I am not feeling great.
I am exhausted.
Everything is too much effort.
Nothing is going right for me at the moment.
I can’t bring myself to come to church this week.
I can’t lose weight.
I can’t beat my depression.
God seems distant.
I can’t forgive my friend.
I can’t forgive myself.
I am not good enough to apply for this job.
I am struggling to find the time to read my Bible.
I am too old to start something new.
This exam is too hard, I will never pass.
I am sure that we have all thought and said these things to ourselves at some point in our lives. We can all remember times when we have wanted to give up. It may surprise you to know that the Bible records a time when the disciples gave up. We can read about it in Matthew chapter 17 verses 14 to 20.
The disciples had tried to heal a demon-possessed boy, but had failed. This earned them a strong rebuke from Jesus (v17). Jesus then heals the boy, and the disciples ask him why they could not do it (v19). Jesus replies:
Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, 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 (Matt. 17:19-20).
This passage is often thought to mean that as believers you can do anything, even move mountains if you just have a little bit of faith, but this is only half the story. Let’s look deeper into what Jesus says.
A mustard seed
In this passage, Jesus specifically talks about a ‘mustard seed’. He does not say a ‘small seed’, neither does he reference other smaller seeds. There is something significant about the mustard seed beyond just its size.
It is very likely that this event happened in the valley between the Sea of Galilee and Mount Tabor, an area that was covered in mustard. Mustard is a weed that can grow anywhere; it holds on through scorching hot days and freezing cold nights, and as it perseveres it can surround and undercut the rock, digging into the stone with its roots, moving boulders – literally moving mountains.
By referencing the mustard seed, Jesus is not just speaking about how much faith they had, but also about the character of their faith. Jesus is calling his disciples to have a tenacious faith: a faith that keeps going; a faith that will fight on through all situations; a faith that holds and digs down deep in times of trouble; and a faith that is strong enough to upend boulders and erode mountains. Jesus wants them to have a faith that never gives up – a faith like the mustard seed.
The disciples were trying to deliver this demon-possessed boy from his ailments. They did not fail because they didn’t have enough faith – we see them heal people throughout the Scriptures – they failed simply because they gave up. They were not tenacious, and this is the issue Jesus addresses here.
What caused them to give up? Look at verse 19. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ ‘We’ is important here. They were looking to themselves and their own strength to heal the boy; they were not looking to Christ.
We learn from this passage that when things got tough for the disciples, they began to look at themselves for answers instead of Jesus. This quickly revealed their own inadequacy, and as a result they gave up. In reply, Jesus asks them, ‘Where is your faith?’ He tells them to be like the mustard seed: to dig deep, fight hard and topple mountains. In other words, he wants them never to give up; he wants them to be tenacious.
When times get tough, do you look to yourself for the answers, rather than looking to Jesus? Do you battle through life on your own, and in your own strength, rather than fighting from Jesus’ victory? When we feel run down, low, or just want to give up, remember that we worship the almighty God of Heaven who created the cosmos. He defeated kings and empires; parted the sea and sustained his people in a desert, crumbling impenetrable walls; healed the sick; made the blind see; fed thousands of people with a little boy’s lunch box; calmed the sea and walked on water. We come to a God who took your sin, not in part, but the whole, and nailed it to the cross, so today we can sing, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ On the third day he rose again, beating death, and he ascended into Heaven where he rules over every atom in all of creation. He has got your back! So why do you give up?
When you are tempted to give up, don’t be like the disciples and look to your own strength; instead look to Jesus. Have faith like the mustard seed: dig deep, fight hard and topple mountains. Be tenacious, and never give up; our God is bigger, and his strength is yours too!