“Lord, Increase our faith.” The disciples once asked Jesus this question. He replied, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Luke 17:6). On another occasion Jesus said, “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 is faith the size of a mustard seed? What was Jesus trying to tell His disciples? How does Jesus’ statement about faith the size of a mustard seed help to increase our faith? It seems evident that a mustard seed is used to denote something that is very small, for in another parable Jesus described a mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds (Matthew 13:32). Why was Jesus saying the disciples needed a small faith when they wanted a big faith?
Jesus had a way of getting to the heart of the matter. When it seems He is not answering the question, it probably is because He is addressing the deeper need of the questioner. So what was Jesus saying to His disciples? Perhaps just this: the disciples wanted a big faith. But a big faith is not what is needed. What is needed is a big God. When it comes to faith, the most important thing is not the size of our faith, but the size of our God. Jesus said, “Have faith IN GOD” (Mark 11:22). It is not ultimately our faith that does great things, but God who does great things.
Now Jesus often warned against being doubtful or faithless or of little faith. But once we have overcome those things, what we need to increase our faith is not a bigger faith, but a simpler, more childlike trust in God. We don’t need a faith to showcase to our peers, but a humble, “little” faith in a big God.
Faith the size of a mustard seed plus God equals results the size of a mountain. The results depend not so much on the size of our faith as on the size of our God. Perhaps (we speculate) as Jesus spoke He pointed to a mustard seed and then to a towering mountain in the distance or to a huge tree. The disciples would have gotten the point. Such a tiny seed could not move such a huge object. It was not the bigness of their faith that would move such big things, but the power of God in whom they put their faith.
So next time you face a trial in life that requires faith, remember that you don’t need big faith—you need faith in a big God. God is able. In the new article, “The Power of Faith,” Luther Patches writes about those who faced great trials, yet overcame by faith. May this new article help us to cultivate “faith the size of a mustard seed.”