L. God works to bring forth fruit in order to glorify Jesus.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 Paul wrote,
“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul prayed that God bring results from all the goodness and the work of faith of the brethren in Thessalonica (See 1 Co 3:5,6; 1 Th 1:2-8). We would assume, therefore, that God works in the lives of Christians in order to bring forth fruit from their labors. Paul also prayed that the name of Jesus be glorified in the work of the Thessalonians. Therefore, God works in order to glorify the name of Jesus through the fruits of the labors of Christians (See 1 Co 1:31; 1 Th 2:20).
We must emphasize again the fact that God works in answering prayer in the areas where the inspired writers prayed, and instructed that we should pray. God may not answer a prayer in the manner we think He should. He may not answer a prayer when we think He should. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to record the preceding requests and examples of prayer in this chapter in order to reassure the saints that God works in the lives of the saints. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that God works in these areas in order to work for the Christian. To say that God does not so work is to accuse the Spirit of misguiding the inspired writers into making futile prayers and asking for futile prayers to be made on the part of the saints.
We would also add as a practical application of God’s work in answering the prayers of the saints that we cannot keep a ledger of the Holy Spirit’s activities in answer to our prayers. His work cannot be computerized. Christians cannot produce a balance sheet on the work of the Spirit in their lives. The mystery of how God brings about all things to work together for our good is His department. He simply reassures us that He does work and that He works on our behalf. Paul reasurred us with these words: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rm 8:28).
Sometimes we seek to do the work of God by carrying out our own plans and programs. We try to work through well-organized plans and programs in order to produce results over which we can take glory. Efforts are often held in check by detailed shepherding and lording over the flock. In all our planning, there is often no space left for God to work in our plans and programs simply because we have calculated every detail that is to be accomplished. Everything is neatly directed by supervisors who are designated to carry out a certain agenda that we have planned. In our structured organizations, God sometimes has a hard time getting on our agendas in order to work all things together for good. We plan, and then we ask God to bless our plans. Maybe this is in reverse order.
It is good that we plan and organize what we feel we want and can do in evangelism and benevolence. This is certainly what the early disciples did in Acts 6 in reference to administering to the needs of widows. However, we must not organize God out of our efforts to do His will. If we work simply to carry out a plan on paper, then something is wrong. Organization is meant to channel God’s work on our specific needs. Organization is not for the purpose of stimulating or mustering recruits into file in order to march according to the orders of those who are seeking to lord over the flock. We must never order God out of His work by ordering the saints into conformity of the wishes of man. If we do, then we become institutional in our thinking and behavior. The body ceases to be a Spirit-lead organic body. We can plan our work, but we must be cautious about planning the Spirit out of our work.
There is a mystery about God’s work that we do not pretend to understand. We worship a God whose ways are past finding out. We are not so logical and analytical as to submit God to “systematic theology,” or reduce His work in our lives to a corporate spread sheet. All His work cannot be reduced to human intellect and planning. The reality of His work in our lives must be allowed to be perceived by faith. The work the of Holy Spirit in the Christian life cannot always be determined through simple empirical evaluations. This is why it is so difficult for institutionalized or legalized disciples to allow room for the work of the Holy Spirit among the members.
God the Spirit who is here is a God whose workings cannot be reduced to all that we can understand on the agenda of a business meeting. Therefore, we dare not create a god in our own image of human logic and deduction. A god whose workings can be calculated through human reasoning is a god who is not worth following. Such a god is of human invention and certainly made impotent by the extent to which the human mind can conceive how he works. We serve no such god.
We can understand God’s work by understanding His own explanation of how He works. And the parimeters of how He works are revealed in the Bible.
We dare not affirm that God works beyond the limits that He places on Himself in the Bible. We dare not affirm that God would do for man those things that He has not promised or declared He will do. Neither would we assume that God will do less for us than what He has promised to do.
Therefore, we would not create a god after our own desires who would relieve us of our spiritual responsibility to trust n Him. A god that would condone the theology, “we-should-sin-that-grace-may-abound,” is as dangerous to our eternal salvation, as the god we believe cannot work beyond our power of human reason and perceptions. Both are false gods. Both will lead one astray from the one true God who is revealed through the Scriptures. Though our understanding of His marvelous revelation always leaves something to be desired, we must put our trust in this God and the mystery of His wondrous workings. While He works on our behalf, we would not presume to understand all His working.
[End of series. Download Book 17, chapter 13 & 14, Biblical Research Library, www.africainternational.org]
H. God works to aid the work of the saints.
God works for those who work for Him. Paul requested of the Christians in Rome,
“… that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints“ (Rm 15:30-32).
As stated before, the Holy Spirit can work for the saints in order to deliver them from those who would work evil against them. In this request for the Roman Christians’ prayers, Paul assumes that the Holy Spirit was able to make his service acceptable to the saints. In some way, therefore, God the Spirit works in order to make acceptable the labors of the saints.
I. God works in order to direct the travels of evangelists.
Paul asked the Roman brethren to pray for him on his journey that it might be possible for him to come to Rome.
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you“ (Rm 1:9,10).
After the same manner, Paul prayed that it might be possible for him to be with the Thessalonian brethren. He wrote that he and other evangelists were “praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith” (1 Th 3:10). Since Paul prayed that in some way God the Spirit would make it possible for him to go to Rome and Thessalonica, then we would assume that He would fulfill this request.
According to Paul’s journeys in Acts, God answered the prayer to go to Rome by taking him to Rome at the expense of the Roman government. He was in the custody of a Roman commander to be taken to Rome for trial. In this way, therefore, God answered the prayer to get him to Rome.
J. God protects the saints in times of trial.
Solomon wrote, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Pv 18:10). “Whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Pv 29:25). Since God can make things safe for the saints, then we would not be wrong to pray for such. However, we must also realize that God does allow the saints to undergo great trials, sufferings and death. Paul strengthened the early disciples by teaching them that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).
It is through tribulation that characters are prepared for eternal dwelling. James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (Js 1:2,3). Therefore, it is necessary that Christians undergo trials in this life in order to be prepared for eternal dwelling in the presence of God (See 1 Pt 1:6,7). However, because God can make it safe for the saints, then the saints should pray for this work of God in their lives.
K. God changes adversity.
Paul was confident that God could turn adversity into good things. He wrote to the Philippian disciples concerning the trials he was having in Rome in reference to those who jealously spoke out against him while he was in prison (Ph 1:12-18). Concerning what had happened, he wrote, ”For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Ph 1:19). He knew that God could in some way turn the work of Satan against Satan, and thus work things together for good (Rm 8:28).
[Next in series: Dec. 4]
F. God raises up evangelists.
Jesus commanded that we pray for more evangelists to go into the harvest. “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38). In reference to his own life, Paul said, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Tm 1:12).
If Jesus commanded us to pray for laborers to enter the harvest, then we must believe that in some way He can raise up the laborers. Paul was put into the ministry through the direct work of Jesus who appeared to him on the Damascus road. However, God also works in ways to raise up laborers. We subsequently witness the rise of laborers, but we do not understand exactly how God has raised them up. For this reason, therefore, Christians must have faith and pray for more laborers for the harvest.
G. God works in order that the faith of Christians not fail.
Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith not fail: “But I have prayed for you [Peter], that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32; see 1 Co 10:13; Ps 125:3).
We do not understand how God could keep Peter’s faith from failing. However, Jesus prayed for Peter, and since Jesus made the prayer, we would assume through faith that God was able to work according to the request of Jesus that Peter’s faith not fail. In answer to this prayer, Peter, though in a moment fear denied the Lord, he later returned to be faithful unto death.
In the same manner, Epaphras prayed for the faithfulness of his Colossian brethren.
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God“ (Cl 4:12).
Since Epaphras prayed that the Colossian disciples would stand perfect and complete, then we would assume that in some way God could answer this prayer. God thus works in our lives in order that we stand perfect and complete. He works in order that our faith not fail. And thus it is our faith that moves us to trust in the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
[Next in series: Dec. 2]
D. God provides escapes from temptation.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape …” (1 Co 10:13).
We do not profess to know how God makes the way of escape from some mountain of trial we must overcome. Our lack of knowledge concerning how God provides the escape, however, does not mean that He will not so work in our lives to help us make our way over, around or through mountains.
It may be that God provides the wisdom that is necessary in order to perceive the way of escape (See Js 1:5,6). Whatever He does, we must believe that a way of escape is provided if we will ask for it, and then take the way of escape. If we are to believe what the Holy Spirit is here saying through Paul, then we must assume that God works in our lives in order to provide escapes.
E. God delivers from evil workers.
While in prison, Paul was confident that God would deliver him from evil works. He wrote to Timothy, “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tm 4:18; see Pv 2:6,8,12,16; 2 Th 3:2; 2 Tm 3:11; 4:17).
Paul believed in the power of prayer. He believed that God the Spirit could and would deliver him from prison. He wrote to Philemon, “But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you” (Pl 22). Paul asked for the prayers of brethren for he had faith that God would work in the environment of his affairs in order to answer those prayers.
“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us“ (2 Co 1:9-11).
Peter also believed that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pt 2:9).
These deliverances for which Paul and Peter prayed, and for which they asked the brethren to pray, were not deliverances as Peter was immediately delivered from prison by an angel in Jerusalem (At 12:1-11). These were the works of God behind the scene, and thus, they were not perceived through the senses, but through faith. The fact that the early saints prayed for deliverance, therefore, is evidence that God works in some ways that are beyond our sense perception. Nevertheless, it is a work of God the Spirit to bring about that which is good.
[Next in series: Nov. 31]
B. God provides the necessities for life.
In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus explained those things that God does for those who have put their trust in Him. The emphasis in the context of Matthew 6 was on the fact that God will take care of those who care for Him.
“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt 6:30).
Jesus taught that we should pray for our daily bread (Mt 6:11). If we are to pray for such, then certainly God is able to provide that for which we make request in prayer. God is able to work in the lives of those who trust in Him to provide the necessities of life.
C. God opens doors for evangelism.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Co 16:9). When Paul came to the city of Troas he said that “a door was opened to me by the Lord” (2 Co 2:12; see At 19:8-10). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith (2 Th 3:1,2).
We do not know how God opens these doors in order that the gospel be preached to the lost. However, the Holy Spirit here affirmed that God is the One who is to be given credit for opening the doors. Therefore, we must conclude that God can work in ways whereby opportunities can be made available for the preaching of the gospel to the lost. Because He does this, it is imperative that Christians continually pray that doors be opened for the preaching of the gospel. Jesus thus exhorted His disciples, “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He will send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38).
[Next in series: Nov. 29]
A. God restores health.
2 Kings 20:1-4 records the fact that King Hezekiah was sick and near death. At the time, this was his mountain to climb. Therefore, Isaiah came to him and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (2 Kg 20:1). As a result of this pronouncement by Isaiah, Hezekiah “turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord” (2 Kg 20:2).
The pronouncement of Isaiah was that Hezekiah would actually die in the near future. The message was from God, and thus, we would conclude that his death would certainly occur. However, Hezekiah prayed that he would not die. After Hezekiah’s prayer, a second proclamation came from God. God said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father; ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you’” (2 Kg 20:5).
God worked in the physically sick body of Hezekiah in order to restore it to health. We do not know how God did this. We simply know that God is able to work in the bodies of the physically sick in order to bring about a restoration of the body. He can do this, and yet, do it in a manner that it is not perceived through the senses as a confirming miracle. In other words, this restoration of the physical body by God would not be considered a confirming miracle simply because such was accomplished in a different manner, and for a different purpose, than the confirming miracles that were recorded to confirm the message and messengers of God in the Bible.
Nevertheless, Hezekiah’s healing was in a sense miraculous. We could say that this was a miracle simply because it was God working in the physical body of Hezekiah. Physical law was set aside in order that Hezekiah live. Since we have no other word to convey what took place gradually, and not instantaneously as in a confirming miracle, then we must believe that something “miraculous” happened. Christians must believe, therefore, that if it is according to the will of God, God can raise up the sick in answer to their prayers (See Js 5:13-16). We may not understand how this happens in reference to the hand of God, but through faith we believe that God can work wonders beyond the limits of our empirical perceptions.
We would conclude that the difference between confirming miracles, and what happened in the body of Hezekiah, was a matter of time. A confirming miracle was instantaneous. For example, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house” (Mt 9:6). And he did so immediately.
But the “miracle” of God working in the body of Hezekiah occurred over a period of time. He did not immediately jump out of bed. Nevertheless, Hezekiah believed that he was healed because of his faith in God. But when the unbelievers encountered the healed paralytic, they immediately perceived through sight that he was healed immediately. They, as unbelievers, could not deny this confirming miracle of Jesus (See At 4:16).
In the context of Hezekiah’s “healing,” we must not forget that Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tm 4:20). Either Paul could not heal this brother, or the time of confirming miracles had long passed. Or, it may have been that Paul simply prayed for his healing and then went on his journey. We would assume the latter, and thus Paul prayed that Trophimus be restored from his physical affliction. But this healing took time, for indeed Trophimus was still alive when Paul wrote the 2 Timothy letter much later. So Paul’s prayer for Trophimus did result in this brother being raised up.
We must also remember Timothy who had some affliction of the stomach. Timothy was not exhorted to pray for his stomach problem, and other physical afflictions that he experienced, but to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tm 5:23). Evidently there were other infirmities than the stomach problems that Timothy suffered. In this suggestion on the part of Paul, however, Paul urged Timothy to resort to the medicinal remedies of wine, and not prayer, though we assume that Paul did indeed pray for Timothy’s physical afflictions. We would conclude from this incident, however, that when there is a medical cure for an affliction, one should go see a doctor.
And then there was the case of Epaphroditus (Ph 2:25-27). This Philippian brother was sent to be with Paul in prison. While in Rome, he too became very ill. He was so ill when he was with Paul that he almost died. This was a physical affliction that took place over a period of time because news of his sickness was able to reach back home to Philippi, where the saints in Philippi evidently joined with Paul in prayers for him. Paul did not miraculously heal him. Only through the prayers of the saints in Philipi, with Paul’s prayers, he was raised up. God worked “miraculously” in this case in order to do as He did with Hezekiah. It was not an instantaneous healing, but a healing over a period time. In answer to all their prayers, God spared his life on behalf of Paul, who was in prison at the time facing death (Ph 2:27).
We must not conclude this point without referring to Paul who could not receive an answer for his own physical affliction. He recognized that God gave him “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Co 12:7). Paul confessed, “For this thing I implored the Lord three times that it might depart from me” (2 Co 12:8). But the mountain of the thorn did not go away. And because it did not, Paul concluded,
“Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’ sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Co 12:10).
[Next in series: Nov. 27]
When we discuss prayer, and God’s answer to our prayers, there are key points that define the areas in which God works in the Christian’s life. These are definite areas in which the inspired writers directed the saints to pray in order to call on the intervention of God in our lives. Each request for prayer that is made in the Bible is an indirect definition of how God the Spirit can and will come to our aid.
Though we may not understand the mystery of how God would bring about an answer to prayer, we must accept the fact that God works in many areas simply because of the Holy Spirit’s inspired record of these prayer requests. We should thus be encouraged to do as the Holy Spirit stated in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Not only did the inspired writers make these prayers, but they also encouraged others to pray to God in order to unleash the power of God in their lives.
We must remember, however, that all prayer is answered according to the will of God. When we pray concerning the changing of the normal occurrence of natural law, we must understand that God often wills that we endure our impending mountains in order that our characters be prepared for heavenly dwelling. In other words, the answer to our prayer may be that God wants us to struggle over a particular mountain in order to prepare us to be a more serviceable disciple on earth and a greater resident of heaven (See 1 Pt 1:6,7).
We must not forget this statement: “For whom the Lord loves He disciplines [with mountains to climb], and scourges every son who He receives” (Hb 12:6). The Hebrew writer continued, “If you endure discipline [mountains], God deals with you as with sons” (Hb 12:8). Therefore, “do not despise the disciplining [mountains sent forth] of the Lord” (Hb 12: 5). We must remember the following:
“Now no discipline seems to be joyous at the time, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterward it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hb 12:11).
Our prayers may not be answered as we would want them to be answered. Therefore, if we are enduring the trial of a mountain climb, it is good to remember that God is working on our character in order to prepare us for ministry to others who are climbing the same mountain. He is also preparing us for eternal appreciation in an environment wherein …
“… God will wipe away every tear form their eyes. And there will be no more death nor sorrow nor crying. Nor will there be any more pain, for the former things [mountain climbs] have passed away” (Rv 21:4).
[Next in series: Nov. 25]
Mountains are difficult to climb. They were obstacles in one’s journey. Mountains on a journey are in contrast to walking across the plains. Nevertheless, when a mountain had to be climbed in order to finish one’s journey, it had to be overcome. This was the meaning of the metaphor that Jesus used in reference to the obstacles the apostles would personally encounter on their walk of faith. And since Jesus said that they needed only the faith the size of a mustard seed, then they could walk over the obstacles of mountains throughout their lives.
One of those apostles to whom Jesus made this statement was killed by Herod (At 12:1,2). Physical death, therefore was the final mountain that James had to overcome in order to be with His Lord. His faith allowed him to be the first martyr of the apostles. When stones started to be hurled at Stephen, his faith moved him to look unto heaven (At 7:59,60). Death was also his final mountain to climb. The angel to the church of Smyrna would remind all of us: “Do not fear those things [mountains] that you will suffer …. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10). In other words, have faith, for even with a faith as a mustard seed one can conquer the fear of death (See Hb 2:14,15).
Life is one mountain after another that we must overcome. Before Paul went to the water in obedience to the gospel, Jesus revealed to him all the mountains that he would have to climb throughout his life in order to be victorious (At 9:15). Paul later listed for the Corinthians some of the mountains that he overcame through faith (See 2 Co 11:23-28). He overcame so many mountains in living the gospel of Jesus that in one of his last letters to Timothy, he wrote, “Yes and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution [mountains]” (2 Tm 3:12).
Only through faith was Paul able to fight the good fight of the faith and stay the course in order to finish his final mountain of death in Rome (2 Tm 4:7). His last mountain to climb was at the hand of an executioner in Rome.
All of us have our mountains to climb. But we must be encouraged by the fact that it takes only the faith of a “mustard seed” to climb and over come these mountains. Therefore, we must not misunderstand what Jesus promised His apostles. We would not remove any physical mountains of dirt and rocks through our faith. The apostles’ faith was far beyond that of a mustard seed, but they still did not literally displace any mountains on this earth. The mountains to which Jesus referred would be those obstacles that hinder us in our gospel living. We can trust, however, that …
“… God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you may be able to endure” (1 Co 10:13).
Think of the preceding statement in view of what Jesus promised the apostles. God will not allow any mountains to be set before us that we cannot climb. This is the first promise to remember when facing the challenge of a mountain. Second, we must remember that God will always give us a passage to walk either over, around, or just straight through any mountain that we may face. This is what James meant in James 1:3: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”
We rejoice in our trials for two reasons: (1) We know that God will make a way up, over or around any mountain. For this reason, we can rejoice. (2) We also know that we must face the mountains in order to grow in faith. And then we must remember that Jesus said that even a “mustard seed” faith will empower us to conquer any mountain that may be in our way. Therefore, James concluded, “But someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Js 2:18). We could apply this to the reality of life by saying, “I will show you my faith by the mountains that I have overcome.”
The preceding is exactly what the heroes of faith did in former times. God gave both Abel and Cain the mountain of offering blood sacrifices. But by faith, Abel climbed this mountain by raising his own blood sacrifices. This was in contrast to Cain who simply collected the fruits of his field with which he had no personal connection (Hb 11:4). By faith Enoch overcame the mountain of wickedness of the generation in which he lived (Hb 11:5). By faith Noah built an ark in view of the impending mountain of destruction that was soon to come upon the face of the earth (Hb 12:7). By faith, Abraham overcame the mountain of having to leave his lifetime friends in the Ur of the Chaldeas (Hb 11:9,10). By faith Sarah overcame the mountain of childbirth in her old age (Hb 11:11,12). All these heroes of faith overcame great mountains, and yet reminded faithful (Hb 11:13). And if we would heed these and other examples of the faith of the ancients, we too can enjoy the victory of faith (See Hb 11:13-16). We can now understand why John wrote, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world [of mountains], our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
We visit the sick at home or in the hospital who are mentally struggling to overcome some mountain of physical affliction. We pray for them that God may raise them up (Js 5:14,15). Their healing is God’s business, which thing He will do on His own time. But it is our business to call on the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and strength into the life of the afflicted.
Physical affliction is the mountain over which the afflicted must overcome. They need emotional strength. The afflicted, by faith, are strengthened and comforted by knowing that they will mentally overcome the mountain that has been placed before them. By faith they recall that God will not allow them to be tested with a mountain they cannot overcome. By faith we understand that God the Spirit will supply comfort in times of bereavement and strength in times of trial.
We will not, therefore, leave the afflicted on their sick bed with a false expectation that they will be instantaneously healed at the time we say “amen” to our prayer for them. We will not give them a vain promise that we will meet them immediately after the prayer at the hospital office in order check them out of the hospital because they have been instantly healed. In other words, we will not make the hospital visit in order to make the afflicted feel even worse about their own faith than before we arrived. We will not give them a false expectation that they should have been healed immediately because of our prayer for them. Or, we will not make them feel that their faith is smaller than a mustard seed, because, we have assumed, that if one had at least a mustard seed faith he or she would be immediately cured of his or her affliction. Some need to ask themselves if they feel worse after the visit of the preacher than before he came and prayed for them. Did the preacher bring down judgment on them because their faith was supposedly not strong enough to be healed immediately?
Those who are afflicted feel better when someone does not judge them for their lack of faith because they were not immediately cured because prayer has been uttered for them. When the sick are trying to climb emotionally a mountain of physical affliction, they need prayer for strength and comfort, not judgment that they do not have enough faith to be restored to health immediately.
In Jesus’ promise of “moving mountains,” He was not referring to physical things. He was referring to mental victories over obstacles (mountains) that stand in our way as we live the gospel in a world of suffering and evil. Sometimes the obstacles that stand in our way might be physical. However, there must be a mental victory over the physical before any mental mountain can be removed by faith. What Jesus was promising in reference to mountain moving was in reference to minds (faith), not moving literal dirt and rock mountains.
[Next in series: Nov. 23]
When we consider God’s answer to our prayers, there is one statement that was made by Jesus that is almost always misunderstood. In order to correct this misunderstanding, we must first remember that Jesus, in His earthly ministry, ministered to the Jews in order to bring their thinking to the fact that He was the fulfillment of all prophecy in reference to the Messiah. But not only did He fulfill the prophecies, He was also the suffering Servant about whom Isaiah prophesied.
The initial disciples of Jesus were Jews. His immediate audience was made up of Jews who knew well their Old Testament prophets, though they had difficulty connecting the dots between Jesus and the prophecies of the Messiah. Nevertheless, in His private teaching of His twelve apostles there was one figure of speech that the Jews understood well because of their past history of survival:
“For truly I say to you, if you [apostles] have faith the size of a mustard seed, you [apostles] will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. And nothing will be impossible to you [apostles]” (Mt 17:20; see Mt 21:21; Mk 11:23).
This statement was made on the occasion when the disciples’ were not able to cast out a particular demon. Because they could not cast out the demon, they came to Jesus privately, after having been embarrassed by their inability to cast out the demon. They then asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demon. After Jesus chastised them for their “little faith,” He made the preceding statement in reference to “this mountain.” The common misunderstanding of this statement of Jesus is in reference to the “mountain.”
But Jesus was not finished with the preceding exhortation in reference to “mountains.” On another occasion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it did not produce fruit. In answer to the disciples’ marvel about the withered fig tree, He made a similar statement that He had earlier made in reference to their inability to cast out the demon: “If you [apostles] have faith and do not doubt, you [apostles] will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you [apostles] will say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” (Mt 21:21).
The problem is not in understanding what Jesus said, but what He meant in both statements in reference to moving mountains. Some have unfortunately misunderstood what Jesus was personally saying to His apostles in reference to their faith. Some have concluded that He was referring to moving literal mountains of dirt and rocks if only they had enough faith. In other words, some assume that Jesus used a hyperbole (an exaggeration to emphasize a truth) in order to illustrate the power of faith. But if we were Jews who knew well the prophets’ use of the word “mountain,” then we would think differently.
Therefore, we question the interpretation that Jesus had in mind physical mountains of dirt and rocks. He was not using a hyperbole in reference to moving great mountains of dirt and rocks by a faith that was even as small as a mustard seed. The first indication that He did not have this in mind is in the fact that He made both statements to Jewish disciples. For this reason, we must understand what He was saying in reference to how His Jewish disciples understood the frequent use of the word “mountain” throughout the writings of the Old Testament.
The second reason we question the traditional interpretation of physically moving mountains of dirt and rocks to define one’s faith is in what Jesus said in reference to the inability of the disciples to cast out the demon. He said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed.” A mustard seed is not large, but small. Therefore, the reference is not to a strong faith, but a very small faith. Now consider this if Jesus used the hyperbole of moving mountains of dirt and rocks. For example, since we have no historical evidence that either Peter, James, Matthew or the other apostles literally moved any mountains of dirt and rocks, then we could suppose that their faith never grew to be at least the size of a mustard seed. But their faith did grow, and yet, we still have no evidence of them “moving mountains of dirt and rocks.”
In reference to a “mustard faith,” we need to consider the extent to which the apostles faith grew. On one occasion, the religious leaders beat the apostles, and then “commandment that they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (At 5:40). But the apostles left the presence of the Jewish council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (At 5:41). Their faith had grown far beyond a mustard seed. It grew to the point that they could mentally move the mountains of the resistance of the religious leaders of the day.
We would suggest, therefore, that Jesus was not using a hyperbole. He was using the word “mountain” as a metaphor. His audience for centuries had used the word “mountain” as a metaphor in prophetic pronouncements. Even in the personal lives of the Old Testament Israelites, the word “mountain” was used as a metaphor as it is often used today.
[Next in series: Nov. 21]