23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
Watchman Nee was a great Chinese Christian during the early twentieth century. He was born in 1903 and died in 1972. August I Kinnear wrote a biography of Nee entitled Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee (Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington Pennsylvania, 1973). In his book, Kinnear tells about an incident of mountain-moving prayer (see pages 71ff). In January 1925, Watchman Nee and six other Chinese Christians went to a group of islands off the coast of China to preach the gospel. Initially they had no success. It was the time of the lunar New Year, and the people were caught up in ceremonial visits, ancestor worship, gambling, fireworks, and in making offerings to the god of the island. Nine days went by and the missionaries were growing more and more frustrated. One of the Chinese Christians, the youngest of the group, was named Li Kuo Ching. Li Kuo Ching was on fire for his newfound faith, and he could not believe that no one would listen. He demanded of a crowd one day, “What is wrong? Why won’t you believe in Jesus?”
“Because of Ta Wang,” they responded. “Ta Wang” means “Great King.” Ta Wang was the god of the island, and the people were happy with him because he was dependable. The day of Ta Wang’s festival was on the eleventh of the month. “Through the past 286 years, he had, they affirmed, provided unfailing sunshine for the day he chose” (72) as a festival.
Now the eleventh day of the month was the next day. Li Kuo Ching immediately stepped out with mountain-moving faith. “’Then I promise you’ exclaimed the headstrong Li, ‘our God, who is the true God will make it rain on the 11th.’ At once his hearers seized on the challenge. ‘Say; no more. If there is rain on the 11th, then your Jesus is indeed God’” (72).
Watchman Nee was preaching in another part of the village, but the news spread like wildfire, and he was horrified. He realized that if it did not rain on the festival of Ta Wang, this mission was done and the Christians might as well pack up and go home. He was tempted to depart at once so that he would not have to face the shame of seeing his beloved Jesus disgraced.
None of this is to suggest that Watchman Nee was lacking in faith. He just was not sure that Li Kuo Ching had the right to tell Jesus what to do.
All of the Chinese evangelists gathered in the room where they were lodged, and they prayed. As they prayed, a scene flashed into Watchman Nee’s mind from the OT. When Elijah the great prophet of Israel died, his apprentice Elisha took up the old prophet's mantle and said, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And he struck the waters of the river Jordan, and the water divided--as a sign that the God of Elijah was now with Elisha (II Kings 2:14). It seemed to Watchman Nee that God put that scene from the OT into his mind as an answer to prayer. Nee was sure that the God of Elijah was still God, and if God could divide the water, then God could certainly make it rain on the festival of Ta Wang. Now as I said, Watchman Nee had faith. Having been assured by God that it would rain the next day, he believed that it would rain the next day.
The little group of Christians had to go to another island that night, and they were late in returning, so the next morning they slept late. When they awoke, the sun was shining brightly. Naturally, Watchman Nee was disappointed. He prayed, “Lord, I asked the thing that I desired in prayer, and you said that I would have it if I did not doubt, and I do not doubt, but it is not raining.” But again he heard Elisha’s question, “Where is the Lord?” That reassured him because he felt that God was saying to him, “Look, I am God. Do not worry about it. I will take care of it.” Watchman Nee said, “Fine, God is going to take care of it. I am going to eat breakfast.” You see that is what the prayer of faith is all about. Once we have prayed to God, we believe God’s answer.
As the missionaries began to eat, a few scattered drops fell on the tile roof. By the time they were helping themselves to a second bowl of rice, a slow steady rain was falling outside. Some of the villagers began to say, “’There is no Ta Wang. The rain has kept him in’” (74).
But most of the worshippers of Ta Wang were not so easily discouraged. They put the idol of the god in a chair and brought it forth thinking it would end the shower. That was when the shower became a storm. The bearers of the chair stumbled and fell in the mud. The idol Ta Wang fell fracturing its jaw and breaking its left arm. Ta Wang’s worshippers put the idol back together and hastily took it into a house. They then issued a statement saying that they had chosen the wrong day for the festival. Actually, Ta Wang wanted the festival on the fourteenth not the eleventh.
“With this news there came to the brothers the immediate assurance that God would act again. They; sought him in prayer: ‘Lord, send rain at 6 p.m. on the 14th and give us four fine days until then’” (74). God answered the prayer punctually. At 6:00 p.m. on the 14th, it rained torrents, and the rain was like a baptism that washed away the idolatry of Ta Wang.
That is the story of how the gospel triumphed on an island off the coast of China in the 1920’s. As we reflect on this story, we agree with Watchman Nee’s first reaction. Li Kuo Ching’s declaration of a miracle seems presumptuous, and yet we admire the young man. He had a mountain-moving faith.
What kind of faith do you have? Have your prayers moved any mountains lately? It seems obvious that Jesus is using the term “mountain” as a symbol of problems and difficulties. We still use the same figure of speech. When a person is struggling--maybe things are not going well with the family, or problems with finances, or health problems--we describe their problems symbolically, saying, they are trying to climb a mountain. If they are really having difficulties, we say, “They have a hard mountain to climb.” So when Jesus talks about mountain-moving faith, he is talking about a faith capable of handling the problems of life.
We all have some mountains to climb. Some are small and take very little effort to overcome. Some are so high the tops are lost in the clouds; Sometimes we are overwhelmed by our problems, but Jesus has a solution for that. He says, (and let us use the GNB for a little different slant) “I assure you that whoever tells this hill to get up and throw itself in the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”
Wow. Do you believe that? But that is the whole point, because if you don’t believe, it is not going to happen. Jesus sets a condition for answered prayer. Faith is the condition.
Faith is trust without proof. No one can prove to you that there is a God who loves you personally and who will answer your personal prayers. Faith trusts, hopes, believes anyway, and Jesus says the measure of our faith is the measure of the success of our prayers. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
Jesus is teaching us in these verses that we can pray confidently because we are praying to the creator of the universe. There is no point in taking our problems to people who cannot do anything about them. Some years ago, a lady called me up and asked if I was Larry Grant. I said, “No, I am not that Grant.” She said, “Do you know Larry Grant?” I said, “Well I have met a Larry Grant who used to be the Solicitor of York County. I think he is an attorney in private practice now.” She said, “Yes, that is him. Do you know if he lives in York?” I said, “No, I don’t.” She said, “Do you know if he lives in Rock Hill?” I said, “No, I don’t.” She said, “Well then, do you know his phone number?” At that point, I said, “Look Maam”--still trying to be polite you see--”I don’t know where he lives. I don’t know his phone number. I can’t help you.” Well, she finally got the idea and hung up. What was she doing? She was trying to get help from someone who could not help her. If we want help, we need to go to the right source. Many times our situation may be such that no human being can or will help us. However, there is always one who can and will. That one is the Lord God Almighty.
But our verses from Mark do not say that God will help everyone. God will help those who believe. Prayer is of no value without belief. James 1:6 says the same thing: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering...” Those who do not ask in faith, those who pray doubting the effectiveness of prayer gain nothing by prayer. James compares such doubters to waves that are driven and tossed hither and thither by the wind. These doubters pray pint-sized, puny, feeble, little prayers.
They pray something like this: “Lord, if you are really there. I don’t know that you are there but if you are, help me. I doubt if you can help me but because I have no other choice, I hope you will.” That is not a prayer of faith. The Bible has no prayers like that. The Bible teaches us to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence.
The prayer of the believer is always answered. In Matthew 8, when the centurion appealed to Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus said, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (13). That shows us the power of an unshakeable faith. The centurion believed and Jesus said, again, the measure of your faith is the measure of the answer to your prayer. By the way, the verse from Matthew adds, “And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” As he believed, so it was done.
Not only does God hear the prayers of his people, God hears even our defective prayers. Let’s face it. Sometimes we pray wrong.
In the book of Judges, when the Philistines captured Samson, they blinded him and chained him to the pillars of the temple of Dagon, and made fun of him, and Samson was filled with rage, and he prayed for revenge. Now God allowed Samson’s prayer, not to gratify Samson, but to punish the Philistines, but it was not a Christian prayer.
Compare Samson with an incident from the gospel of Luke. When a village of Samaritans refused to receive Jesus, the angry disciples begged the Lord to call down fire upon the village, but he rebuked them for such vengeful feelings. As Christians, we are to pray in the spirit of Jesus, not in the spirit of Samson.
Take another example. Hezekiah, king of Judah, became deathly ill, and he prayed, “I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” (II Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s self-praise is a real turn off, but God heard his prayer anyway. The king recovered from his illness. It was a defective prayer, but God still listened, and this assures us that God will listen to us. God tolerates our stammering prayers, God forgives our ignorant prayers--as long as they are prayers of faith.
Why then don’t we pray more and pray with more certainty? Do we hesitate because we think that we are not worthy to call upon God? Perhaps we feel that we are not as holy as we ought to be, and we are probably not, but our holiness is not the source of our prayer power.
Romans 10:4 reads, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Thus, all effective prayer begins with Christ. We are not worthy to present ourselves to God, but we have a loving savior who has established our relationship with God. Grasp then the power that is in Jesus Christ. Grasp the promise of God with both hands. Learn to pray great prayers and expect great answers. Have faith, and then you can say to the mountain in your life, “Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea” and it will happen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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