I’ve been thinking a lot recently about mountains that don’t move.
Jesus said that his people would be powerful in prayer. He said:
Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23–24 ESV)
There are a couple of mountains that I’ve been leaning into through prayer. One of the worship leaders in our church fell into a coma a few Sundays ago for no apparent reason. A young couple in our church had a baby that requires a heart transplant. As of yet, no donor has been found. A friend of mine from Prayer Group is also in the hospital waiting for a new heart and no donor has been found for him either. On top of that my wife has been battling a mysterious blood disorder since 2009. The doctors are baffled and the treatments are ineffective.
Those are my mountains and as of yet, none of them appears to be moving.
In my darker moments, I wonder what that says about me.
I wonder what it says about our church.
I wonder what it says about prayer.
And I wonder what it says about God.
If Mark 11:23-24 was the only passage of Scripture I had to deal with I think I would despair but I’ve been digging a little deeper and a little wider recently and this is the counsel that I have given to myself. It comes from the Bible and it is for people of faith – people of prayer – people with needs – whose mountains are not moving.
1. Do not connect the dots
As human beings we love to do this – we almost can’t help ourselves. If we see human suffering we want to identify a human cause. Jesus told his disciples not to do that. In John 9:1-3 we read:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1–3 ESV)
At least three people had been praying for this man for a very long time – and still he remained blind. His mountain didn’t move an inch. The disciples decided that it must be due either to his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus rebuked them for connecting those dots.
The world is more complicated than that.
Providence is more complicated than that.
The disciples ought to have known that because that is one of the major points being made in the Book of Job. Job’s three friends assume that his personal suffering must be due to his personal sin. They accuse of doing terrible things:
You have given no water to the weary to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry…You have sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless were crushed. (Job 22:7–9 ESV)
You must have done terrible things Job – that’s why you are still suffering.
Their counsel is as simple as their analysis. They tell him to repent of his misdeeds and then the floodgates of heaven will open, his prayers will be answered, his suffering relieved and all will be well once again.
It is a sad thing when so many Evangelicals say exactly what God rebukes these men for saying. Their damnably stupid counsel only added shame to Job’s suffering. When God shows up at the end he doesn’t answer anyone’s questions about why this happened to brother Job, he just explains how wildly complicated and interconnected everything is in this fallen world. He just reminds Job and his friends that he is the only one who can see the whole board and who therefore can be trusted to connect the dots.
So don’t you try to do it.
Don’t look at your friends and loved ones for the reason your prayers are not being answered. And don’t blame yourself. It may be more complicated than just you not having enough faith. Job could have prayed with all the faith in the world and not changed a single thing in his particular trial. It happened because God was doing something that was never explained to Job and that had nothing to do with his sin, faith or fervency.
Sometimes there is no answer available to the human mind.
So do not connect the dots.
But do examine yourself.
2. Do examine yourself
That isn’t a contradiction, although it might sound like one at first. The differences appear after a moment or two of thought. Connecting the dots is about causality, examining yourself is about consecration. Connecting the dots is forbidden by Jesus, examining yourself is commanded.
In the same passage in which Jesus promises that his people will be mountain movers through the power of prayer, he also speaks about ways in which we can impede that power. He says:
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25 ESV)
Apparently, unforgiveness can impede our power in prayer.
So also can unconfessed sin. David says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalms 66:18 KJV)
The Apostle Peter told husbands:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)
So if you lean on your mountain through prayer and nothing happens, then it is a good thing to look inside your own heart. If there is unforgiveness, then go and seek reconciliation. Extend grace and mercy. If there is unconfessed sin – then repent of it; turn from it and amend your ways. If you have been unkind and inconsiderate with your wife, go to her, own it and make it right. And when you’ve done all those things, then pray again – but not like a pagan.
3. Do not pray like a pagan
Some of us become little pagans when our initial prayers are not answered. We pray for something in the normal way and then if that prayer isn’t answered we become little pagans. We begin to pray like the prophets of Baal. During their showdown with Elijah we are told that they:
called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. (1 Kings 18:26–28 ESV)
They prayed long. They prayed loud. They prayed in circles. They did funny things with their bodies. They limped about and they punished themselves – but to no avail.
The true God is not moved in such ways.
So don’t pray like that. Jesus said not to. He said:
when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7–8 ESV)
You don’t have to pray like a pagan to access the power of God through prayer. Spurgeon said:
“When I pray, I like to go to God just as I go to a bank clerk when I have [a] cheque to be cashed. I walk in, put the cheque down on the counter, and the clerk gives me my money, I take it up, and go about my business.” 
We don’t need to jump up and down, we don’t need to shout or dance or punish ourselves; we just walk up to the counter, present our credentials and make our requests known to God. You have a right to be there and Jesus has earned for you the right to be heard.
So don’t pray like a pagan when your mountain doesn’t move; but do keep on praying.
4. Do keep on praying
Some mountains are worn down very slowly over time and that’s why Jesus told us to persevere in prayer. He said:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:2–3 ESV)
Day after day she came and made her request and finally, even though the judge was not a good man, he gave her what she asked for just so that she would go away. Jesus says, ‘how much more then should you expect to see results from your persistence in prayer? You aren’t praying to a bad man, you are praying to a good God!’
So if you pray against your mountain – in faith – and it seems like nothing happens, pray again. And then pray again the next day. And then the next day. And then the next day. Sometimes mountains move one inch and one prayer at a time.
Do keep on praying and do not turn on God.
5. Do not turn on God
The middle third of the Book of Job is taken up with speeches as Job and his three friends try to figure out why he is suffering so terribly. His friends contend that he must be a great sinner – Job contends that this is not the case. He argues for his innocence – and at the end God vindicates his case; but along the way Job does not always speak as carefully as he might. In fact at one point Job seems to speak of God as if he is an enemy; as if he is, like a killer whale, making sport out of his victim.
But that is not what is going on. A young man who has been listening to the exchange speaks up in God’s defense and he speaks some of the wisest human words in the entire book. He says, “Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any” (Job 36:5 ESV)
God doesn’t hate you, Job! That isn’t what this is about. God is something good in this situation even if no one can see what that is. He defends God further saying, “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity… Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?” (Job 36:15–22 ESV).
God has purposes in our pain – perhaps to save us, perhaps to teach us – perhaps to do something we will never understand.
But he is good.
Hating God doesn’t make it any better. In the end, it is the worst of all decisions.
So when your mountain doesn’t move don’t turn on God, but do widen your perspective.
6. Do widen your perspective
Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because we are asking for the wrong things. James, the brother of Jesus said: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3 ESV)
Sometimes we pray for what we want rather than praying for what would glorify God. Jesus was very clear about why he was giving us power in prayer. He said: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13 ESV)
We were promised power so that the Father would be glorified in the Son – not so that we would never personally suffer.
That’s a significant distinction.
As human beings in particular relationships and with particular limitations, we tend to pray for what we want. We want our loved ones to be ok. We want them to be well. We want them to flourish.
You can and you should pray for that – but because you know that God sees the whole board, and because you know that he has ultimate purposes whereas you have immediate purposes, it is never a bad thing to end your prayers by saying, “Nevertheless Lord, not my will but thine be done”.
I want my loved one to be healed – but I understand that you might be working a different (and better?!) plan.
I want my loved one to be ok – but I understand that your definition of ok might be different (and better?!) than mine.
I want what I want, but I know that what you want is better.
That isn’t arrogant, that doesn’t “steal faith from the room” – that is just how finite human beings ought to pray. Finite human beings ought to be honest about what they want and honest about what they see. So you go ahead and pray for whatever you want, but you make it clear that what you want most of all is for God’s will to be done because he might be doing something bigger than you are able to see; so you pray for that; in faith; and you will always get what you ask for.
When your mountain doesn’t move do widen your perspective but do not hide your pain.
7. Do not hide your pain
Human beings are entitled to their reactions. Job defended that right early on in the book. He said, “Does the wild donkey bray when he has grass, or the ox low over his fodder?” (Job 6:5 ESV)
Animals make noise over their food – how much more should human beings be allowed to weep over their pain?
You are allowed to cry when your mountain doesn’t move. You are entitled to your pain and you are entitled to our fellowship within it. The Bible says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 ESV).
We sometimes default too fast to certain verses at the expense of others. Yes, the Bible does say in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that we are not to grieve: “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV).
That verse is in the Bible.
But so is this: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 ESV).
To state the obvious, CHRISTIANS MOURN – but not without hope.
Every word of that verse matters and it matters a great deal when you pull it out. That’s probably not your go-to verse at a funeral. That’s probably a verse you pull out a couple months later, after the dust settles and the frozen lasagnas have all been eaten. Until the last one is taken out of the freezer you are probably better off parking yourself in John 11:35or Romans 12:15.
People being crushed by their mountain are entitled to their pain.
They shouldn’t have to hide.
They shouldn’t have to pretend.
But they should show up for worship.
8. Do show up for worship
Never let an unmoved mountain keep you from worshipping the Lord.
When a tornado knocked over the house that his kids were in and every single one of them died the Bible says this:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20–21 ESV)
Job understood that whatever happens down here doesn’t affect who God is up there. He knew that in chapter 1 but he was slipping a little bit by chapter 36. The young man Elihu once again brought much-needed encouragement. He said, “Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung.” (Job 36:24 ESV)
Don’t stop worshipping now Job! God is still God. He is still good and he hasn’t changed just because your circumstances have.
He’s a good God, even when your mountain doesn’t move. He’s a good God, even when your wife is sick and she isn’t getting any better. He’s a good God, even when the devil’s chain seems suddenly so much longer.
He is God and he is working a plan. Part of that plan involves you loving him even when your world is on fire. Part of that plan involves you persisting in prayer.
I’m not sure I understand how that all works; I just know that I read it in the Bible.
So do like Job.
Shave your head if you need to.
Tear your robe if you must.
Fall down on your face if you have to and we will fall down with you.
We will lay in the ashes and weep and sob like the beasts.
But then we will arise.
And we will worship.
We will lift our faces.
We will look to the Lord.
And we will move mountains.
For the glory of God and the good of all people, this is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
 Charles Spurgeon as cited in John Piper, A Camaraderie of Confidence (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 54.