He 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...
Luke 17:5,6 (NIV)
It's always been a rather confusing parable to read, and can come across a bit disheartening as well. After all, I haven't seen any physical mountains move out of the way, so I suppose that my faith must not be as big as a mustard seed! Geez, that's sort of a downer...
But let's take a look at the life of mustard:
The mustard seed is small. It needs rain, sun and fertile soil to grow in. When it grows up, depending on the amount of rain, the amount of sun, the fertility of the soil and lots of other things, it will grow to be 5 or perhaps 6 feet tall. It will become a relatively large shrub. It will then produce lots more tiny mustard seeds and the cycle will continue again.
Inquisitive as I am, I want to look deeper into the complex life of mustard. The mustard seed, as it starts, does not concern itself with the future. It does not ask: "will I grow into a large bush? A small bush? A bush at all? How will this all come to pass? Will other mustards like me? Can we have pizza tonight?" and other such questions.
See, I've seen a mustard seed, and while I didn't think to ask at the time, I'm quite sure it didn't ask these sorts of questions of itself. Nevertheless, devoid of people-like questions, the mustard seed indeed grows into a bush - a large bush - with no worries at all.
As I was considering this parable one Sunday morning, the Holy Spirit brought these other verses to mind and presented it all together in a nice package. An "aha!" moment.
- "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)
How is possible to be so sure of that which has not yet happened? The beginning of Philippians (1:4-6) reads:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Paul states that he always prays with joy because of his confidence that the "good work" that was begun will be brought to completion. His today-confidence in future-completion is so sure that he's joyful "now."
Have you ever thought about mid-way through the day that you'd really like to have lasagna for dinner? That kind of thought can become so real that you can taste the lasagna. You can smell it. Right then and there, hours before eating, you're having lasagna. It's a cruel trick to be sure, but it can be quite real. I believe that Paul must have had a similar picture in his mind of what the future would look like for the Philippians as they grew in faith.
To scope this out more fully, it's critically important to note that the evidence that Paul was using for his today-joy regarding the future-completion was based on the person doing the work - the "he" in "he who began!"
- "He who began the good work in you is faithful to complete it" (Philippians 1:6)
See, Paul knew that the heartbeat of God for the Philippians was that the seed that was planted was going to grow and would be brought to completion. Paul knew that God had planted a seed there with the intention of caring for it until it was fully grown - completed.
Concerning the analogy of the mustard seed, faith is the confidence that the bush will be there when the seed grows up. When through the growing season there has been rain, sun, fertile soil and regular weeding, the seed will someday be a large bush. When? Dunno. How? Dunno. Will it happen? For sure. For me, today my mustard seed-sized faith is full of mustard bush-sized hope.
Mustard Seed Growing Guide
Is your faith the size of a mustard seed? No matter - it'll be a bush someday. Quit focusing on the seed. How can you be sure of the bush? God gave you that seed so that it would be a bush. Feel the sun today? Smell the rain in the air? Don't worry so much - you can't control the sun or the rain. They'll come and go whether you worry or not! Those are simply there to grow your seed of faith. Maybe you need to weed a bit in your spiritual garden? By all means, it'll help that seed grow, and if you don't, those weeds may choke your seed out.
Today, have hope. Your faith may be small by someone's standards, but it's as big as the God who gave it to you. How big will your faith be? As big as God is faithful to grow it up. That's where your hope lies - in the faithfulness of God. Follow God and your faith will grow too.