Faith is a topic that most of us are quite familiar with, especially in Christian circles. We talk about having faith, asking in faith, faith like a mustard seed and so on. This word is firmly planted in our religious language and minds. Like the apostles in Luke 17 we are used to the concept of faith but, also like the apostles, we may need Christ to adjust our understanding.
In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus has just told the disciples that if they are going to be a fully functional "body" of believers they must do three things; encourage one another, hold each other accountable, and forgive one another. Looking at this standard the apostles, wisely, understood that there was no possible way for them to do those things in their own strength. I can almost hear them saying, "But Lord, we're inadequate to do this." This is a point that all of us must come to, a realization of our own inadequacy regarding the commands of God. We can't do what He has asked us to do using our own skills, resources, talents and abilities.
Now comes one of the real highlights of the passage for me. Instead of asking Jesus to increase their power, ability, skills or resources, they ask Him to increase their faith. Often the apostles act as great examples of what not to do but in this case they stand up as shining examples of getting it right. "Increase our faith."
Jesus responds to their request with the famous words, If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted in the sea"; and it would obey you.
In so many words Jesus tells His disciples, "It is not the amount of faith you have that matters, it is the quality of your faith that makes the difference." In this simple statement Jesus forces us to consider what the object of our faith is because the object of our faith reveals the quality of our faith. Let me illustrate.
If I were going repelling I would stand on top of a cliff and the person who set it all up would look at me and say, "Christian, this rope is capable of holding a small car. There is no doubt that it will hold you." In my mind I would then understand that the rope was more than able to hold me safely and so I would put my faith in it and step off the cliff. I would have put my faith in something that was worthy of it and that would have been proven as I repelled. Now, let's just say I want to go repelling and I don't have the right rope but, what I do have is some really good fishing line. I know it is good because I've pulled in some large fish on it and I've even had it caught in trees and on rocks and it is very hard to break. Thus, I go to the cliff tie off my fishing line and proceed to step off the cliff. What is probably going to happen? I'm going to go SPLAT when I hit the ground. My faith, as great as it may have been, was in something that was not worthy of it.
What Christ is teaching His disciples/us is that even the smallest amount of faith (the size of a mustard seed) when placed in the right thing can move mountains. The issue with us is that we don't need a greater quantity of faith to see great things happen, we need to put our faith in right person, and what more worthy object of faith can you conceive of than God Himself?
Hebrews 11 goes into great detail about what can be done through a person when their faith is in God. The chapter begins by telling us that it was by faith that "men of old gained approval." Did they gain approval by their attempts to uphold the Law of God? No. Did they gain approval by all the great things they tried to do in the name of YHWH? No. Did they gain approval by trying to be swell people? No. They gained approval by, as verse 6 says, believing "that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The beginning of that verse tells us that without faith it is "impossible to please Him." Why? Because God isn't after good people or helpers. He is after children who are in an intimate love relationship with Him and without faith it is impossible to have that.
This entire chapter is nothing more than a discourse on the amazing things God has done through people who lived their lives by faith in Him. Many times God conquered kingdoms and shut the mouths of lions. Many times He didn't save the person's life but offered them a "better resurrection (verse 35)." In the end though, do you know what God's word says about these people of faith? These were "men of whom the world was not worthy." Notice that it does not say that they were not worthy of the world, it says the world was not worthy of them, because of the quality of their faith.
The danger that we run into when we start talking about faith and what it can do is that we start to get the idea that faith is kind of like magic. "If I just have faith then I can do _________." Faith becomes a commodity that we seek after and we start to desire more faith in our...faith. This is what Jesus pushes us away from. We are not to have faith in our faith but faith in Him, the object of our faith. None of the people in Hebrews 11 did anything other than believe and act on their faith. It was God who shut the mouths of lions. It was God who conquered kingdoms. It was God who quenched the power of fire. Not man and his faith.
The kind of faith, the quality of faith, that God wants to build in us is described by Oswald Chambers as a "tenacious hold upon God in spite of everything that happens." It is the kind of faith that believes that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The kind of faith that says with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." That's the kind of faith that God can use as a conduit to move mountains, transform lives and grow His kingdom.So, next time you think about asking for more faith take a moment to consider what your faith is in. I promise you that if it is in God Almighty, even a little dab'll do ya!