Have you ever struggled to have faith? Has anyone ever told you that you need to have more faith? Then you don't want to miss this message.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a message about faith to highlight an issue that can cause some major disruptions in our life and our relationship with God. If you haven't read it already, I encourage you to do so here...
Today I would like to take a look at another issue involving faith. This is an issue that is crucial to our understanding of faith and how we utilize it in our daily lives, and one I'm sure not many people have heard before.
As Christians, faith is a subject we tend to be rather familiar with. Many people preach, teach, encourage, practice, and extol the virtues of faith on a regular basis. And for good reason... faith works. Faith is a big component in having our prayers answered and allowing God to move on our behalf. And, as we know, faith pleases God.
However, what may not be so familiar is that, for some Christians, faith has become something of a burden. To some, faith is something that causes them much distress. It has become a type of bondage that holds them captive. While they believe in God and desire to live in faith, for whatever reason, faith seems to be an unattainable goal.
This can cause great distress for those who are desperately seeking God's help. It's a heartbreaking situation to say the least -- both to live, and to see others live through. And what's worse, I've seen many people treated very badly for supposedly not having enough faith when they fail to see an answer to their prayers.
If you have ever been in this position, or know someone who has, then I would like to show you something that perhaps no one has ever shown you before.
Odds are, most of us are already familiar with Jesus using the example of a mustard seed to teach His apostles about faith. (Luke 17:5-6) And if you're like me, then you've probably heard roughly a dozen or so different interpretations of this passage. Nevertheless, most teachings have the same core message: having more faith is a good thing.
Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with this core message. In fact, I would go so far to say I agree with this message from a certain point of view -- the operative phrase being, "from a certain point of view."
Why the qualifier? Well, there is a very key attribute to faith that tends to be misunderstood, or even out-right unseen. When this attribute goes unseen, it can not only change our view of faith, but how we handle faith, which can, in turn, negatively affect our lives. When understood, it brings us the freedom Christ intended for us to have. But to show you what I mean, let's look at the scripture I cited earlier.
Luke 17:5-6 (NIV) The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He (Jesus) replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you."
Sound familiar? Hopefully so, but, for a moment, forget what you know about this passage. Instead, let's try to look at this with fresh eyes, and hopefully see what we may have never noticed before.
In this passage, the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. Pretty straightforward so far, right? Many of us have done this same thing at one time or another. But then, in response, Jesus says something seemingly out-of-step, as He is prone to do. He responds by comparing faith to the size of mustard seed, and telling the apostles about moving mulberry trees miraculously.
Does anything about this seem unusual to you? Anything at all? How about the fact that Jesus didn't honor their request?
Think about it: we know it's God who gives us faith to begin with. (Romans 12:3) We also know that faith pleases God. (Hebrews 11:6) Not only that, we know it wasn't very long before this conversation took place that Jesus exclaimed how unbelieving the apostles were. (Luke 9:41) So, knowing all of this, why didn't Jesus honor their request and give them more faith? Why did He choose to talk about something related to, but different from, what they had actually asked? It doesn't quite make sense, does it?
Fortunately, Jesus' response makes more sense when we understand what He was doing. But to see this, we have to look at this exchange a bit differently.
I think the biggest problem we encounter with this passage is that we tend to miss the message for the details. The apostles asked for more faith, but Jesus told them all they needed was a little faith. Because of this, we tend to focus on the amounts of faith and miss the real point that is being made -- which is easy to do.
You see, the discussion about amounts was just a vehicle for the actual point. Jesus wasn't responding with a disjointed, out-of-step response, neither was He trying to give the apostles insight into how big or small faith really is. No, Jesus was responding to their request with a contrasting point of view to get them to see what they hadn't seen before.
What didn't they see? That faith isn't about amounts. Faith has never been about amounts. Faith is one of those things that either is, or it isn't. We either have faith for something, or we do not. There are no levels of faith -- there is no small faith, medium faith, large faith, mountain-moving faith -- there is only faith, period.
Let's look at it this way. Many of us have come to see faith like we see buildings. The more stories a building has, the bigger the building is. Likewise, we tend to see that the more levels (or stories) our faith has, the bigger our faith is. However, this isn't so.
Faith is more like a switch. Is the switch on? Then there is faith. Is the switch off? Then there is no faith. It's a binary system, and we either have faith for certain things, or we do not.
This is why Jesus didn't respond by giving them more faith. It's like the old saying, "you can't be just a little bit pregnant" -- you're either pregnant or you're not. The apostles asking for more faith was kind of like a pregnant woman asking to be more pregnant. It makes no sense. And, ironically enough, the part of this passage that seems to make the most sense to us happens to be the part that has the least to do with reality.
This is also why Jesus chose to compare faith to something very small. He knew the apostles had something very large in mind when they asked for more faith. He knew they believed that someone who did the things He did must have large quantities of faith. So He contrasted what the apostles were thinking by going in the opposite direction, and compared faith to a mustard seed. This disrupted their ideas about faith and made them think differently. And, eventually, they came to understand.
If there is an "amount" we can attribute to faith -- which I don't believe there is -- then it has nothing to do with some sort of unseen "faith meter" we must fill in order for God to answer our prayers. If anything, it has to do with faith's expanse.
To use the building analogy again, our "amount" of faith has nothing to do with how many stories a building rises into the air, but rather, how many buildings spread across a given piece of ground. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
How many of us have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow morning? All of us, right? In fact, we are so assured in this belief, to many of us, it doesn't even seem like an act of faith anymore, even though it technically is. Okay then, so how many of us have faith that God will watch over us and keep us safe? Quite a few, but not as many, wouldn't you say? How many of us have faith that God will provide for us if we lose our job, our belongings, and are struggling financially? I know a lot of us would say "yes" in a heartbeat, but actually doing it is a little more difficult, wouldn't you say? How about this one: how many of us have faith to walk up to body of water, command it to part, and have it part before us? Not so many, right?
This is a limited list for sure, however, somewhere within this list, more than likely, each one of us found a certain boundary; a boundary that if we were to attempt to cross it, we would find areas where having faith would be very challenging. The area within this boundary is the expanse of our faith; these are the things we can have faith for. Everything else outside of this expanse are things we wouldn't have faith for -- that is, until we are trained to go beyond our boundaries.
So there is no imaginary "faith meter," neither is there an "amount" of faith. There is simply whether or not we believe, and what we can or cannot have faith for. Even the expanse of our faith isn't really an amount, it's just simply whether or not we apply our faith to a particular area. And when we grow in our faith, we grow out, not up, increasing the expanse of our faith by believing for greater and greater things, not somehow increasing in our "amount" of faith.
It's as simple as that, but really easy to misunderstand. And as I said, just this simple misunderstanding can change our whole view of faith, and in turn, affect our life and walk with God.
I know this can be a rather foreign concept for some, especially when we have been taught otherwise all of our lives. However, we can plainly see this in scripture if only we make an honest attempt to look for it. Let me give you a couple examples so you can see what I mean.
Matthew 9:27-30 (NIV) As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be done to you"; and their sight was restored.
Did you see that? Jesus asked the men if they believed, and they responded affirming that they did. There were no further tests to plumb the depths of their belief. There was no "Do you really believe? Do you really, really believe? Do you strain and strive to believe just as hard as you possibly can?" There was none of that. They just believed, period. But let's look at another passage, which tells us of the father with a demon possessed son.
Mark 9:21-24 (NIV) Jesus asked the boy’s father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes." Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Again, it was a simple matter of belief. Although, here we have a little something extra. Here we see someone who has admitted to having some doubts of some sort. We don't know what kind of doubts he had exactly, but perhaps he simply struggled to have more faith, as many people do today, and as the apostles did. But the man did have enough faith, and Jesus honored his request.
Today, if some among us were to encounter this man, they would rebuke him for not believing enough. But think about it -- if this man actually had no faith, he would have never sought Jesus out to begin with. He must have believed, even though the expanse of his faith may not have been very wide. And because of this, God honored him for it -- and so it is with us.
One other thing worth noting... if you notice, even though this man essentially asked Jesus to give him more faith, like the apostles did, Jesus still didn't honor his request. Why? Because faith isn't about amounts.
Jesus gave us the formula for faith and it goes like this: Do you believe God can do whatever it is you are asking Him for? If you answer yes, then congratulations, you have achieved mustard seed faith. No straining, no striving, no trying to believe more than just believing, which isn't even possible anyway. Just faith, period.
There are so many Christians who have been told that they must have a certain level of faith for God to answer their prayers, but this simply isn't true. If you have asked God for something, and can honestly say "I believe God can do this" then you have all the faith you need to uproot mulberry trees, to move mountains, to receive healing, to have your needs met, to move forward into whatever it is God has for you, or to receive whatever it is you may be asking Him for.
Before I end this message, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one thing. I'm sure there are some who will say, "I have believed, but God hasn't answered me." And to them I say... I believe you. Yours, however, is another matter, and addressing this issue could take several messages in and of itself. This is one reason why I pointed out the other message I wrote on faith, as it deals with at least one aspect of why some have not yet seen the answers to their prayers manifest.
Still, let me quickly say this. Despite us being awash in teachings on faith, and all the emphasis people put on having faith, there is more to receiving an answer from God than just having faith alone. Things such as our faithfulness, our obedience, our righteousness, our preparation to receive God's answer, God's timing, the manner in which God's answer comes about, and of course, God's will versus our own, all play a role. These things, and more, can affect how and when we receive an answer from God, or even if we can receive what we are asking for. As important as faith is, these things are equally as important, and we need to give them the attention they deserve.
So, if you have not seen the answers to your prayers manifest, it may not be faith you are lacking; something else may need to fall in line first. I would encourage you to ask the Lord to highlight anything that may be holding back the answer to your prayers. And if the Lord brings something to mind, and you know it's from the Lord, then do as He says.
Father, I ask that you bless all who read this message. Give each one true understanding of how faith in You works, as well as the ability to see whatever it is they may not be seeing. For those who have waited, reassure them and encourage them, Father. Show them any area that needs to be addressed so that You might be able to bring forth Your answer to their prayers. Bless them indeed Father, in Jesus Name. Amen.
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