Let’s talk about faith. During my first year of college, I had the unshakeable faith I could daydream through an entire semester of differential equations, do a four-hour cram for the final and still breeze through the course (thinking, of course, that all 18-year old college freshmen with absolutely no interest in math but with great calculus test scores should naturally consider taking differential equations – as an elective). FAITH FAIL. A Summer School course erased both the failing grade and my misplaced faith. And cured me of any long-suppressed fantasies of a career in Quantum Physics.
We all have faith in something: faith that when we turn a light switch on in a darkened room we can see (assuming we’ve paid the light bill); faith that when we’re running late for that important meeting, our car will start; faith that politicians we vote for will actually do what they promise (ok – even I laughed out loud at that one). The point is this – everyone has faith, it’s just a matter of where we place that faith.
Christian faith is no different. And it’s often complicated by its nagging companion: doubt.
Wait – is it even possible for a real Christian to be filled with faith and filled with doubt at the same time? What about that whole “omniscient and omnipotent” thing with God? According to Scripture, absolutely. In fact, it’s the hallmark of faith’s power. Let’s explore this.
Faith is not the absence of fear or anxiousness
First, faith is not the absence of fear or anxiousness. Rather, it’s the certainty that God will deliver on His promises, even, as David writes, we may be walking through “the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Jesus himself knew anxiousness, as evidenced during his final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane with these words: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
We can have faith that God wants us to do something and still be terrified. The courage of true faith isn’t found in not fearing our calling. Rather, it is found in placing our trust in God and plunging into our calling in spite of our fear.
Faith doesn’t have to be Super Human to be super powerful
Second, faith doesn’t need to be Super Human to be powerful. We start with the faith we have: it may be miniscule, even microscopic, but that’s where we start.
Jesus demonstrates this in an encounter from story Mark 9 where a man from a nearby crowd brought his demon-possessed son to his disciples who were unable to heal the boy. The man, in a telling moment of little faith says to Jesus “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Testing the man, Jesus exclaims, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t say “certain” things or “some” things – he proclaims everything can be achieved through belief.
In a clarifying moment, the father exclaims: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The spirt is gone and the boy healed. Everything is possible for one who believes.
Jesus’ disciples lacked the belief they could heal the boy, the father doubted Jesus could heal the boy. It was after Jesus encouraged to father to show a little belief, a little faith that the miracle happens.
Even weak faith is enough
How much faith is enough? When is faith too small for God to work in our lives? Scripture offers an answer. In Matthew’s account of this same encounter, the disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to heal the boy. Jesus’ response gives us an answer as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago: “Because you have so little faith … 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.”
To my skeptic friends – yes, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, using a figure of speech (he’s allowed, and believe it or not first century Judeans actually spoke in colloquialisms just like we do today). And he’s not telling us we need mountain-sized strength to move mustard seeds.
The truth is even the smallest amount of faith reaches God. He asks us to start with the faith we have, trust in His promise, and He will do the rest in accordance with His will. Recall the story of Peter leaping onto the water to meet Jesus in Matthew 14. At first, his faith appears strong enough to have him cross the water to Jesus – until he is confronted by strong winds and in his fear begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand (meeting Peter where he is) and caught him (God doing His part with our limited faith), saying “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The account in Luke 8:25 puts a finer point to it: “Where is your faith?” (emphasis mine)
Peter’s faith was small, but not so small as to be ignored by God. It wasn’t until he realized he couldn’t cross the water alone – much as the father of the possessed boy realized he couldn’t heal his son alone – that Peter’s faith was placed in God and his miracle delivered.
In the today’s world with seemingly infinite data and information on any subject at our fingertips, it’s hard to place faith in things we can’t touch, or see with our own eyes, or hold in our hands. To be one of those who Jesus referred to in John 20:29 as “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This may be especially true when we pray for something God doesn’t grant. Our faith dwindles, even to the size of a mustard seed.
Yet when we let go of ourselves and take God’s hand we find something amazing: God’s greatest works often happen in our most obedient moments. Our faith by itself has no power at all. Our “words of power” are meaningless. Without complete trust in God, our prayers are merely recitations.
I believed in my own ability to ace a semester of math in four hours – FAIL. The grieving father believed in the ability of physicians and men to heal his son – FAIL. Peter had faith in his own power to step out on the water – FAIL.
God’s formula for faith working in our lives is simple: Pray, Trust, Believe. Even if that faith is small. Even if that faith is weak. Even if that faith is tested by adversity. Faith is the simply empty hand that receives God’s power.
The smallest faith will be answered if we put it in the right place. Where is yours?