Posted By Matthew on January 23, 2014
As some of you know, I have been working on a book called “A Mountain Moving Faith.” This is the first chapter of the book. The manuscript is completed, and I am hoping to get it published. But it is still very much a work in progress. Here is the first chapter, and I would love to hear some feedback. Also, it is written for teens. Check it out.
CHAPTER ONE: IMPOSSIBLE FAITH
Faith is hard. It asks us to believe what is not easily seen, to live according to lessons taught by a man nearly two millennia ago. And let’s be honest: the Bible can be hard to understand sometimes. It does not only give us a list of answers for daily issues or a reference table of dos and don’ts. Instead we get verses of metaphors and parables from which we have to unearth advice. On top of that, some of the stories seem totally impossible; God’s promises appear too fantastic to be believable. So we ignore them, refusing to believe any of it, whether credible or not, because it’s easier to be apathetic, than to search for truth. Developing your own faith is a challenge!
What if we dealt with everything this way? Would we quit a sport because training was too hard? Or stop playing an instrument because we had to practice? Would we drop out of school because we didn’t want to study? Would we stop meeting new people, making friends, dating simply because it required effort? No. We would persevere and seek to improve ourselves in order to achieve the highest level of success possible. It is the same with faith. We must practice and strengthen it through action and understanding. We need to work at our relationship with God and believe that He is truly present in all things. In this way, we might achieve success in life and the infinite reward of salvation. From the smallest grain of faith we may move mountains.
But how? How do we move a mountain with nothing more than belief? How can we strengthen something rarely tangible to the human eye or understandable by our brain, the most advanced in the world? It sounds idealistic, doesn’t it, moving a mountain? As a mountain climber, I can tell you that there have been times that I’ve dreamt of bringing the top closer, making the climb easier or my legs stronger. Looking up at a peak fourteen thousand feet above is daunting and not a little bit alarming if you think of all the things that could go wrong while trying to conquer it. Yet, for all my hoping, I know the mountain is not going to change to suit me. It is what it is and I must adapt if I am ever going to reach the summit. It’s either that or go home.
In my case, it is actually a mountain I want to change, but this is only an example. We all have mountains, an obstacle that we need to overcome. It could be a relationship, pressure at school, difficulty at work. We want an easy fix, but we know that it takes time and effort to solve problems, So why do we not give God the same understanding? There are hundreds of problems in day-to-day life that we wish would go away with a simple prayer. We want that mountain of difficulty to go away, but when nothing happens from prayer we blame God for abandoning us, for failing us. But who is ignoring whom? We ask for God to prove that He is there, but we never prove to Him that we believe. We fear disappointment; we endure suffering and pain because we fear placing our trust in God or are too busy, distracted, lazy to strengthen our relationship with Him. So I ask you: how can we expect Him to do for us what we are not willing to do for Him?
We are not the first generation to struggle with a lack of faith, nor will we be the last. The disciples themselves, the companions of Jesus, had to strengthen their understanding of faith. The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 17, verses 14-21, tell us that they believed passively and because of this were limited in their abilities to help others.
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him [Jesus], said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” (Matt. 17:14-16)
It is a sad story, one of pain and the desperation of a father to save his son. There is no greater pain for a parent than to watch, helplessly, as your child suffers. This poor father has already gone to the disciples seeking aid, only to have his hope challenged when they are unable to change his son’s condition. Did he quit then? Did he accept that his son would continue to suffer and possibly die a horrible death while he could do nothing? Of course not. He had faith and the will to challenge his own doubts by seeking out Christ.
Faith gave the man strength to persevere. Despite the struggle, he sought for a solution, refusing to accept failure. This is the moment of truth, when faith is tested and we must either leap forward or remain behind. The man tried everything, searched for every possible answer, and exhausted all his options only to meet with failure again and again. Yet, his faith was strong and constant. He knew that the powers of God could save his son. Even when the disciples fail, he does not turn his back on Him, but seeks out His son.
What would you do in his position? What lengths would you go to in order to save your loved ones? Years ago, my daughter suffered extreme eczema that covered her entire body. It might not sound as severe as epileptic fits, but for a child it is just as traumatic. It started in the normal places, the folds of the arms and legs, before spreading to the top of her head. What was worse was the eczema that broke out on her face. At times she looked like she had been severely burned. People would comment on it, asking what had happened, what was wrong, which embarrassed her terribly. Most nights she struggled to sleep, waking up constantly to scratch until she bled over her blankets. It was awful for her and for us. We tried everything. We went to doctors, naturalists, and researched any website that promised to heal eczema. Nothing worked. It was a never-ending cycle of hope followed by disappointment and all the while my little girl was in pain.
After a while you begin to ask yourself what you’re doing. Why do you keep trying? Children with eczema can grow out of it and be fine as adults, but did I want to let her suffer all that time because I could not handle the disappointment? Did the man described by Matthew want his son to continue suffering simply because he had not found an easy solution? If the Christ’s disciples were unable to help then how could he expect their teacher able to do anything? Why take the risk? Why put yourself through the cycle all over again?
And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. (Matt. 17:17-18)
It is love that gives the man strength and firms his faith into trying one more time. Love for his son, love of God, and combined they reaffirm his faith and hope in moving his own personal mountain. Jesus heals his son, but rebukes his own followers. He calls them faithless and twisted; the fact that they cannot heal the sick boy proves that they do not have true, strong belief in Jesus and, through him, God. Christ’s disappointment is understandable. His disciples have seen his works, witness miracles beyond the normal person’s understanding. Yet they are unable to heal the boy, because for them seeing is not believing. They are ‘twisted’, corrupted by the world around them, which blinds them to the true glory of God. The man who lived with the torturous suffering of his son exhibited greater faith than the very disciples who lived with Jesus.
Everyone deals with these moments of shaken or lost faith. I’ll say it again: faith is hard. It demands a great deal of trust, commitment and understanding, all without obvious or immediate results. When climbing a mountain, I have to put a lot of faith into the durability of my gear, the strength of my body, and the people with whom I was climbing. There are moments when climbing that are downright scary. Will the ledge hold my weight? Will my hands slip when they grab the next handhold?
We were climbing Crestone Needle, a fourteen thousand foot peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range, and needed to cross from one gulley into another. There was a large separation between the two, too wide to step over, but not so wide that you could not make it with a decent jump. In most circumstances, you would not think twice about this type of jump. Add a few hundred feet of open air beneath you and the situation changes drastically. Of course, I did not want to jump. There was nothing to catch me if I miscalculated and only my own body’s ability to get my across. Even though I saw others leap over before me, I had a moment where I second guessed trying. It was my friend Viper who gave me the incentive and all it took was three little words: “go for it.” So I did. I approached the gap and made my legs push off and propel my over the gap where I landed safely on the other side. Now, I have confidence in my abilities and I have climbed enough that I have honed the skills needed to do so successfully, but even then we need a little push to go that one step further, that one level higher.
We have all heard the phrase ‘a leap of faith’. Well, that is what I took. Literally. I trusted in myself and my ability to get across that gap. It is the same with faith in God. We need to trust in Him, to trust that He is there for us and that He will help us in our many ‘leaps’ throughout life. Each time you trust, each time you jump, you strengthen your faith in the Lord.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “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.” (Matt. 17:19-21)
In Matthew’s story, the disciples attempted to cast out the demon. When they failed, they asked Christ why, to which he replied: “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 disciples ‘leapt’, but proved that they were too weak in faith to land safely on the other side. Moreover, the disciples asked Christ the wrong question. They asked why they were not successful, not why their faith was weak. They are not seeking to improve themselves or strengthen their faith; they want only to achieve the glory represented by Christ. It is the end that concerns them, not the means.
The disciples see that Jesus performs miracles, but they do not believe in how it is done. Christ chastises them for this falseness by saying that the smallest amount of faith, a mustard seed’s worth, is all that is required to accomplish great things. It is the metaphor of moving a mountain that illustrates how little faith is needed and thus the lack of true faith by the disciples.
This is fair-weather faith. We believe in God so long as everything is going well; if we are content we do not question that He is omnipresent and omnipotent. These circumstances make it easy to have faith in God.
What happens when something goes wrong? What do we think when life becomes uncertain, threatening or out of control? We say that God has abandoned us, forsaken us, or forgotten us. We turn from him like children throwing a tantrum, refusing to give him our continue trust because all is not as we wish it. When life is great, faith is strong, but when life becomes difficult, which it often does, our belief weakens and we turn away from God’s eternal love.
True faith, however, can bend in the most formidable winds without breaking and survive the worst trials. It can accomplish anything because it is supported by the all-mighty power of God. Yet, we need only the smallest amount, no more than a mustard seed worth, and we can move the mightiest of mountains. It is apt that Christ used the mustard seed in his analogy, for it is not only the smallest of seeds – reaching only one to two millimeters in diameter – but it also grows into the largest of herbs. Beginning with this miniscule amount, we can strengthen our faith, hone our understanding of God’s power to work in the world, and reach previously insurmountable heights.
Jesus uses this metaphor to inspire his disciples, who continue to struggle with what God asks of them. They have witnessed Christ’s miracles and the glory of God all around them, but do not yet fully understand its importance. Everyone must allow their faith to grow and mature. No matter how small it begins, once strengthened faith enables you to do the impossible, all through the power of God.
What is it that you want? What do you seek when you look to God for help? Do you want to conquer the mountain and achieve something great, something remarkable? Or do you want to quit and watch life pass you by? It is easy enough for me to quote scripture and relate stories from the time of Christ, but what does this mean in our day-to-day lives? Knowing that the apostles struggled with their faith provides comfort because we know we are not alone with our doubts. If these men, who hung around with Jesus Christ, had doubts, it only makes sense that we do too. So how do we implement it? How do we grow that grain of faith? How do we know when we have it?
In our current ‘show me’ culture, it is difficult to believe in an untouchable, divine being. It is even more difficult to keep such faith when faced with life’s challenges. A person being bullied in school is sure to question the Lord’s presence when his abusers never face punishment. But He is there. In the victim’s community, friends, family, church: He is always there, providing support for those who are too weak to defend themselves. Similarly, He emboldens others to speak out against the abuse because they too follow the tenets of Christ, though they might be unaware of it. Whoever speaks out against injustice or defends the weak, whoever refuses to raise their hand in violence after violence is done to them: their hearts are pure and open to the Lord’s glory. Their actions are the seeds of faith, the first steps towards moving the proverbial mountain.