Mathew 17:20 “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
The parable of the mustard seed is one of the most heavily debated passages of scripture. On the surface, it is pretty simple. Jesus is saying to the disciples if only they had the littlest of faith in him, they could move mountains, seems pretty simple right? in truth this is a passage of scripture for which many theologians have argued the message of this scripture for hundreds of years. One of the leading arguments put forward by many commentators and scholars for the meaning of this verse is that when Jesus uses the word ‘mountain’ he is not speaking of physical mountains but is instead talking about the Jerusalem government. Which if you have ever visited the holy city, you would know the temples were often found upon a mountain, hence the name the ‘temple mount’, and therefore when Jesus says this to the disciples with the mountain behind him and the temple clearly visible, he is in-fact saying to the disciples that only if you believed in me, we could challenge and change this entire establishment. This is what we see all throughout thought book of Acts, where we see time and time again the apostles go up against the corrupt leaders and religious people.
Many other commentators and theologians have presented many different cases for this scripture all with context heavily considered. Only a handful of theologians actually believe that when Jesus lambasts the disciples in this passage, he is referring to moving physical mountains. However, in today’s church, when this verse is often referred to it is typically to do with the doctrine that if you pray hard enough, and have enough faith you can perform all sorts of crazy miracles. This has given birth to the ‘ word of faith movement’ which is a doctrine that falsely teaches by simply having enough faith, we can will God into action which is altogether unbiblical and is instead antithetical to the true teachings of scripture.
The issue with this ‘name it and claim it’ or ‘blab it and grab it’ movement is that we as humans tend to fall in one of two extremes when dealing with doctrines such a these. Firstly many believe that if you don’t pray with absolute confidence that God will respond right then and then, I might as well not pray at all which borders on fatalism. Or on the flip side, some believe that if we pray with absolute certainty, God will move instantly, like faith is some sort of cosmic vending machine, relegating the meaning of faith into simply a mechanism which can be used to make God do whatever is it we want, subsequently exalting man and his “faith” above God.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).
Faith is not the sole condition for answers prayers, all throughout scripture, we are given numerous conditions for prayer. For example, we have to ask him with the right motives (James 4:1-3), if you harbour unforgiveness in your heart your prayers won’t be answered (Mark 11:25, Mattew 6:14-15). 1 Peter 3 teaches if you don’t honour your wife your prayers are going to be hindered. Isaiah 58 instructs that if you don’t care for the poor your prayers will not be answered. Furthermore, God exclaims through the prophet Amos in Amos 5:23-24 that if you have not first reconciled with your brother or sister, we will not hear the noise of your prayers and songs. And above all of these conditions of prayer, we must pray and act in accordance with the sovereign will of God. Regardless of how much much faith you may think you have, be it the size of a football let alone a mustard seed, no amount of faith will cause God’s hand to move contrarily to his own will or our own welfare. One of the biggest issues I find with the circles which teach this doctrine of ‘word of faith’ is that when one of their self proclaimed ‘healers’ would pray for someone, and they were not healed, the blame and responsibility is then placed upon the recipient of the prayer did not have enough faith, It is an insensible excuse which lacks sensitivity and on the basis of mark 11 goes against the teachings of Christ.
‘Finally, the only way anyone can fulfill the condition set forth by Jesus is if God himself chooses to impart to us the faith he requires. Faith, ultimately, is a gift from God. When God wants to bless us with a miraculous answer to our prayer, he will take the initiative to cultivate and build into our hearts the fulfillment of the condition he requires. Therefore, each time as we pray, each time as we seek God for what only God can do, let us begin by asking God for an extraordinary, powerful faith.’ – Sam Storms
To Illustrate this point, let me take an example Sam Storms ‘Practicing the Power’, let’s imagine that one day you decide to go sailing, therefore you decide to go to the store or go online and watch every Youtube video you can about sailing. Lets say you even go as far as asking a veteran sailor who answers any questions you may ask. After doing all of this, you then finally go and rent a sailboat, then you take your boat out unto the sea and patiently wait in anticipation. At this moment you learn and important lesson, you can learn all the you possible can about sailing, you can even be able to build a sailboat, you can even use advice which comes from the wisest sailor, you can cast you boat into the most beautiful lake under the sun, you can successfully hoist you sail but what you cannot do is make the wind blow. So what does this mean? you and I can study the Bible thoroughly, we can learn everything there is to possibly learn about faith and performing miracles, we can can even receive the wised Godly counsel in regards to the topic, we can everything within our power as a Christian man or woman, but only God can make the wind blow. Whether or not the sail moves one inch or fifty, whether or not there is a little breeze or a storm, all of which are dependent on the sovereign will of God, who blows wherever and however much he pleases, you and I cannot force him into action. Nothing we can possibly do can force him to move, no amount of faith, no amount of sacrifices, no amount of prayer can will God’s hand into action.
So to answer the question, ‘Can i move mountains?’ no you cant. God can if he chooses so, whether that be physical mountains or metaphoric, we can have a minimal amount of faith or an enormous amount, the issue isn’t how much faith you have but whether that faith is placed in line with God’s Will. Never the less, faith is of a remarkable importance, after all Jesus lambasts the disciples for their lack of faith in Matthew 17, however, faith cannot and must not be used as a tool to hold God to ransom to do whatever we please. We are required to grown in our faith but let us not fall into the trap of exalting our faith above God.