I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Mark 11:22-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
22 Jesus answered them, “Have[a] faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[b] it, and it will be yours.
25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”[c]
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Father Barry Foster, a priest in Dublin, Ireland, parked his car on a rather steep slope close to his church. His little cairn terrier was lying on the rear seat and could not be seen by anyone outside the vehicle. Father Foster got out of the car and turned to lock the door with his usual parting command to the dog. “Stay!” he ordered loudly, to an apparently empty car. “Stay!” An elderly man was watching the performance with amused interest. Grinning, he suggested, “Why don’t you just try putting on the emergency brake?” (Colin Jeffery, Catholic Digest, May 1992, p. 72)
Today’s scripture is about prayer. We all know that no matter how much Father Foster commanded—or prayed—without a parking brake, the car would obey the law of gravity and roll down the hill.
Yet we have Jesus saying, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” He even says that if you say to a mountain “be taken up and thrown into the sea,” if you truly believe, it will happen. I wonder how many kids who grew up hearing that scripture have tried that experiment. I know I did when I was a child, but I never as much as moved an anthill, much less a mountain.
It is clear that Jesus believed in prayer. His disciples often observed Jesus in communication with God. We pray the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples every week in worship.
Since we know that you can’t literally move mountains through prayer or the power of faith, what could Jesus mean?
First, I think it’s important never to think of God as a celestial vending machine into which you put the right combination of words and order up whatever you want. Sometimes we treat prayer almost as if it were magical. We try to manipulate God to get done what we want done.
Janis Joplin satirized this idea with a song: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”
Second, in another passage of scripture Jesus qualifies what we pray for. He says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” In antiquity, to do anything in the name of another is to do it in a way that is consistent with what the named person would do. So, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray for that which is consistent with the character of Jesus—who he is and what he stands for. This rules out the Mercedes Benz.
Third, prayer is opening ourselves to God so that the work of the Holy Spirit can take place in us and even through us. In reality, prayer’s power is not that it can change God, but that it opens us so that God can change us and changing us may be like moving mountains.
Finally, prayer is a way of aligning who we are and what we do with who God is and what God is doing. There have been, to be sure, mountains that need moving and some of them have needed to be thrown into the sea. Slavery, institutionalized racism, women being treated as second class citizens, dread diseases like smallpox or tuberculosis—at the time, those mountains seemed immovable. But prayer and action have moved those mountains and some have been thrown into the sea.
To be sure, there are still mountains to be moved today. Prayer, trust, personal transformation, and faith put into action have a way of moving mountains.
Jesus teaches the disciples to make their requests known to God. But there is one important dimension to these requests that disciples need to keep in mind — all appeals need to be consistent with the words “Your kingdom come.” “Your kingdom come” means “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” to use the words from Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer—which is the one we pray on Sunday mornings. To pray for the kingdom is to pray for God’s will.
Sociologist and Pastor Tony Campolo tells an intriguing story about being in a prayer meeting just before he was to speak in a worship service. One man prayed a very detailed and pointed prayer for some guy named Charlie Stoltzfus. Tony remembered the prayer. “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. You know the trailer, Lord, just down the road on the right hand side.”
Tony remembered thinking, “Do you really believe you have to remind God where this Charlie guy lives?”
The man continued. “Lord, Charlie told me this morning he’s going to leave his wife and three kids. Step in and do something, God. Bring that family back together.”
After he spoke in the worship service, he left and pulled onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike to return home. He saw and hitchhiker and decided to pick him up. Here is what happened next in his own words:
We drove a few minutes and I said, “Hi, my name’s Tony Campolo. What’s yours?”
He said, “Charlie Stoltzfus.” I couldn’t believe it!
I got off the turnpike at the next exit and headed back. He got a bit uneasy with that and after a few minutes he said, “Hey mister, where are you taking me?”
I said, “I’m taking you home.”
He narrowed his eyes and asked, “Why?”
I said, “Because you just left your wife and three kids, right?” That blew him away.
“Yeah! Yeah, that’s right.” With shock written all over his face, he plastered himself against the car door and never took his eyes off me.
Then I really did him in as I drove right to his silver trailer. When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, “How did you know that I lived here?”
I said, “God told me.” (I believe God did tell me.)
When he opened the trailer door his wife exclaimed, “You’re back! You’re back!” Charlie whispered in her ear and the more he talked, the bigger her eyes got.
Then I said with real authority, “The two of you sit down. I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen!” Man, did they listen! That afternoon I led those two young people to Jesus Christ. (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Zondervan Press, 1997, Pages 104-105)
Campolo’s remarkable experience reminded him that WE are often the means of answering the prayer of another—an important reminder for us as we live in a world of mountains that need moving.
There is a lot of theology woven into hymns. To enhance today’s reading, I recommend listening to “Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove”. I hope you will take a few moments to let the words of this message and the emotion that always connects us to music connect with your soul. Listen to this hymn on SoundCloud.
Give me the faith which can remove
and sink the mountain to a plain;
give me the childlike praying love,
which longs to build thy house again;
thy love, let it my heart o’er-power,
and all my simple soul devour.
I would the precious time redeem,
and longer live for this alone,
to spend and to be spent for them
who have not yet my Savior known;
fully on these my mission prove,
and only breathe, to breathe thy love.
My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord,
into thy blessed hands receive;
and let me live to preach thy word,
and let me to thy glory live;
my every sacred moment spend
in publishing the sinner’s Friend.
Enlarge, inflame, and fill my heart
with boundless charity divine,
so shall I all my strength exert,
and love them with a zeal like thine,
and lead them to thy open side,
the sheep for whom the Shepherd died.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster