I'm picturing Jesus there, instructing his disciples in the art of moving mountains. Moving mountains, of all things! The picture is confounding, despite the familiarity of His words . . .
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt . . . you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.
Matthew 21:21 (NIV)
We Jesus-followers love to sing about taking on the mountains that stand in the way of our inheritance or calling; we lift our hearts with songs when we face insurmountable odds that block our way. And we can all recognise them. The big issues that bar our way. These are not everyday trifles that can be shifted with natural intervention or with a single prayer. These are the problems that make us gasp at their magnitude, that steal away our hope, and sometimes even leave us reeling with unanswered questions about the heart of God toward us and the ones we love.
And Jesus wades into all that potential despair and impossibility and suggests that mountains can be moved. That they are ours to move, in fact.
If we're going to move mountains, then clearly we need the right perspectives and the right approach.
It takes faith to identify the mountains that Jesus was talking about - that is not necessarily challenging, but it does take a Christian to think this way. It takes another level of maturity and discernment to have a sense that, in fact, our problems have spiritual substance to them, making them measurable, finite and able to be tackled spiritually.
Nearly a decade ago, I was moving several trailer-loads of smelly compost via wheelbarrow into some new garden beds we had built. After several hours my pen-pusher muscles were complaining and still I had made only a small dent in the mounds of soil. Perhaps it was the stench or simply the sheer amount of work I was faced with, but the comparisons between these piles of soil and the mountains that we need moved in our life was not lost on me. It all comes down to patience, persistence and using the right tools.
The reality is, we need spiritual means to shift what are essentially, spiritual problems. That observation drove me forward in hope and into some key overcoming moments in my life across the intervening years.
The other day as I was on my way out the door to go for a walk at lunchtime, I felt the Lord prompt me with an interesting question: 'What is a mountain?' As I rode the elevator down to the ground floor I did a quick search on my phone. It turns out that the word Jesus used in the original language (oros) means 'mountain' or 'hill' or 'rise.'. No surprise there. 'Looks like the translators got it correct,' I figured. Not wanting to respond to the Almighty with a shrug though, I pressed in deeper. The Lord was trying to teach me something, and so I dug around a bit more. And then, I understood . . .
The word for mountain conveys a sense of rising up. Related words are even used in the context of bird flight. Yes, 'mountain' in Greek means 'mountain,' but instead of having an underlying sense of weight and immovability, these mountains that block our way might be better understood as being light on their feet! There is a sense of upward movement in the word Jesus uses, as though these mountains are intentionally rising up to obstruct our way. They are literally an uprising against us.
And so I began to wonder - what would happen if we stopped calling the seemingly insurmountable issues in our lives, mountains, and started calling them uprisings instead?
Because speaking to an object that is by definition unmovable, and expecting it to move, is one thing. Speaking to an entity that has risen up with the intent to obscure and obstruct our way is quite another. It is much more intuitive to speak to an uprising that has sprung up, and direct it to rise up again so as to move aside, than it is to talk to a towering, solid, mass. In other words, we can move the mountains in the spiritual realm because it is in their nature to move! It is no more difficult for them to rise up and shift out of our path at our word as it was for them to rise up and take their place on our path in the first place!
And so I'm left with with fresh hope. This command of Jesus isn't about gritty determination in the face of the impossible. It's all about us rising in authority to command every obstacle, every hindrance, everything that rises up against us, to clear out of the way so that Christ our king may rule and reign in our lives.