Mustard Seeds and Mountains

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bush in the picture is a mustard plant. Our Israeli tour guide casually pointed it out to us–and, as you can see, several of us whipped out our cameras. After that, I noticed this yellow-flowered plant everywhere.

The reason I mention this shrub is because of what Jesus said about its seeds:

“if you have faith as a 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). 

The mystifying thing about this statement is that Jesus, at another time, said the mustard seed is the tiniest of seeds. How can a tiny bit of faith produce enormous results?

What Jesus said right before this gives one clue. He had just chided his disciples for their unbelief. Unbelief neutralizes faith. Perhaps if their faith had been been small, but pure–with no trace of unbelief–it would have succeeded in “moving the mountain” before them.*

However, there’s another clue, which is also very helpful. It is in one of Jesus’ parables.

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32). 

Faith is a key ingredient of living in the kingdom of God. It is one of the things that grows as the kingdom becomes larger and larger in our lives. So, when Jesus said that faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain, I believe he meant that

  • small faith can do amazing things–whenever you have no doubt at all
  • small faith can grow into great faith*–which works all the time, because doubt has been replaced by complete confidence

Years ago, my neighbor and I were talking about a mutual friend, “Jane,” who was scheduled for surgery–again. My neighbor told me that she was planning to go the hospital with her because her husband never did. That night, when I tucked my kindergarten-age son into bed, we both prayed for successful surgery for Jane. Mentally, I asked, “And, Lord, let her husband accompany her.” I can’t say I asked with much faith–just much compassion.

A couple days later, I talked with my neighbor again. She told me, “Jane’s surgery went well. And guess who sat with me in the waiting room? Jane’s husband.”

I was awed. Not only had the Lord listened to my one small request, but he had seen to it that I knew about his answer. Through this incident I began to realize that God cares about the small stuff and that he encourages his children to come to him with their concerns. My faith began to grow. You know, you can’t believe God when you don’t know “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

Years later, when my son was a sophomore in high school, his leg was injured in a Monday night JV football game. All day Tuesday, he struggled to walk from one classroom to another. Wednesday morning I joined my prayer buddies for our weekly 5:00 AM meeting. We prayed for Mark’s healing. When I arrived home at 7:00, he was in the kitchen fixing himself a bowl of cereal.

“How’s your leg?” I asked him. Mark looked at me, dumbfounded. He was so totally restored that he had awakened, dressed, come downstairs, and walked all around the kitchen without even remembering his injury.

I no longer doubted God would intervene. I was making bigger requests. My faith had grown.

Here’s my point: Start small. Get to know God’s kindness and care for you by asking for simple things. You will begin approaching him with more and more confidence.

Yes, your faith can move a mountain. If not today, then eventually–if you let it grow. You have Jesus‘ word on it.


*I first heard these two ideas on faith from my pastor, Ronald Callahan, in a recent sermon.


Good Connection, Signal Received

One of the best-loved hymns of all time, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Medlicott Scriven, includes these words:

Satellite dish

O what peace we often forfeit, 

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.

May I suggest that the reason we don’t take everything to God in prayer, is because we aren’t convinced it will make much difference? . . . Ouch. Is God really that unconcerned? Are we really that incapable of believing him?

First of all, faith doesn’t make the promises of God materialize. God makes them happen. Faith is the pipeline through which we receive the blessings. Or the wire through which the electrical impulse travels. Or the receiver that tunes in to the satellite transmission.

Good news–we’re all equipped to receive answers from God to our prayers. In other words, no one is faith-challenged. We just lack understanding of how our faith equipment operates.

Here’s one key piece of information about faith. The “signal” of God’s blessings is always strong, but our faith connection can become faulty. You know, like when you can’t get on the Internet with your laptop because your WiFi connection is weak.

I say it can become faulty, because it’s not necessarily faulty to begin with. You might really have a glad expectation that God will help you, initially. But then it doesn’t seem to happen. 🙁

What weakens the connection? Contrary thoughts. One minute thinking, “God said he would guide me”–the next minute thinking, “How will I know if it’s his voice? . . . yeah, you’re right, I’m going to have to figure this out by myself.”

It sets up static. James describes it this way:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:5-8).

Believing one minute and not the next, breaks up our connection with heaven.

Are you at the mercy of any doubting thought that pops into your brain? Actually, NO. If you hear unbelieving talk all the time, you probably have a lot of static in your faith connector. But you can eliminate the static by choosing to think about how gracious God is . . . that he does not lie . . . etc.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. . . .  And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9) .

It takes a while to change over from massive uncertainty . . . to a glimmer of hope . . .  to occasional flashes of confidence . . . to unshakeable faith. But, IT’S A JOURNEY WORTH MAKING. Yeah!

He Didn’t Let Go

Do you know anyone who no longer believes there is a God because they didn’t receive an answer to a heartfelt prayer? I do. I feel for them. I’ve been confused and hurt myself because I really believed . . . and it didn’t happen. I guess the reason I didn’t stop believing in him was because I did know him personally. I had experienced his presence. I had also received answers to other prayers.

Three boys playing tug-of-warBut I became less confident in praying–for a while. For years, actually. But I have not been satisfied with that. I have seen in the Bible that Jesus loved finding people with outrageous faith. So I have kept the hope alive.

So you can imagine how ENCOURAGING it was to hear my pastor’s remark about Abraham.

First of all, some background: You know, he was 75 years old when he left the old country to travel to the Promised Land. The Lord told him his descendants would inherit the land that is now Israel. Problem was, he had no children. None. His wife was barren, and he was getting up in years.

Abraham is called the father of faith, because he believed God’s “impossible” promises. But his faith was not exactly rock-solid in the beginning. Or middle. He waffled a little on following the Lord’s instructions. And, after waiting 24 years for this son to appear, he asked the Lord, “How can I know this will really happen? Couldn’t my chief servant’s son be my heir?”

At that point, the Lord made a blood covenant with Abraham, showing him how serious his promise was. Abraham was instantly convinced. From then on, he had no problem trusting God completely. . . . His son was born a year later.

This is the remark my pastor made about all this: During those 25 years, Abraham did not let go of his hope in God’s promise. He didn’t say, “I guess I was mistaken.” He didn’t say, “I don’t see this kind of thing happening anywhere. Why did I think it would happen for me?” No, he knew that he had heard from God. It was a precious thing to him, so he kept it alive. That’s why, my pastor continued, his faith was able to grow. To critical mass, if you will. To the point where he could receive God’s amazing promises.

I’m excited about the promises I’m hanging on to. I may not have quite enough faith to receive them yet, but I will. I’m giving my faith a chance to grow.:-)

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise (Hebrews 10:35-36 NKJV).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galations 6:9 NIV)

Live Large

Do you know you do? Live large, that is. However you interact with life has a ripple effect in the lives of those around you.

That’s what struck me about these verses from 2 Corinthians:

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. . . . Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4, 6 NLT).

The Corinthian believers saw that Paul was not devastated by persecution. It gave them the confidence they could hang in there too. Think of it—one person trusted in God during traumatic times . . . and a whole group of people took courage.

One incident is all it takes to impact other people permanently.  One evening after my mother died, my four-year-old mind finally understood she was not coming back—ever. As I wailed, my father held me and cried too. After a long while, he said, “God will make us happy again.” 

God can do that? I thought. It seemed impossible, but Dad said it, so it must be true. . . . Since then trauma has hit me, more than once, but I have never lost hope. I have never had a nervous breakdown. I believe God is good and everything is going to be alright.

Poor attitudes are also passed on to others. A friend told me yesterday about her ex-husband—a man who showed no affection or concern for his family members. Then she told me about his father, who was really callous.

My father purposely passed on to me his confidence in God’s goodness. The father I learned about yesterday just minded his own business. But he passed on his attitudes anyway. I guess that means we will make a mark on the world around us, whether we intend to or not.

How important we are! We are living, not only for ourselves, but for others. Our lives are large. They will live on in our friends and family for generations after we are gone. Makes you want to step up to greater purpose, kindness, and courage, doesn’t it?


Making It Personal

  • Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What do you think? Did God put you here to help others? To show others how to live?
  • What good effect have you had on your neighbors, co-workers, and family already? (If you can’t think of anything, ask someone you trust. Ask the Lord to show you.)
  • Which of your attitudes and behavior do you want to improve for ___________’s sake? (Fill in the blank with someone’s name.)



Replaced with a Song

Would you agree the worst part of being in a pit is what it does to your spirit and emotions? A few years ago I saw a classic example of that–with an unforgettable conclusion.

I was visiting friends whose daughter was home for the summer. Traumatic events in her life had taken their toll. It was impossible to predict what topics of conversation would trigger emotional responses from her.

A few months later, in a phone conversation with her mother, I heard this story:

Before the young lady returned to school, her mother asked her to give them a bible verse they could use when they prayed for her. She gave them a verse about being restored to gladness. After her parents had used the words of this scripture for a couple months in their daily prayer for her, her mother asked her how she was doing.

“Oh, you don’t have to pray that for me anymore. I’m fine.”

I saw her during her Christmas break. When I commented on how radiant she looked, she said, “Oh, yes! God has been so good to me.”

Which bible verse did her parents pray over her? I really don’t know, but I suspect it was part of the passage below. It sounds exactly like what happened to her.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him
(Psalm 40:1-3).

Making It Personal

  • What do the verses above say about rock-like stability and a song of joy? Are they part of God’s plan for you? Something you can ask for?
  • What would happen if you made the above verses a daily prayer for yourself or someone you love?
  • When people ask you about your new confidence and cheerfulness, you can point them to the kindness and power of God.