Measuring Faith: Do you have little faith or great faith?
My mom was a talented baker. She collected recipes for scrumptious brownies, assorted cakes and pies, and various kinds of squares. It wasn’t uncommon to walk into the house after school to be greeted by the smell of homemade cookies. Every December, she made little Christmas mice out of Rice Krispies balls, fashioning their facial features out of small candies. And we were the lucky taste-testers of all her efforts in the kitchen. When she began to teach me to bake, she often told me to measure each ingredient carefully. “There’s a reason that that amount was written on the recipe,” she’d say, “too much or too little, and it’s bound to flop.”
And flop they did.
I am more of a get ‘er done type of person and often in too much of a rush to bother to measure accurately (although let’s call it what it is: laziness), so I usually disregarded my mother’s baking advice. And even when my baked goods turn out well, I’m usually unable to duplicate it because I’m not sure how I changed the recipe.
Unlike flour and baking powder, some things are hard to measure. How can you measure the amount of love that you have for your kids? Can you take hope and plunk it on a scale to weigh out how much you have? And faith: how do you get it on a scale? For you and me, this is impossible, but with God, nothing is impossible. After all, God knows the number of hairs on our heads, the stars in the sky, and the grains of sand on the seashore.
When we peer into the life of Jesus, we can see that there were times in His ministry when He accused people of having little faith while commending others for their great faith—He had to have been able to measure it. Faith can be measured by God as our hearts are laid bare before Him. Let’s take a brief tour through Scripture and stop at a few places where God speaks about measuring faith.
Our first stop lands us smack dab in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by crowds of people demanding His attention, Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down to teach. Twelve men, called from their ordinary lives to an extraordinary journey with Jesus, sat at His feet and listened attentively as He taught on that mountainside. These disciples had much to learn about being Christ-followers. It was there Jesus told them not to worry.
Someone told me just yesterday that women, more so than men, are born with the natural tendency to worry. While I might be inclined to agree, before we chalk it up to something innate to women, in Matthew 6:30, we learn that worry is not of faith. In fact, worry and faith live at the opposite end of a spectrum. Jesus said those who worry are people of little faith and a struggling faith.
I have a wooden sign above my office doorframe where I meet with God every morning. It reads: worry ends where faith begins. My dear husband bought it for me as a not-so- subtle hint. Every time I leave my quiet time space, ready to face whatever the day brings, I’m reminded that I need to leave my cares and concerns at the feet of Jesus and choose faith.
Our second stop takes us to on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee to a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus’ disciples were afraid for their lives. If I had been on that boat in the middle of that great storm, I might have been unable to stop a wee bit of sarcasm from tumbling out of my mouth in response to Jesus’ question, “why are you afraid?” Um, have you noticed the raging storm? And yet, despite their terrifying situation, Jesus rebuked His disciples for their small faith: “You of little faith,” He said (Matthew 8:26). They had forgotten Jesus was in the boat, and that was a fact that changed everything.
Our third stop is on the shores of this same lake. Like my kids on their way to school sometimes, the disciples had forgotten to bring a lunch. Fueled by hunger, they began a serious discussion only to be interrupted by Jesus who used the moment as a springboard for an important lesson. But the disciples didn’t understand Him and thought He was reprimanding them for forgetting the bread when He called them men of little faith. Do you not remember the five loaves and two fish? If I can feed over five thousand people with so little, don’t you think I can wrestle up some lunch to feed you?
Our fourth and final stop on this Tour of Little Faith is found in Matthew 17:14–20 after Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus in all His glory on the mount of transfiguration. It was the most amazing spiritual experience but, as with all mountaintop experiences, it had to come to an end. As they descended the mountain, they met the waiting crowd wherein one father, desperate for a miracle, brought his young son to Jesus’ disciples to cast out a demon. But they were unable to. Jesus, frustrated with His disciples, immediately healed the boy.
He said that they were unable to drive out the demon because of the littleness of their faith, but then went on to say if their faith had been even the size of a mustard seed, one of the tiniest of seeds, they could have moved a mountain. At first Jesus’ answer seems contradictory but, obviously, He knew that their faith was far smaller than a mustard seed. Little indeed. Have you noticed that every time Jesus rebukes someone for their little faith, His words are directed at His disciples? These are men, supposedly enrolled full-time in the school of faith, who spent almost every waking minute with the God-man, were yet always chided for their unbelief. This is humbling to me. As a disciple of Christ myself, I’m constantly aware of my lack of faith.
Now for the good news. There are two accounts in Scripture that I want to look at in which Jesus commended individuals for their great faith. Surprisingly, both were Gentiles. As officers of the Roman army, centurions were mostly despised by Jews who were under Roman occupation at the time. But this centurion was different. In a society where it would have been perfectly acceptable for a man of his position to simply kill an ill servant who was unable to work, this man cared for those who worked for him to the point where he was willing to go to a Jewish rabbi for help. After the centurion begged Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus quickly agreed, the centurion declared that he was not worthy to have Jesus in his house. Understanding the chain of military command, he recognized Jesus’ authority over disease and told Him to merely say the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus was amazed at this man’s spiritual understanding. His was a truly great faith and unlike the faith of anyone that Jesus had come across in Israel. This prompted Him to announce that there would be Gentiles in heaven, a thought foreign to devout Jews. As we know, the children of faith are Abraham’s descendants, not only the physical descendants of Abraham.
The second instance in which Jesus commended someone for great faith occurs in Matthew 15:21-28. A Canaanite woman continually begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Annoyed, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to send her away. But she persisted, saying that even dogs eat the crumbs that spill from their masters’ tables. Jesus exclaimed that her faith was great, and her daughter was healed instantly.
Great faith is often found in unexpected places. There were only two times that Jesus commended someone for their great faith, and it was to a Gentile centurion and a Canaanite woman—two people on the farthest fringe of Jewish acceptance. But they had desperate needs and they believed Jesus could help them. They had great faith indeed.
I wonder if God were to scoop up every ounce of faith in your life and plunk it on a scale, would the needle lean towards little faith or great faith? Ask God to reveal this to you. It’s always good to know where we are so that we have a better chance of getting where we need to be.
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