, and that means bringing our will and agenda into alignment with His. He wants us to care about the things He cares about, and He wants us to care about them enough to pray passionately about them.

[15] We know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him: When we ask according to God’s will, when we pray the promises of God, we have this confidence; and so pray with real and definite faith.

  1. Prayer should be so much more than casting wishes to heaven. It is rooted in understanding God’s will and promises according to His Word, and praying those promises into action. For each prayer request, we should mentally or vocally ask, “What possible reason do I have to think that God will answer this prayer?” We should be able to answer that question from His Word.
  2. The most powerful prayers in the Bible are always prayers which understand the will of God, and ask Him to perform it. We may be annoyed when one of our children says, “Daddy, this is what you promised, now please do it,” but God is delighted when we pray His promises. It shows our will aligned with His, our dependence on Him, and that we take His Word seriously.

It is not necessarily wrong to ask for something that God has not promised; but we then realize that we are not coming to God on the basis of a specific promise, and we don’t have the confidence to know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Jackie, I don’t know that you are doing anything “wrong” in your prayers. Maybe you are; maybe you aren’t. Maybe you are misunderstanding your will for God’s. Maybe you were misunderstanding your timing for God’s timing. Just remember these things:

  • So, the purpose of prayer is not to accomplish our will, but God’s.
  • Using the Bible, we should try to understand God’s will the best we can.
  • With the best understanding of God’s will we have, we pray in faith.
  • If we have misunderstood God’s will in any way – or the timing of His will – we trust God to take care of that.
  • We believe that God can work miracles when we pray according to His will!

Prayer for Ukraine

Someone has asked if we can pray for Ukraine. I’d be delighted to do that. If you’re watching this on video later, maybe you also can just pause for a moment and join me in prayer. I believe that it’s meaningful and powerful when God’s people agree together in prayer. So, I’m going to pray, and I hope I’m praying in a way that you can agree with right now. We’ll pray for God to do some great things in this situation.

Father in heaven, we pray for the people and the leaders of the nation of Ukraine. We pray that You would give them supernatural grace and wisdom and strength. We especially pray for believers, for Your people in that nation. We pray that You would make them shining lights to bring many to faith in Jesus Christ, in this time of great calamity and warfare. Lord, we pray also that You would move upon the nations attacking Ukraine – Russia, Belarus, whoever it would be, Lord. We pray that You would move upon their leaders to work toward a peaceful resolution. We ask that You grant to the Christians in those nations the wisdom and passion in prayer to properly pray for their leaders, and to live as citizens in their country.

Lord, we are reminded that in Ukraine is not the only place where there’s war in the world right now. There are wars in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia, and other places of the world, Lord, we are a sin-soaked collection of humanity. God, we pray that You would work in and through Your people, and that You would work powerfully by the Holy Spirit, to bring peace and just resolution to these causes, to comfort the hurting, and to show the triumph and the love of Jesus Christ in it all. Do it, Father, we pray, in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Thanks for that encouragement to prayer.

Does the Orthodox Church preach heresy? Is it sinful to join the Orthodox Church?

I have a friend who recently switched from a non-denominational evangelical church to an American Orthodox Church. I decided to research what the Orthodox Church believes, and I attended a couple Sunday services with my friend. The rituals don’t bother me, but I’m seeing some traditions and rules that do. Should I be concerned for my friend as a Christian believer? Does the Orthodox Church preach heresy? Is it sinful to join?

Here’s the issue. When you talk about the Eastern Orthodox Church, you are talking about a broad range of denominations, church traditions, local congregations, and generations. I think it’s impossible to generalize as a whole, and say, “The Orthodox Church is this; the Orthodox Church is that.” Of course, there are some general things you can say, but overall, it has most to do with the individual congregation.

A person can certainly find Jesus in the Orthodox Church. If somebody wants to put their focus on Jesus, worship Jesus, be a disciple of Jesus, and follow Him with their life, they can do it in the Orthodox Church. I don’t have any doubt about that.

Now, I’ll say that there are many traditions and aspects of the liturgy of the services of the Orthodox Church which do not resonate with me at all. For me, it’s not a meaningful place to meet with Jesus. But somebody can go to a church as an outworking of vain tradition, no matter what their church tradition is. There really must be an emphasis on the individual seeking after Jesus Christ as He is revealed in His Word.

So, am I uncomfortable with some of the Orthodox emphasis on some of their liturgy and iconography? Yes, I am. But again, I know that somebody can find Jesus there. That’s the issue, I would say. Is your friend using their time in their presence in the Orthodox Church to press into Jesus? If they’re doing that, then I think that that can be okay. But if they seem lost in the traditions or the liturgy, without it really pressing them towards Jesus, then I think there could be some concern.

The Orthodox Church represents the majority of Christians that come from the east, and especially Eastern European countries, like Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey. It is said that more people were martyred for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. They were killed for being Christians. Maybe there was a political motivation; maybe it was just a genocidal thing. But if that statistic is true, we need to understand that it was the Eastern Church who bore the brunt of that. For that alone, our Orthodox brothers and sisters deserve commendation. They deserve gratitude on behalf of believers.

Before creation, what was God doing in eternity past?

That is a great question. I can think of a few things that God was doing in eternity past before creation.

First, God was planning a plan of redemption and preparing for it in every aspect.

Another thing God was doing was enjoying a relationship of love and fellowship between the persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He is one God in three Persons. We’re not tri-theists. We don’t believe in three gods, but we do believe in one God in three Persons. In some way that’s honestly difficult for us to comprehend, there was rich and meaningful fellowship among the members of the Trinity, in the person of God the Father, the person of God the Son, and the person of God the Holy Spirit. We know this because Jesus, in His great prayer in John 17, referred to the glory that He enjoyed with God the Father before the creation of the world, which is really a staggering statement.

So, God was doing whatever He did with the angelic beings. We really don’t know much about the origin of the angelic beings. Maybe there’s an entire backstory to the angelic beings that we know nothing about. We’ll learn about it in eternity future.

We do only know aspects of what God was doing. We know that God was planning and setting the groundwork for His plan of the ages. I say setting groundwork literally, because it speaks of the Lamb of God who was slain from before the foundation of the world. God was setting in motion His amazing plan of the ages and enjoying fellowship between the persons of the Trinity. That’s what I would say God was doing before anything existed.

Is Lent biblical?

No, it’s not biblical. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Many of the practices people do during Lent are fine and are biblical, like special times of prayer, special times of devotion, or special ways to mortify the flesh, whether it be a fast or another form of self-denial. Those things in and of themselves are biblical. But the Bible nowhere prescribes a season of 40 days before Easter Sunday for Christians to do these things. That’s purely a creation of Christian tradition. It’s not in the Bible at all; it’s Christian tradition. Again, the practices that many people do during Lent are in and of themselves biblical. But the practice itself of doing something in these 40 days before Easter is not biblical one bit.

Here’s what we need to remember about Lent. We need to remember the principle of freedom in Jesus Christ. People are absolutely free in Jesus to observe Lent if they want to. And they are absolutely free in Jesus to not observe Lent if they don’t want to. This isn’t something that’s commanded or prescribed by Scripture. We have freedom in Jesus Christ either way. So, if you want to do it, great – do it unto the Lord. Don’t think it makes you any better or superior to any other brother or sister, but just do it unto the Lord. We have freedom in Jesus Christ either way.

Is Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus non-historical?

Why do some Christian scholars regard the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1-2 to be non-historical? Why would the Holy Spirit through Matthew write about Jesus’ birth only for it to be an allegory?

First, let me say, the phrase “Christian scholars” is somewhat loaded. What do we mean by that phrase? Do we mean a scholar who happens to be a Christian? Do we mean a scholar of things Christians are interested in? Do we mean a scholar who is thoroughly Christian in their scholarship? I’m a little wary of the phrase “Christian scholarship,” because I think that it’s it needs to be more carefully defined, to be honest.

I would understand those who deny the historical nature of the Gospels in particular, to be outside the bounds of the Christian faith. I’m very serious. I know that’s extreme; I’ll admit that it’s extreme. When we refer to the clear historical narratives of the Scriptures, I understand some would push back and say it’s not so clear and historical; they would say it’s allegory. There’s a great deal of work done on this by a professor at a college here in Santa Barbara, named Robert Gundry. He wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew saying that these things in Matthew didn’t actually happen. He argues that Matthew was using rabbinic forms of literature to make up stories and apply them to Jesus. I would just reject that in very strenuous terms. He’s saying that the historicity of the biblical record doesn’t even matter; it’s just the story that it tells.

Why do some scholars or students of the Bible do this kind of thing? For example, in Gundry’s case, he looked at the account in Matthew about the Magi visiting Jesus, and the account in Luke of the shepherds visiting Jesus. He decided the story of the shepherds was legitimate, but that Matthew had done a Jedi Rabbi mind trick with his account of the Magi’s visit, saying that Matthew took Luke’s account and transformed the visit of the shepherds into the visit of the magi, to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures. In Gundry’s case, he said, “Well, Matthew wasn’t really lying, because everybody knew he was doing this that.” I would push back against that. I think this is a historical reductionism that’s very dangerous.

Basically, the reason why scholars often do this, is because they are uncomfortable with some of the supernatural elements that are in the Gospels. Sometimes scholars do this because they feel that there is contradictory matter in the gospels, and so they want to resolve with a claim or contradictions.

But I would just strenuously disagree with that approach. Now, I’m the first one to admit – I spoke about it in our lead question today – the Bible is filled with metaphor, with figures of speech. I’m looking out at the mountains from my window. I don’t believe that Jesus meant we would actually cause a mountain to be uprooted from the ground and cast into the sea. He’s using figures of speech and metaphors. We understand the Bible uses such language.

But when it tells us that things happened in history, they happened. It’s just that simple. The reason why they do it may be either to excuse what they suppose are grandiose claims of the supernatural, or to resolve what they think are contradictions. I don’t think either of those are worth doing.

Why is there so much repetition in Proverbs?

We’re reading through Proverbs, and it seems a lot of the chapters repeat the same themes many times: avoid harlots, evil friends, etc. Do you think these are these repeated for emphasis?

Well, yes. But again, there’s a sense in which Proverbs wasn’t written just to read through chapter by chapter. It’s meant be taken with you, to meditate and chew on the verses throughout the day, maybe a couple proverbs a day. If someone does that, then it’s going to be weeks until they run across things of the same theme.

There are people I know who have taught the book of Proverbs thematically. In other words, they get all the Proverbs that relate to friendship, or to sexual immorality, or to the use of money, and they’ll collect them all together and teach on those themes from the book of Proverbs. I think that could be a very fruitful way to study the book of Proverbs. But yes, the repetition would generally be for emphasis, and for a shedding of a slightly different light on these subjects.

And it’s also this: does it not remind us here of our tremendous need to be reminded of things? You and I can come back again and again, and think we know this or that, but we repeatedly need to be reminded of things. Friends, that’s something I would really want to encourage you with right now. You might be thinking that what we really need in your life is a new revelation. Listen, God has given you a wonderful revelation in the Bible. And God will guide you providentially along the way; don’t worry about that. He’ll guide you as you need to be guided, but give your attention to what God has already revealed.

How can I deal with intrusive thoughts?

This is a difficult matter of sanctification. God bless you for engaging this battle. Many people completely deny or neglect the battle that goes on in the mind of the believer, and this we should not do. We should continue on in this battle regarding the mind and regarding our thoughts. We should do what it says in 2 Corinthians: take every thought captive unto the obedience of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Dealing with our thought life is sort of a higher ground in our sanctification or holiness process, but it’s an important ground for us to walk upon.

Now, practically, what can you do? First of all, don’t be discouraged when the same thought keeps intruding again and again. You’re not doing something wrong. Just keep battling back again and again. This is just the nature of it. There’s a lot of bad thinking that we can be dealing with, but let’s just consider thoughts of hatred or bitterness towards others. We can lay them before the Lord, come before Him, ask God to deal with these things, confess them before God, and be free of them. And then the next day – or sometimes the next hour – they come back. It doesn’t mean you failed to do it right the first time. But these are just things that we must deal with continually. So don’t be discouraged because of the repetitive nature of this battle. That’s the first thing I would tell you.

The second thing I would tell you is this. I’m not trying to say this as a cure-all, but it is a help-all. It will help you in every way. I’m not saying it’s going to cure everything, but it will help you: Memorize Scripture. The best thing you can do is to saturate your mind with the truth of God’s Word. Remember that phrase, I always think of it because we sing a song like it in the King James Version: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

If you want perfect peace, keep your mind on God and His Word. Make Scripture memorization and Scripture meditation a priority. And again, I want to stress that I’m not bringing this before you as a cure-all. You’re still going to have to deal with intrusive thoughts. But it is a help-all; it will help you in that battle.

Number one: Don’t be discouraged that it is such a battle.

Number two: Memorize Scripture and meditate upon Scripture.

Number three: Realize that this is good ground that you’re fighting on. God bless you for doing that.

Is it proper to have communion at home?

Is it proper to have communion at home when watching a service online, if you cannot be there in person?

I’m going to give you my answer, which I acknowledge will be different from the answer that people from other church traditions give. But you’re asking me, so I’m going to give you my answer. I recognize and respect those brothers and sisters from other church traditions who might believe differently from me on this.

I would say yes, it is proper. Now, I don’t think it’s ideal. Ideally, communion is practiced in the community of God’s people coming together for services of worship. That is the normative setting put forth in 1 Corinthians, where Paul talks about communion more than in any other epistle.

So, that’s the ideal setting. But when we are prohibited from doing that, or even in addition to doing that, I don’t see any problem with a husband and wife having communion at the table at home, with a family having communion led by the husband, the father, as the priest of the home.

Again, this is not to exclude the Lord’s table in the congregational setting, but in addition to it, or when it’s impossible for Christians together, for whatever reason. I’ve thought about making a video sometime to simply lead somebody in communion at home. It would not be to substitute what a person would do at church, unless that substitution was absolutely necessary for a medical or other practical reason, and there was no way they could attend the worship of God’s people and partake in communion together.

How can a new believer get grounded in the Bible?

How can a new believer (me) go about getting grounded in Scripture? I’m worried about getting too influenced by certain theological leanings.

First let me say, God bless you. Welcome to God’s family. I’m thrilled that you’re a new believer, that you’re somewhat new in your following of Jesus Christ. Welcome to the family of God. I don’t know how long it’s been; maybe it’s been a few months, maybe it’s been a few years. But I’m very pleased that you are counted among the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, those who properly take the name “Christian.”

Now, how do you get grounded in Scripture? The most pointed way to do it is to read your Bible. I know that sounds simple and may even sound trite; I apologize if it sounds trite to you. But there’s no substitute for the simple reading of the Bible. In this modern age, some people would rather listen to an audio Bible. That’s better than not reading, but I don’t think it absolutely replaces reading. I wouldn’t be excited about a Christian who never read their Bible, but only listened to it.

So, read your Bible, and think about it as you read it. If you need good Bible study helps, they’re available. Maybe my Bible Commentary would be helpful for you. You can find it at enduringword.com.  Just read through a Bible passage and look at my comments on it. Or look at the comments or teaching of another good, reliable teacher, someone who doesn’t seem to have a doctrinal “axe to grind.” What I mean by that metaphor of an axe to grind is they want to bring everything in the Bible back to a specific issue again and again. Try to find teachers who to the best of their ability will let the text of Scripture speak for itself. But there’s really no substitute for personally reading and thinking about the Bible yourself.

Now, when you read the Bible, there will be some things you don’t understand. There are two ways to read the Bible. One way is to read the Bible, and don’t go further until you understand it. Now, that’s one way to do it, but that’s not the approach that I normally suggest to people. I would say, when you come to something you don’t understand, just keep on going. You’ll read it again. The next time you read that passage, you’ll probably understand a little bit. The third time you read that section, you’ll probably understand a little better. Make regular Bible reading a normal part of your Christian life and find some good preachers and teachers that you can trust and rely on. I’d like to think that my own teaching and my own Bible Commentary is helpful for that. But I understand that it may not connect with everybody. It won’t hurt my feelings if you find somebody else more helpful, but try to find people that don’t seem to have doctrinal “hobbyhorses” or favorite topics, who are bringing everything around to a particular point.

Why did God send Balaam to the Moabites but then got angry when he went (Numbers 22:20)?

For greater depth, I would recommend that you look at my commentary on Numbers 22.

Here’s the basic idea: God told Balaam, “Don’t go.” But Balaam was stubborn, and he sort of demanded that God let him do he wanted to do. He basically told God, “I’m going to do this, I really want to do this. God, can I do this.” And basically, God allowed Balaam to do what his sinful heart wanted him to do. Really, God’s direction of Balaam, to go ahead and go with those men, was a concession to Balaam’s sinfulness. And it was a way for God to bring judgment upon Balaam, which he eventually did.

God did this with Balaam because He was giving him over to judgment, and because Balaam refused to obey what God had said. Let me just give an analogy. Sometimes people pray, “God, would you give me this?” and God says, “No, it’s not for you.” They keep praying, “Oh, God, please give it to me,” and God says again, “No, it’s not for you.” They continue asking for it, and finally, sometimes God will say, “Fine, go ahead, take it. See how it works out for you.” And there’s a sense in which that’s what God did with Balaam.

Is it ok to ask God to send us a dream or a sign before making an important decision?

Is it okay to ask God to send us a dream or a sign before making an important decision in our lives? Sometimes I even read some verses that could talk about my situation, but I don’t know that the answer for some specific and personal decisions in my life, such as the place where I should live or work.

I think that’s a very good question. Thank you for asking it. Is it okay to ask God to send us a dream or a sign?

I would give you this quick answer: No. Now, do I believe that God could give somebody a dream or a sign? Yes. But I don’t think it’s right for us to ask for it, or to seek after it. I think asking for it and seeking after it can open us up to some paths of deception that are better left closed. So, if God chooses to do something like that, then let that be God’s business. When we’re asking for it, when we’re looking for it, I think we open ourselves up either to create it within ourselves, or to just go our own way and pursue things that we shouldn’t pursue.

So, if you want to hear the voice of God and have His guidance, read His Word, live out your Christian life, and He will guide you. And maybe, along the way, God may do something supernatural to direct you – a dream or sign or something like that. Maybe He will, but I wouldn’t ask for it and I wouldn’t seek after it. Just ask God for the discernment, if He does give you such a thing.