"I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (Matthew 17:20, NLT)
Faith is integral to the Christian life. It is our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection that saves us, not our good deeds. It is our faith that Jesus is coming again that gives us joy and hope. It is our faith that God is in control that ought to sustain us in times of trial. But what is faith?
Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NLT). It is believing in and trusting God’s character, that He is who He says He is and that He will follow through with His promises. It is choosing to believe that He is in control even when His plans haven’t come to fruition yet. It is choosing to trust Him when all else seems hopeless.
Christ spoke the words of Matthew 17:20 after the disciples had been unable to cast out a demon in His name. When this text was written, the mustard seed was probably one of the smallest seeds known in the Middle East. Therefore, what Christ was ultimately saying to His disciples when He spoke those words was this: You were unable to cast out that demon because your faith is too small.
I sometimes like to imagine what the disciples’ faces must have looked like after Christ made that comment. After all, they had given up homes, job security, family, and everything known to follow after Christ into the unknown. His disciples spent more time with Him than anyone else. They knew Jesus inside and out. They saw Him perform miracles, heal the sick, restore sight. They were His inner circle. If anyone had a reason to believe in Christ and the One who sent Him, it was them. If anyone had a reason to have faith in Him, it was them. Yet, despite being able to see, smell, hear, and touch Jesus, Christ accused His very disciples of lacking the necessary faith to heal and to cast out demons. I wonder if, after Jesus’ uttered those words, the disciples stood there in disbelief, mouths agape, eyes wide open, wondering how they, his inner circle, could possibly lack faith?
As I read this passage, I often think it was surely so much easier for the disciples to have faith because they experienced life with Christ tangibly every day. And yet, Jesus’ words indicate the exact opposite. In spite of His physical presence, the disciples still wavered in their belief. Peter’s lack of faith caused him to sink into the ocean. Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, even when he saw His nail-scarred hands. Even experiencing Christ first hand wasn’t enough for the disciples. They still lacked faith.
Then how much faith is enough?
Have you ever seen a mustard seed? Years ago, I was given a small jar with the tiniest black seed inside. Along with the jar was a card with Matthew 17:20 penned beautifully on the cover. At the time, I was going through a particularly difficult struggle and a dear friend took it upon herself to remind me that in times such as those, I needed to have faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed. It seems like such a small amount, yet, I suspect for most of us, faith the size of that miniscule seed is elusive.
Fast forward twenty years or so. I’ve long since misplaced the tiny jar containing that precious seed. But I’ve never lost sight of that verse, often re-reading it when the changing seasons of life left me feeling like I was being tossed about like a grain of sand in the ocean swells. Every time I start to sink, I am reminded that faith is what will keep me afloat. Faith is what propels me to keep going when life just doesn’t seem fair. Faith is what I cling to when fear or uncertainty threaten to overwhelm me. Faith is believing that God really does love me, His child, even when I feel unlovable.
Faith even as small as a mustard seed is what I desire for my own life. Faith is what my husband and I ask God to bless our children with. Faith in Christ is the root from which all else will flourish. When all is said and done, I long for Timothy’s words to be my own: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV). I’m not there yet. In fact, I still have a very long way to go. My faith is small, but my desire to become more and more like Christ is strong.
May He increase my faith and yours!