Degrees of Faith

Reading through Matthew chapters 8-9 this week I was struck by the varying degrees of faith expressed by the people who encountered Jesus. The leper says, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean” (8:2 ESV). The centurions request is “only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (8;8). The disciples are rebuked by Jesus, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26). The friends of the paralytic expressed their faith by bringing him to Jesus (9:2). The bleeding woman was told, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (9:22). The crowd in the home of the girl who had died laughed at Jesus (9:24). The blind men were healed after bring told, “According to your faith be it done to you” (9:29). And then there were the Pharisees who said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons” (9:34).

I’m not sure where I would fall on the spectrum of faith. I would like to be like the centurion and pray “Just say the word,” but that’s probably rare. Sometimes I might take the risk to reach out and touch Him. But if I’m honest, most of the time I’m probably like the disciples and He’s asking “Why are you so afraid?”

The amazing thing in these chapters is that everyone besides the Pharisees received what they needed. It didn’t matter whether their faith was great or small. That is encouraging news for those of us whose faith is weak. No doubt each of these people had stronger faith after meeting Jesus than they had before. Their diseases and dangers were the tools God used to strengthen their faith. As James wrote,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Most of us want the results without the tests. We want strong faith without going through the trials. But God doesn’t generally work that way. We actually can’t know how strong our faith is until it is tested and proved. We may know the Bible and believe every word, and yet still struggle with trusting God when challenges arise. The good news is that even faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). From this verse we can also find comfort in the fact that the men who walked with Jesus and watched Him perform many miracles still struggled with “little faith.” You would think that they would have been His star pupils, but they failed too. Though it isn’t written, I wonder if Jesus was implying “If your faith had been in Me instead of in your own abilities, you could have cast out that demon.”

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Moving into a new year, I want to pray “Lord, increase my faith” as the apostles did in Luke 17:5. I have to trust that the trials that strengthen faith will be moderated by the grace and mercy of God. He knows best what is needed, and He’ll never give me more than He can handle. Whether I can handle it or not is a moot point when God is in control.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is refined by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

© 2020 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.

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