Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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.” (verses 19-21)
These are challenging words. I find them hard to write about with authenticity, because they stretch me beyond my own experience. I know that prayer is an ongoing arena of necessary growth – I think it will be, right till the end.
(So, Lord Jesus, I will sit at your feet to be instructed afresh, just like the disciples themselves on that day.)
Why couldn’t the disciples drive out this demon? Jesus had previously sent them out on mission, specifically giving them authority to “drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8). And they’d done it. Mark tells us, simply and succinctly, “they drove out many demons”(Mark 6:13).
So why not now? Why couldn’t they do it?
And while we’re at it, why do I, in my own circumstance here and now, so often fail to see the answers to prayer I’m looking for? Why, in crisis moments, don’t I have more “success”?
Jesus tells the disciples it’s because of their “little-faith,” using a compound word that refers not so much to quantity or size, but to quality. After all, he goes on to tell them that faith as small as a mustard seed can actually see powerful results. “Little-faith,” then, must refer to something other than amount. The commentators say that “poor faith” probably captures the meaning best. If faith is essentially a relational concept – putting the weight of our trust on the One who is fully able to act – then “poor faith” is a faith that’s not really doing its job, not really looking to the Lord in full dependence.
Were the disciples trusting simply in their own previous track record? Did they think they had developed some skills in declaring power-filled, effective prayers? Or did they, perhaps, feel out of their depth in this instance, causing them to dig as deeply as they could into their own cache of resources, even when they knew they were scraping bottom? Were they, in effect, trying to work “magic” in their own strength?
Had they forgotten they were always fully dependent on the Lord?
I’ve got a feeling there’s something here for me. I wonder if I’ve been seeking to fill my hands full of the prayer-needs I see, responsibly carrying them myself, lifting them up as strongly as I can, when all the while it’s really about getting them out of my own hands into the Lord’s. Maybe “faith as small as a mustard seed” is a measure of how much of the burden I’ve transferred to him. It’s not about how hard I pray, but rather who I’m praying to. It’s not about the words, or the lists, or the emotion, or anything else, but simply about the trust. Eyes on Jesus, once again.
Putting myself back into the disciples’ situation, face to face with that poor demon-possessed boy who needed release, I know I’d still be asking questions.
But I’d be seeking to nurture a mustard-seed trust in my Lord.
Dear Lord, I want to learn more about simply trusting. Help me to put my whole weight on you. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” I know it in salvation – may I know it increasingly in faith-filled prayer. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: What mountain needs to be moved in your experience right now? Bring it to the Lord again. Put it fully in his hands. Trust him.