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“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’ ‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’
“He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:14-21, NIV).
In his account of this event, Mark records aspects of Jesus’ responses that Luke does not. The boy’s father implores, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark documented the father’s reaction: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22-24, NIV). Then, “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9:28-29). Some translations render “prayer and fasting,” though that is not fully supportable by the original languages.
In both accounts quoted above, Jesus’ agitation and frustration clearly comes through the text. His rhetorical responses are sarcastic: “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you!” Jesus’ reply to His disciples’ question, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” was direct and hyperbolic to underscore the point: “Because you have so little faith.” There’s a tone of sadness to that remark. Then Jesus smacks them with ego-deflating confrontation: “You could move a mountain, if your faith was at least the size of a mustard seed.” Mustard seeds are barely bigger than the periods on his page. Jesus was telling them their faith wasn’t even that big, so why are they wondering why they couldn’t cure the boy? Isn’t that self-evident? Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ remark, “This kind can come out only by prayer” further documents Jesus’ frustration and sarcastic mood. It’s as if He was saying, “Can you do any of the kingdom’s work without prayer? What do you mean, why couldn’t ‘we’ cast it out? It was never you who did anything in my name, but the Father through you. The answer to your question? Try praying.”
As asserted in other Weekly Reflections, prayer is not just for when you want something, but rather a constant state of communion with God. Our states of faith and grace are nourished by a state of ongoing prayer. To move a mountain that impedes our growth and freedom, we must approach it in a state of faith and grace bathed in prayer. Then we will know it isn’t we who do the moving.
The account of the fall of the city of Jericho is a manual for approaching mountains that need moving. “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in” (Joshua 6:3-5).
God’s instructions are precise, and the ark of His covenant with His people was to be carried in the march. Furthermore, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (v. 10).
Why the seven day procession? Some biblical commentaries refer to a psychological war being waged against the already terrified residents of Jericho, which include trumpet blasts and the final shout of the Israelites. God, however, didn’t need His people to weaken the enemy’s resolve. This also doesn’t explain the need for the ark to be included or Joshua’s directive that the people march in silence until the very end. It seems, rather, this march was for the benefit of the Israelites, not for the detriment of the residents of Jericho.
Collapsing fortified walls or moving mountains of hatred, violence, persecution, oppression or affliction require preparation. “This kind cannot be cast out except by prayer.” The mustering of faith is aided by ritual preparation involving penitent self- reflection and contemplative prayer. Holding off on the war cries and observing holy silence are critical practices as well.
We may have to march around the mountain in this state of faith, prayer and grace for quite a while before blowing the trumpets and giving the shout. The Holy Spirit will give us the signal in seven minutes, seven hours, seven days, seven weeks, months or even years. But given our cadence of faith, the directive will come. Number seven, throughout Scripture, is symbolic of perfection and fulfillment. Our directive will come at the perfect time. Our march in silence will prepare us for that special time. The ark of the new covenant, that of the body and blood of Christ and His cross of victory over death and bondage, must be carried with us.
Sometimes the mountain may be represented by a house, a building, a business, a street or town, perhaps a person or group of people. Prayer-walking (praying and walking or driving) around such physical places can help in increasing the focus and intensity of prayer and faith. It also opens our hearts wider to the peace and grace of focused prayer “on location,” so to speak.
Perhaps more often, our march around the mountain to be moved is a spiritual one. This is a time of purification through prayer and attentiveness to the “still, small voice” of God. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us we are in the company of a great communion of saints. Our brothers and sisters are attentive to our prayerful mountain-moving endeavor. Their collective voice joins ours when it’s time to shout. In this state of faith and grace, the Holy Spirit brings our intentions to the Father “with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Our High Priest, the Christ, is our Supreme Intercessor.
“Now have come the salvation and power and
the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser
of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been
hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word
of their testimony” (Revelation 12:10-11a, NIV).
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © July 12, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
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