And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matthew 17:20)
What incredible words! In Mark11: 22-24, this is followed with: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive [them], and ye shall have [them], words so often quoted as being the universal recipe for the manifestation of the miraculous.
And yet miracles don’t always occur, and believers are disappointed, and over time the concept that miracles don’t happen sneaks in and undermines the very faith we’re supposed to have. How often do we examine our faith and realise that’s it’s not even ‘mustard seed.’ The result? Condemnation and a slow, inexorable slide into the place of no longer believing in miracles.
The tragedy of this lies in the fact that the context of these verses is so often left out of the equation. It’s a very real example of how verses are taken out of context and learned by rote, and what we believe to be faith is built on something that excludes the divinity and sovereignty of God’s miracle-working power in our lives.
First, let’s look at overall context. These words occur in response to the disciples asking Jesus why they could not cast the demon out of the epileptic boy. In the next verse in Matthew 17, Jesus says: Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. It’s clear from this that certain things were missing.
The disciples did not know that dealing with certain manifestations of the demonic required prayer and fasting (just prior to this incident, Christ had met with Moses and Elijah and been transfigured on the mount, so He was at a place of spiritual power and unity with God). In their ignorance of spiritual things, or lack of God-given discernment in that moment, they were defeated and their faith made ineffectual. Their unbelief was therefore not that of ‘not believing,’ but rather of believing incorrectly.
We’re all familiar with the lesson that the mustard seed is one of the smallest of seeds. What is not often taught, however, is that it’s hardy, will germinate and take root in almost any soil and under the harshest conditions, and has the nature of proliferation – the Israelites did not plant it in their gardens or fields because of its propensity to take over, to spread and disseminate itself to the point where it would overrun the weaker plants. Quite a plant, the mustard.
This, then, is the power of the mustard seed, and Jesus had a very powerful reason for using the analogy. What He was saying, in effect, is that our faith should have the same characteristics. But again, it needs to be ‘rooted’ in context, and the context is the will of God and spiritual discernment that can only come through the leading of the Holy Spirit, which in turn comes from fellowship with God and surrender to His will. We can only know God’s will in all things if we are ‘one’ with Him through the Spirit. This, and this alone, is the only solid context and foundation of faith.
Which opens the door to the issue of mountains, specifically those that should be ‘removed.’ The sad reality is that Christians so often seize upon these verses and expect the miracles that move the mountains. What we exclude from the equation is the possibility that the mountain may be there for a reason. In a particular situation, it may not be God’s plan to actually move the mountain. He may have a particular purpose for that particular mountain. He may actually want us to climb the dratted thing – ever noticed how fabulous the view is from up there? And, incidentally, have you ever taken the time to consider just how often God met with people up on top of a mountain?
But in our enthusiasm we seize on the promise of ‘moving mountains’ and don’t stop to ask God just what exactly we should be doing. We have faith, but it’s not grounded. It’s well-intentioned, it’s fervent, it may even be bold, but it’s misplaced. And misplaced faith won’t move a mole hill, let alone a mountain that shouldn’t be moved. So we believe, we declare, and we believe some more, all the while hanging onto the ‘promises’ with grim and even desperate determination, all to no avail. So our faith is dented and we’re disappointed, and the next time around we’re a little more desperate than before.
Finally, there’s the issue of the miracles themselves. I believe ‘miracle faith’ is in fact ‘faith by degrees.’ How can we believe for the big stuff if we don’t take time to see the little stuff? Miracles surround us. They occur each and every single day. I’m alive. That’s a miracle. I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ a completely mind-blowing, perfect, intricately put together human being that medical science will never fully comprehend. The sun rises and sets, the tides and the seasons come and go… All these are miracles, each and every one. They are a manifestation of the power of God at work.
Today’s image spoke powerfully to my spirit. I really felt that God was reminding me that miracles are a matter of perception. This amazing butterfly with it’s transparent wings, is a perfect example of ‘the eye of the beholder.’ Some of us will see a butterfly with no colour. Others will see a miracle, a tiny creature that creates a window for us to perceive the world through a different lens.
What we see is up to us, but when we start to see, and recognise, and believe the little day to day miracles that surround us, we will be drawn closer to our great and sovereign God. The closer we are, the better we will know His will in all situations. Our faith will grow in the little things, our spiritual eyes will be opened, and we will come to a place where will see what God sees and desire what He desires.
Then, indeed, the ‘whatsoever’ we desire will come to pass, for we will have the faith to believe what we see, because we will see what He believes.
Mountains, mustard seeds and miracles are, after all, in His hands alone.