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On Mustard Seeds And Small Faith

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20 

“Phew” you might have sighed as you read the above verse. “I really need God to move in my situation but my faith is so… small. At least I only need a tiny bit of faith as a mustard seed!”

American Christians love this verse. We quote it to ourselves when we stand in front of an impossible mountain and want to hope beyond hope that it can be moved. The phrase sells. Mugs and plaques with “faith moves mountains” line the shelves. Mustard seeds are pressed into necklaces, earrings, and bracelets so we can keep this comforting verse close. 

But does such a tiny faith really move mountains?

Up Against Mountains

Mountains have always inspired a sense of awe in me. Many evenings in Haiti I have sat out on the concrete balcony of our rental house and looked across the street to the mountains. They weren’t hard to find. Though our village is already stationed high up in the mountains, Haiti’s Northern mountains still tower above that landscape.

Every morning and evening they are there. Always the same. Huge. Awesome. Steady. 

Sometimes there are problems in my life that give me the same feeling as those mountains do. Problems that feel unmovable, unavoidable, and unable to change. No matter how good a day has gone, the evening finds me staring off at that mountain of a problem wondering if it can really move. 

In those moments steadfastness in prayer often seems pointless.

The Size of The Seed

Despite how the mustard seed verse is so often used I do not believe that Jesus was referring to its size. After all, why would he say, “Because of your little faith”  you weren’t able to perform that miracle, but if you have even a tiny amount of faith like the little mustard seed you can move a mountain.” 

Which is it? Did their little faith prevent a miracle? Or is a tiny faith ‘good enough’?

Rather than looking at the size of the mustard seed I think it’s more beneficial to look into its qualities and function. Though that knowledge might be lost to us, in Jesus time everyone would have gotten it right away.

Mustard Seed

In the Middle East and Africa the Salvadora Persica or “Mustard Tree” grows wild. It is a medium sized tree that when mature reaches 25 feet in height. These trees are hearty and although they thrive near a water source they can sustain months of drought. Contrary to popular belief the Mustard Tree is not the source of our Mustard condiment in the US. Rather it bears an edible pea sized fruit.

The mustard seed is tiny compared to what it will become when it grows into its tree form. The biggest truth about this seed is that it does not remain a tiny seed. It may start out small but in time it germinates, the seedling breaks out of its shell, and grows into a full-sized plant. 

In the Middle East the mustard plant spreads widely and quickly. It is a ferocious grower that thrives in rough places where other plants die. I believe grasping these aspects of the Mustard seed can change the way we view our faith.

Faith That Grows

As Christians our faith cannot remain static or the same in order to have a deeper relationship with God. What you will do for God, how He will use you and work through you often correlates with the quality of your faith. 

If someone has faith to believe that Jesus died, rose again, and saved them from their sins, this is the very beginning of their faith journey. Maybe at that moment they don’t fully believe that God can heal an illness. Such moment by moment practical faith often comes later and over time. 

One of the most courageous workings of faith is visible in dangerous settings, where believing in God openly could lead to martyrdom. Sharing openly about our savior in hostile environments takes a lot of faith. In the US our faith is not often tested in this manner. 

James wrote, “faith without works is dead” in James 2:26

Faith MUST grow, and be tested, and be acted upon in order to produce the sort of deep and true faith that can move mountains. It’s not enough that we simply settle for “I think God maybe can” that we pull out our little seed and rationalize our big doubt.

Small Faith

“The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ ‘You of little faith’, Jesus replied, ‘why are you so afraid?’…” Matthew 8:25-26

“Oh you of little faith”… Here Jesus again refers to the smallness of His disciples’ faith in a negative sense. He doesn’t say “you fools, you have no faith.” But he also does not say, “oh good job, at least you have a little faith.” He acknowledged their faith but stated that it was “little”, too little.

“Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Matthew 14:29-31

Again Jesus repeats “oh you of little faith” in addition He adds a question, “why did you doubt?”. You see when Peter kept his eyes on Christ and walked on in faith miracles started to happen. He was walking on water after all, that’s pretty huge! Yet, as soon as his faith wavered he began to fear and sink. His faith at that moment was too small to carry him across the water.

“But let him ask in faith, with NO doubt, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:6-8

One who doubts should not expect to receive the miraculous outcome of faith. The double-minded man’s belief is not stable. His faith produces no fruit.

Wrestle Against Unbelief

Rather than rationalizing small faith or using God’s words to make us feel better in our doubt we should be on guard against the things that dampen and snuff out faith. According to Timothy 6 keeping the faith requires fighting for it. The road to faith that will move mountains is not a complacent one but an intentional one. 

Practically here are some things that will dampen a Christian’s faith; 

  1. Settling On Tiny Seeds 

Many times what we like to hear is not what is true. It may feel good to rationalize away your wavering faith by clinging to the world’s interpretation of God’s word and telling yourself “It’s fine I only need a little faith”. But, do this enough and in the end any real faith you had will wither away as it is left to rot and not cultivated as it should be.

  1. Trusting Your Feelings 

When we base our faith on our feelings we will almost always waver in our belief. Today you could be full of faith, feeling hyped up, motivated, trusting God will move. Tomorrow when circumstances change you might not feel God’s presence. If you go by what you feel you will begin to doubt His word that says “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. 

  1. Unsurrendered Desires 

In first John five we read “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.” Faith is not only trusting God to move but also trusting that He will move in the best way and for our good. If I desire a certain outcome and pray specifically for it without knowing if it is His will, when it doesn’t come to pass I might question that God really can move in the circumstance. When in fact He can and will but perhaps desires to bring about a completely different outcome than I have imagined. 

  1. Relying on YOU 

Ultimately faith requires coming to terms with the fact that outcomes do not depend on me. Whether it be a pregnancy you so desire, a good job to fall into line, or even a man to waltz into your life and propose. Trusting God to provide. Trusting Him to tear down the walls and move the mountains in order for these things to happen requires letting go. Realizing that I cannot make them happen any faster by obsessing over whether or not I am tracking my fertility efficiently or putting myself out there enough.

Trusting in and relying on God equals a calm assurance that He does not need me to accomplish what He will in my life.

Grow Your Faith

Much like a seed, faith must be cultivated in order to grow. Setting a seed up on a shelf and expecting it to do something other than remain as it is, is folly. A seed requires good soil, sunshine, water, air, and care to produce the end product that it was designed to be. 

Mountain moving faith is grown into by those who refuse to settle for mediocre trust. Here are some practical steps to take that will help grow your faith;

  1. Know What His Will Is 

The more we know the character of God and what He desires to accomplish in His people, the more effective our prayers will be. Thus the more outcomes we will see manifest in our lives and in turn our faith will grow. Study the character of God. Dive into His word. Spend intentional time sitting quietly in His presence.

  1. Take Your Eyes Off Of The Mountains 

When Peter was walking out on the water to Jesus all the while He kept his eyes on His savior his faith sustained him. He was doing the impossible. But as soon as he looked around at his circumstances, the storm, the waves. He began to sink. So too focusing on the mountain that we wish would move and not on the God who is able to move it will cause our trust to falter. He should be our focus always, not our problems, no matter how large they may be.

  1. Cultivate Your Faith 

As a seed needs cultivated in order to grow to its full potential, so does faith. Practice looking back at the things God has already done in your life. Thanking Him for what He is doing, even before you see it. Pray for a deeper trust in God. And steer clear of things that dampen faith. 

  1. Lay Down the Outcome 

Ultimately a true faith says “I know you can, but if not, I still trust you.” Giving up the outcome I desire in my situation frees me to see mountains move. Our God is a God who moves mountains, whether or not we join Him in witnessing those miracles is up to us to decide. 

5. Make This your Prayer

“Lord I believe, help my unbelief”. This should be our prayer. Ultimately we cannot conjure up faith in our own power. While we actively fight off the enemy’s attempts to cause us to doubt and focus on growing our faith, we must also trust that He and He alone will increase our faith. When we want what He wants He will give us the ability to wait quietly for Him to act, knowing without a doubt that He is and He will.

Let’s talk;

  • Have you ever thought about the seemingly contradictory nature of the mustard seed verse and the verses about small faith? 
  • Were you surprised by my statement that “ Faith MUST grow, and be tested, and be acted upon in order to produce the sort of deep and true faith that can move mountains.”? Do you agree or disagree?
  • What mountains have you witnessed God move in your life in the past?

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    Hi! I’m Rachel. Through a series of God orchestrated events I ended up in Haiti, in 2017.  Through years of serving with a ministry there I came to love the country and its people. I met Nelson and we got married in 2020. It was the best decision of my life! 

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