The Small Faith that is Huge

Remember the rhyme from elementary school to help you remember the year of the discovery of America?… “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain…”

And of course, a part of the story was to know that though he was outfitted by Spain and sailed under that flag, he was from Italy. And where I come from in New Jersey – Christopher Columbus was the patron saint of the large Italian community there, with a large statue (1892, 400th anniversary) in town of him holding a globe in his hands. And then, no more than a mile away, but on the other side of the Delaware River in Easton, PA is another Columbus statue put there by the Italian community of that city around 1930. So, he’s kind of a big deal in the Lehigh Valley!

You may also recall that his hometown is Genoa, Italy, which is located on the northwest coast not terribly far from France. Apart from Columbus, you may have never heard of Genoa, that is, until two weeks ago. The collapse of a 650-foot section of the Morandi Bridge sent more than 30 vehicles plunging about 160 feet upon the houses and streets below. A part of the A10 motorway, the primary road along the coast, is surely a bridge Diana and I went over in 2013 when we travelled through that region.

For the most part – other than a few people who are creeped out by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – we don’t lack any faith that bridges are going to hold us and be safe to cross. The 43 people who were killed in the Genoa collapse had sufficient faith so as to be confidently on the bridge, but the object of their faith was faulty at the very worst moment.

So how would you feel about walking across one of the several glass bottom bridges in China?  I really, really think I would like to do this! Yes, it could be frightening, but not so terribly as in a picture I showed in church. A particular fellow was so frightened that he was on his back with two girls dragging his frightened carcass off the span. I guess we would have to say that his faith faltered!  But he was entirely secure, unlike the folks in Italy.

So here’s the point: Tremendous faith in a weak object may prove ultimately deadly, whereas small amounts of faith in a strong object is entirely safe.  It is sort of like walking on ice. If your faith is strong but the ice is thin, you’re going to get wet. But even if your faith is weak while the ice is thick, you’re going to be safe (though you might slip and have to be dragged to shore by a couple of girls!).

If you understand these illustrations and apply them to your life, you don’t have to read any further. We often use the phrase when skeptical about something, “Man, I don’t have enough faith to trust in that!”  And it is natural to think that it is the amount of faith that we have that makes the difference, when in fact our greater need is to place our faith in the right object. And that is God himself and his faithful word and promises.

So our summary idea today is this: We tend to believe we should muster up huge amounts of faith, whereas small faith in the right object is what counts.

And thinking this way is what we might term “counterintuitive

There are two primary passages in the gospels from which our thoughts emanate today, both of these being occasions where Christ spoke of the power of even a small amount of faith placed in the appropriate place.

Luke 17:5-6 – The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

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.

In the context of this passage, Jesus had said some difficult things to the disciples about how his followers should live. He had just taught them about forgiveness – one of the most difficult tasks for everyone – saying that they should forgive others even seven times in a day if they are repentant. And so they say, “Increase our faith!”

But Jesus says it is not about the size of faith. A true faith, even if small but placed truly in God, is able to do great things. The illustration is of the smallest of seeds contrasted with the biggest/toughest of trees – the Mulberry tree – being known for its deep roots.

And the other passage is from the book of Matthew, also chapter 17 …  

Matthew 17:14 – When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

A mustard seed is similar in size to a sesame seed, so their “little” faith must have indeed been miniscule.

When we truly believe in God’s promises and act in accord with his will, anything is possible. But our proclivity is to not really believe, but rather to be overwhelmed by the scope or size of something, or to not really trust God but to rather continue with our own efforts. And that is very silly, considering God’s greatness and sovereign power.

So don’t fear stepping out boldly in faith, even if you struggle with its size. There is no reason to fear when that faith is placed in God. Yep, that’s counterintuitive for sure. But that’s God’s way, and it’s the way to true satisfaction and fulfillment.

< We’ll be back with weekday devotionals after the next series begins on Sunday, September 16th.  It will be a five-week look at our identity as believers. >

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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