Daily D – Luke 17:5
The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.” LUKE 17:5 (NLT)
A song on Amazon Alexa’s Praise and Worship playlist talks about mountains being cast into the depths of the sea. The audience cheers when these words are sung. This always makes me stop and ponder. Are they excited about how great our God is, or are they excited about spectacular miracles?
Every text has a context. This request to Jesus from the apostles for more faith happens in a rather mundane setting. Jesus said, “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive,” (v. 4). So, in effect, the apostles are asking for miracle-level patience. This is a text for quarantined people. This is a text for those footloose and fancy-free souls who are told by the officials, “Y’all stay home!”
The apostles asked for a faith increase not to engage in mountain-tossing or mulberry-uprooting activity, but to be able to get along with people who bugged the snot out of them. After a month of confinement with increasingly irritating people, we may be able to relate to the apostles’ request.
So what’s the big deal about mulberry bushes? Apparently, the kind Jesus referred to here were well known for their deep roots. The accepted wisdom was that they could live for six hundred years. Something that old and that deeply rooted would be hard to dislodge. Jesus said, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!” (v. 6).
The controlling idea here is not mulberries and mountains, but God’s power. Those things which seem extraordinarily laborious or physically impossible to us are no big deal to him. He who spoke the world into existence can rearrange it with a word if he wants. Do not settle for a religion of fun and profit like the guy on television blowing at the camera and telling the Wuhan Virus to go away while asking you for your part of his $330,000,000 budget. Settle only for knowing and experiencing God.
Notice what else Jesus says in this context. In vv. 7-10, he tells about servants serving. They did their duty. They fulfilled the expectations placed upon them. They did not get extra pay for ordinary work. Some people apparently believe that if they do what they are supposed to do that they should be rewarded above and beyond the pay scale. Was Jesus being cheap or unkind? No. Instead, he was reorienting expectations. Our great demonstrations of faith and faithful duty do not place God in our debt.
If we promise real hard to be good, God is in no way obligated to smile and say, “Okay, this time I will let you have what you want.”
Increased faith is about the object, not the amount.
Faith increases as we get to know and experience God. The more we see him for who he is, the more we trust him, the more closely we walk with him, the less we beg him for things that do not really matter. It is a greater demonstration of faith to pray, “Our Father, whatever you want, that is what I want, too,” than to promise him all you have and more.
Maybe you need miracle-level patience today. Perhaps you need miracle-level powers of forgiveness. Maybe you need miracle-level healing. The power is not in your promise; the power is in the presence of our God. He re-orients our vision to see what he sees, to experience his purpose, to follow his path wherever it may lead. As Easter reminds us, and as Frederick Buechner informs us,
“The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
The Final Beast (HarperCollins; Second Edition edition, 1982)
When you and I know Jesus as Savior, the last thing that will ever happen to us in this life is the best thing that will ever happen to us. (Hat tip: Jim Denison, Denison Forum) Why bother with mulberry bushes, mountains, and religion for fun and profit? We get to know and experience our Father in heaven who has better things in mind for us than we could ever dream or ask. Nothing is impossible for him.
The question is not how much faith do you have? The question is, “What does knowing and experiencing God make possible?” Let’s live the rest of our lives and all eternity discovering the answer to that question.
I will go all in on God.
Our Father, you are great! My faith is not. I am more mustard seed than I care to admit. You are greater than I suspect. I want to know and experience you day by day and moment by moment. I want to live the kind of life where miracles are mundane not because I control you, but because you control all things including my ability to see all that you are doing around me all the time. Open my eyes to see your reality. Empower me to join you in what you seek to accomplish in spite of how improbable or impossible it may appear to me. I trust you. My faith is in you. Amen.
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Jonah 4:2, 3 So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
Joel 2:12, 13 That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.”
Hosea 14:8, 9 “O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.” Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those with discernment listen carefully. The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those paths sinners stumble and fall.”