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“I have tried and tried but he won’t budge, he still just wants a divorce! I thought that I was a woman of faith, but I guess that my faith is even smaller than a mustard seed. I am so discouraged!!”

From another; “I have searched everywhere and used every source available and am still unemployed. I know that I need to exercise faith and I have been. I have witnessed God’s miracles on my mission but now my faith seems to have shriveled smaller than a mustard seed. I am trying to trust in God’s timing, but we have lost our home and I don’t know yet how I will afford to feed my family!”

An inmate, during a classroom discussion on prayer and faith raised his hand and said, “I will be released in the next few weeks. This is my fifth time in and out of this place. I don’t want to come back but then I didn’t the other times either. I have been praying for more faith this time so that I can stay out.” Before I could respond, another resident said, “So you would like to have enough faith to stay away from your addiction as a source of coping with the pain and difficulties of responsibility, family and social rejection?” The first looked gratefully over and replied, “Thank you, exactly! It is so hard, and I know that I am weak, yet I know that if I had more faith in God, even that would be possible! How do I get more faith!”

Even a very faithful family member recently said to me, “I have been striving, of late, for help in having more faith!” Wouldn’t we all like more faith? Though entire books by people of great faith have been written on this subject, when the Savior was asked directly, he taught two important principles.

“The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine (mulberry) tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Luke 17:5-6[i]

First, faith in Christ is the key, first principle, and the foundational process, recognized by His apostles even though they were then experiencing the loving intimacy of His presence. But, trust comes through experience! It is faith specifically in Him and His power to save, not in some hoped-for result. It is trusting that He knows what is best and so will determine the best timing and outcome.[ii] Now let’s pause to understand what the Hebrew mind would have heard in this part-one of His answer.

Part One, The Tiny Mustard Seed

So, the first question to ask in taking up our cross of discipleship in seeking to increase our faith is, “What is His will?” Sometimes, for various reasons, we may not be able to know that in advance. For example:

  1. We may not be experienced in recognizing the voice of the Lord.[iii]
  2. Or, we may be asking wrong questions that make it difficult to understand the binary answering system we are expecting.[iv]
  3. Or, He may require us to exercise faith by stepping into the darkness of uncertainty before revealing the next step, let alone the whole path.[v]

It is to this last example that “faith as a grain of mustard seed” is referring. So, mustard-seed faith, to the Hebrew mind, was the concept that no matter how small your faith might be, you must use it, plant it — act on it, in order to allow God to accomplish His will through you. The reality that your metaphorical tree didn’t immediately move to the sea upon command doesn’t mean that your faith is smaller than the mustard seed but that you didn’t act on your smallest amount of faith as it currently exists. The power to command and be obeyed comes incrementally in divine synergistic partnership. God is lovingly anxious to partner with us in working with His children for both their sake and ours. It is through this partnership that we come to know Him and grow confidence in His love, ways, and divine nature.

Note that they wanted Him to increase their faith, but He was telling them how THEY could increase their faith. Elder Bednar brilliantly dissected this process by pointing out that:

“The Apostle Paul defined faith as “the substance (Greek: assurance) of things hoped for [and] the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).[vi] Additionally, we learn in the Lectures on Faith that faith is… “the principle of action in all intelligent beings.” (Lectures on Faith [1985])

These teachings highlight three basic elements of faith: (1) faith as the assurance of things hoped for that are true, (2) faith as the evidence of things not seen, and (3) faith as the principle of action in all intelligent beings. I describe these three components of faith in the Savior as simultaneously facing the future, looking to the past, and initiating action in the present.”

It is not coincidental that Jehovah would define truth as the knowledge of things past, present, and future.[vii] The implication, as I see it, is that faith is the process of organizing the unorganized into reality, the act of creation. Paul readily identified two elements: past and future, the evidence, and assurance. But, it is the Prophet Joseph that we thank for the understanding of this “mustard-seed” component of faith, “the principle of action.” Elder Bednar explains the crescendoing synergy:

“Faith as the assurance of things hoped for looks to the future. This assurance is founded upon a correct understanding about, and trust in, God and enables us to “press forward” (2 Nephi 31:20) into uncertain and often challenging situations in the service of the Savior…[viii]

Faith in Christ is inextricably tied to, and results in, hope in Christ for our redemption and exaltation. And assurance and hope make it possible for us to walk to the edge of the light and take a few steps into the darkness—expecting and trusting the light to move and illuminate the way. The combination of assurance and hope initiates action in the present.

Faith as the evidence of things not seen looks to the past and confirms our trust in God and our confidence in the truthfulness of things not seen. We stepped into the darkness with assurance and hope, and we received evidence and confirmation as the light in fact moved and provided the illumination we needed. The witness we obtained after the trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6) is evidence that enlarges and strengthens our assurance.

Assurance, action, and evidence influence each other in an ongoing process. This helix is like a coil, and as it spirals upward it expands and widens. These three elements of faith—assurance, action, and evidence—are not separate and discrete; rather, they are interrelated and continuous and cycle upward. And the faith that fuels this ongoing process develops, evolves, and changes. As we again turn and face forward toward an uncertain future, assurance leads to action and produces evidence, which further increases assurance. Our confidence waxes stronger, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”[ix]

Understanding that faith, as a “principle of action” like a mustard seed, needs planting and nourishing to grow, initiates a search for appropriate initial actions. In this example, the Savior suggests that “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Matt 17:21 Herein the apostles could begin action that, over time, would spiral by incrementation into power where, as Joseph taught, “faith works by words”[x] allowing one, full of developed faith, to speak in accordance with God’s’ will and be obeyed. As we begin the process, however, a shovel may be needed rather than just a command, in order to move the tree or mountain. Faith may require divinely-guided hard work towards our assured, hoped-for end as WE become as trust worthy as we hope He will be in our yoked relationship. This willingness will be magnified into a loving relationship wherein we will come to know Him.

My own mother was only twenty-three when her medical prognosis condemned her to a wheel chair by age thirty, with the order to produce no more children, (she had two). She asked God, “What part of ‘run and not be weary and walk and not faint’ am I not understanding? With decades of hard work filled with prayerful reading and searching, she finally passed away in her mid-eighties with her state’s crown of mother of the year, including birthing and nurturing ten children. She was an incredible woman of faith with the grit to do the hard work through which she came to intimately feel God’s love for her.

Then, Christ adds a part-two in helping the apostles increase their faith.

Part Two, The Unprofitable Servant

“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow[xi] not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Luke 17:7-10

Part one told them how to begin where they were, by exercising even the smallest amount of faith, while part two focuses on what often blocks faith. His question was to help them see how we all tend to do our duty hoping to be, in the very least, deserving. That sense of deserving would have caused the servant to wait or at least expect some earned privilege after faithfully doing what he was hired to do. I am thankful for King Benjamin’s elaboration on the “unprofitable servant.” He helps us understand that service to God can never put Him in our debt. We cannot get ahead of Him in our “windows of heaven”[xii] relationship with Him. We never can “deserve” what He wisely imparts to us.

Faith is a relationship issue between Jesus Christ and each of us. He loves us, but it is because of His loving nature not because of our being loveable. After Moses’ theophany he exclaims, “Now I know that man is nothing!” Do we trust Him, His wisdom, timing, and intent to make us fully loveable… or not? Are we willing to show Him that He can trust us? The mustard seed process allows us to develop both a powerful trust in Christ and the requisite humility that allows Him to work through us without our ever feeling that what we receive is deserved or earned. Thereby we can grow from this “lowliness of heart” to be humble, then meek, whereby faith, hope and charity are possible.[xiii]

 

Notes: 

[i] In another account of this parable in Matthew 17 He used “this mountain,” instead of “mulberry tree.” Both are very, very large and would connote the impossibility using mortal ability.

[ii] Dan 3:17-18; See also Elder Dennis E. Simmons, April 2004 Conference, “But If Not”; Also Elder Lance B. Wickman, Oct 202 Conference, “But If Not”

[iii] Joseph Smith, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” History of the Church, 3:381; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on June 27, 1839, in Commerce, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.

[iv] DC 9:8-9 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong

[v] Elder Boyd K. Packer, ““I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.’ Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon:

“‘Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith’” (Ether 12:6). Ensign Aug 2013, “Move Forward with Faith”

[vi] See Also Alma 32:21 “faith is not a perfect knowledge; rather, if we have faith, we “hope for things which are not seen [but] are true”.

[vii] See DC 93:24

[viii] “For example, Nephi relied upon precisely this type of future-facing spiritual assurance as he returned to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass—“not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do. Nevertheless [he] went forth” (1 Nephi 4:6–7).” Bednar, Ensign May 2008

[ix] Ensign May, 2008, 94-97

[x] Lectures on Faith 7:3

[xi] Greek: think

[xii] Malachi 3:10 “prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

and Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

[xiii] Alma 37:33 Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart;

Moroni 7:43-44 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing…