Majestically rising from the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia’s beautiful mountains have not moved in thousands of years. We know they will always be in the very same location whenever we look for them. Unfortunately, life is not as predictable. No matter how considered our decisions, proactive our plans, or rationally sound and intuitive our actions, unanticipated, puzzling, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles suddenly loom, obstructing our plans, complicating our journeys, and sometimes casting threatening shadows which terrify us! We may exercise patience, be flexible, make directional changes, seek counsel, and even practice denial! But sometimes, nothing works. The mountain remains!
On one occasion, Christ’s disciples found themselves in an impossible situation. They had failed to heal someone. When they inquired of Jesus about why they had not succeeded, he rebuked them for the spiritual problem of “little faith”. He said “nothing is impossible” and if one has faith like “a grain of mustard seed” even mountains can be moved. (Mathew 17:16-20) What does that mean?
How much faith is enough to do the impossible? Taken in context, it would seem that “little faith” is more about quality than about quantity because faith as small as “a grain of mustard seed” powerfully transforms, exploits, and defies human impossibilities. When and where we stand impotent, “little faith” performs miracles by converting the undoable into doable or done. If that is true, in what or in whom do we trust to accomplish what we cannot, that which is beyond our capability to do?
During another encounter, Jesus gave further context to the “mountain-moving” components of “little faith.” He said, “Have faith in God. 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.” (Mark 11:22-25)
One might deduce that the disciples had become unwittingly and subtly arrogant, that they had become self reliant and spiritually complacent by neglecting the source of their spiritual strength and forgetting that the goal of their efforts was to bring attention to God’s powerful redemption and not to themselves. Their confidence was misplaced. More training or increased knowledge or better logic or improved conditions were not necessary for their success. Faith is not about ginning up self confidence, personal capabilities, or self effort. Jesus reminded them that it is God’s power that moves overwhelming obstacles, that humble spirits and right motivation are pivotal in mountain removal endeavors.
We are not expected to deal with the unworkable, the ludicrous, the inconceivable, the impossible alone. Jesus’ discussion with his disciples is reminiscent of God’s talk with Moses when He empowered Moses to execute miracles for the very specific purpose that Pharaoh and the Israelites would believe in God’s redemptive power, not in Moses. (Exodus 4:21ff; 10:1-2) Jesus made a simple but impactful statement when he said that not only is belief necessary but that the power for change comes from outside oneself: “it will be done for him.”
“Believe.” Don’t have “doubt in your heart.” “Have faith in God.” That is good advice, but it is difficult to trust someone with our hopes, desires, needs, and difficulties if we don’t have a relationship with them. Getting to know God will mean getting to know and accept Scripture’s overarching picture of Him as a loving , heavenly Father, who is a faithful promise keeper, who has given us life-principles which lead us into the best life possible, and who has given us Jesus as our redemptive and eternal hope. Jesus said that our “Father who is in heaven gives what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11) . If we believe God is good but will not give us good, if we believe He can grant our requests but just doesn’t, then we are double-minded. (James 1:6-8) In those situations, we fail to believe His sovereignty. If we believe, we know He is working good even when we cannot see it.
So, “little” but powerful faith resides in a believing heart which is dependent upon God, is properly motivated with a desire to honor Him, and seeks Him with a self denying attitude which fully trusts that His character and will and justice are always good and that He will always do good. Belief opens us to the power of God’s salvation and sovereignty.
(Next blog will consider how prayer invites God into our dreams, desires, and needs and unleashes His good and sovereign will for us.)