How Do I Know if I Have Enough Faith?
The final section of our Glad You Asked worship series gives practical advice for living as a person of faith. In a recent survey, many Bay Shore Church people indicated they wanted some sermons that help them with practical issues of faith. Several survey responses revolved around questions about faith and doubts. One person said, “I’m worried I don’t have enough faith.” If you can identify with that sentiment, relax, you are in good company. Many people worry that they don’t have enough faith–including Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus said a little faith goes a long way
Jesus had just told them if someone sins against you, bring it up directly to them. He didn’t say fume and give them the silent treatment, or talk about them behind their backs. He says deal with it directly. Then he says if someone sins against you seven times in one day and they repent seven times you must forgive seven times. The disciples must have raised eyebrows at one another and shuffled their sandals in the dirt. Jesus’ teachings were going to be hard–it was going to take a lot of faith. So they said, “Lord, increase our faith!”
Essentially Jesus told them to relax.
If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.
He meant this to be reassuring. Mustard seeds are smaller than a pinhead. All you need is a speck of faith to do incredible things. The word for faith in the Bible’s original language is Pistis, which means trust–more a matter of the heart than the intellect. If a spouse asked their partner, “Honey, do you believe in me?” An unsatisfactory response would be, “Why yes, I believe you exist.” That’s not what I was asking! Do you trust that I’ll come through? In the same way, when we talk about believing in God we are talking about trust that evolves and grows over time. The more you lean into trusting God and you see that God is faithful, the more your faith grows. Like any relationship, it grows when you risk a little, are more authentic and vulnerable, and see that it is okay and it grows from there. The question isn’t really about the “size” of one’s faith but about the degree of trust one has that God’s there for them.
When Faith takes Root
Jesus talked about mustard seeds elsewhere in the gospel, saying the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It starts small and then becomes all-encompassing. Mustard is kind of an invasive plant–it’s like kudzu in the south. Once it takes root, it spreads all over the place including places you’d never expect. If faith is like a mustard seed you find yourself starting to trust God in all areas of your life, not just the religious areas. You trust God in your relationships, your happiness, your path in life. Your investments, how you spend your time, treasure, talent.
Do I Have Enough Faith?
I resonate with the worry about not having enough faith. When I was young, I had this vision where God would hook us up to a belief-o-meter to see how much we had. You needed to have enough to get into heaven if not, you went the other way. I was worried because I had so many doubts. I think I got the idea from the original Willy Wonka where one of the children sits on an egg evaluating scale and gets judged as a bad egg, and suddenly, down the shoot, she goes to the incinerator.
But Willy Wonka isn’t biblical theology. In fact, scripture assures us that God can speak to us even in our doubts. It’s natural to think that God wouldn’t want anything to do with us if we have too many doubts, but scripture tells a different story.
Doubt is Not the Opposite of Faith
I want to relieve the pressure today. It’s okay to have questions wonder why something has happened. God doesn’t expect us to be Mr. or Mrs. Super-believer who never doubts, questions, or wonders. That’s not reality. The presence of faith does not mean the absence of doubt.
The prophets and Psalm writers wondered, how long, O Lord will you abandon us, why don’t you respond? Don’t you care? Are you paying attention? God would rather have us be honest about our doubts instead of pretending to believe the stuff we really don’t. God wants a real relationship, not some phony religious-sounding stuff.
Sometimes it’s our doubt that draws God to us. For example, after Thomas expressed his doubts about the resurrection, Jesus bypassed Peter and the gang and went directly to Thomas. Jesus did not chastise him for his doubts, instead, he said, “Look and see.” And it is in our looking and our searching that we often draw closer to God.
Doubts can draw us to deeper truths
I know that this has been true in my life. Many of my biggest periods of doubt were triggered by feeling let down by God not acting in the way I thought God should act. So many times, I discovered that what I thought about God just wasn’t true. Like if you believe right nothing bad will happen. Or if you act like a good person, God will make sure that good things happen to you. Letting my doubts draw me deeper, I began to have a better picture of God and a faith that went deeper than it was before.
Jesus collapsed from the weight of carrying his own cross when a man named Rufus suddenly emerged and helped him bear his burden. Often when we are doubting and struggling, God sends someone to us to help us through. Instead of worrying about your doubts, catalogue the people in your life and how they may be positioned to encourage you, support you, help you bear your burden.
Dead Tree Walking
I remember how the mustard seed passage helped me go beyond my doubts to a greater appreciation of the faith I had. At first glance, the point seems to be: Mustard seeds are tiny; it only takes a tiny amount of faith to accomplish extraordinary things. But Jesus makes it sound so easy. So, I thought I’d give it a shot—I’d tell a tree to move.
I doubted that it would obey. I couldn’t even get our puppy to give me the ball when we played fetch. But there was also the issue that I lived in Iowa and the image of seeing a mulberry tree trundling a thousand miles across Interstate 80 didn’t seem plausible.
But Jesus said If you have the faith of a mustard seed... Did Jesus really mean it? I found a mulberry tree and commanded, “Get up, be planted in the sea.” Do you know what the tree did? Nothing. That worried me. If I couldn’t even get a tree to budge, does that mean I don’t have faith the size of a mustard seed? How can I be a minister of the gospel if I don’t even have a mustard seed of faith?
I went home dejected. But Jesus talked about the persistence of faith, so I went out again and told the tree to move. And you know what it said? Nothing. It’s a tree. On the third day, I sat down and let my imagination roam. What would this tree say to me?
Somehow I sensed a message coming from the tree. “I’m dying, you know. See the dead branches?”
Eventually, I said, “Could you move anyway? Please? I’m worried I don’t have enough faith. You won’t move. How can I lead God’s people if I cannot demonstrate a mustard’s seed worth of faith?
The wind rushed through the green leaves, and purple berries like a sigh. I felt it saying, “You can make me move anytime. Just cut me down. And get grind out the stump.”
“Very funny,” I said.
“No, really. What Jesus had in mind is faith that takes action. It doesn’t just sit under the trees. It moves, it makes things happen through the abilities God gives. You can take me out. I will be planted in the sea because in this great ecosystem of earth, my leaves, branches and trunk will become part of the earth and grow and the moisture still in me will evaporate and become rain and fall into the sea and become part of all living things. Everything in nature is connected.
The deep truth of the mustard seed passage
I began to see there is deep truth in the mustard seed passage. If you have some trust in God, you have enough for everything you need. The question is not how much faith you have, but where do you really place your faith? Do you really trust that God, a mysterious presence, the source of good things, of loving-kindness, of grace is really walking through life with you?
You have faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed, at least. The fact that you are here, the fact that you ask questions about God, the fact that something in you calls you to align yourself on the side of love and truth all indicate to me that you have at least a mustard seed of faith. You don’t really need more than that. All you need to do is act on the faith you already do have. Do you want to move trees? That’s relatively easy. Get out the ax and act on the faith.
The stuff that Jesus was really talking about was more important than physical trees and magic. In the landscape of your heart, or your life there may be some big old ugly dead trees.
- That bitterness you carry around with you–chop it down.
- That forgiveness that you won’t give to yourself, because you can’t let go of the past– chop it down.
- Those worries about the future that make you afraid to move–swing the ax!
- That selfishness makes you feel good when someone else falls and makes you think you can really be impressive by making your own ambitions the #1 priority of your life. Throw it into the chipper.
Clear the deadwood away. Until justice shall flow like water and righteousness like an everlasting stream. Clear it out until every valley is exalted and the mountain laid low. Move the trees with acts of faith that arise make way for peace so that the lion and lamb may dwell together. Act on your faith until good news is preached to the poor, wounds are bound up. Till we see a new heaven and a new earth. Amen.