When Faith Becomes Real
20 He replied, “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” (Mt. 17:20, NIV).
“When does faith become real?”
I’m sure that we don’t frequently ask ourselves “THAT” question, “When does faith get real?” — or, at least, NOT until “THAT” particular moment happens in life.
I’ll be the first to confess, I don’t often evaluate the reality of my faith. After all, it’s been a while since I’ve snagged myself upon a theological thorn or tripped over a spiritual snare along the Path of Faith. For the most part, this journey has been one of those quintessential and comfortable American strolls down the liturgical lane — life usually goes smoothly.
Then, after a recent hospital visit, I returned home and collapsed into an old familiar and worn armchair that neither cushioned my aching body nor comforted my wandering mind. I couldn’t even concentrate on the mostly barren wall in front of me as I attempted to string together an alphabet-soup prayer to God (hoping for the formation of the right words into an acceptable petition).
You see, as a pastor, I’ve found it to be a ministerial privilege to visit the sick and the dying in the hospital. THAT is until the patient became my youngest brother, Nick. I discovered him (on that particular visit) confined to a lonely hospital bed in a pale-lit and foreboding room. An entanglement of loops and electrical leads and intravenous fluid lines tethered him to the monitors and to the IV dispersal stand. Even the cadence of electronic blips made the rhythm of life and the shadow of death more visceral in that sterile room.
I thought of how — just last month — Nick had turned thirty-four.
I tried to find ways in which to strike up a conversation that didn’t consist of medical terminology or of his medical condition.
The words, however, evaded my mouth and became difficult to swallow. I noticed how the hospital gown dwarfed his thin and frail body. I imagined how the grotesque and unpredictable contortions of cancer deep within his body had been taking a toll.
“THAT” is when the game plan gets thrown out and faith becomes real.
I imagine that we all have encountered a “THAT” moment. One of the harshest realities of life is that unanticipated events sometimes rob the air from our lungs — leaving us breathless and wordless, and wondering, “What’s going to happen next?” “Am I going to make it through THIS?”
The list is probably inexhaustible: the marriage THAT once seemed so secure is falling apart, the diagnosis THAT a loved one’s health is failing, the addiction THAT has finally come to light, or the inexorable lack of confidence THAT we all have a significant purpose — or a significant person — waiting for us. Again, the list could go on …
If pastors and chaplains have a common thread in the tapestry of scripture and of life experience THAT we try to weave in this world, it’s our desire to be able to offer an explanation for everything — even in the face of devastation. Sometimes the conviction is lacking: “How can I explain THAT?” “I don’t know why God allowed THAT to happen.”
When Jesus privately counseled his disciples in their inability to heal a young child as the pretext to our above-mentioned scripture, he both chastised their diminutive faith and he also offered encouragement for the journey ahead.
An element of having “real faith” is the recognition that faith might sometimes fall short of our due expectations!
Often when THAT moment of difficulty occurs in life, we discover the “mustard seed" size of our faith. Consequently, I end up discovering that I have neglected my private communion with Jesus Christ — those quiet and undisclosed moments when — as a good friend has shared — a prayer can be a shout, a scream, a good cry, or even a blatant confession of our weakness in THAT season of life.
The encouragement Jesus provided, however, is that when our faith falls short, even a small dose of it can “move mountains.”
Trust me, I have prayed throughout the previous six months for Nick’s cancer to be cast out of his body. I have formed prayers like an invisible fist to grasp that tumor and to cast it into the sea of oblivion.
I have prayed similar requests before on the behalf of others and in knowing that God’s will shall be done. At the same time, “real faith” reminds me that the phrase “moving mountains” is proverbial (both in the ancient world and now) for overcoming obstacles.
Unless I’m mistaken, I cannot recall in scripture when God supernaturally rearranged the topography of the earth. Instead, we’ve built earth-movers and bulldozers to reshape and to reconfigure the ground. I’m more convinced that when our world seems shaken, the power of God is available to us even when all we can muster is a “mustard seed” of faith.
When faith becomes real in life it’s “THAT” instance or "THAT" circumstance in which our human limitations become apparent — we feel helpless, weak, or frail.
When faith becomes real in both our personal lives and in the life of the church, we recognize “THAT” it’s not by our own power or strength that God’s will shall be done. Real faith reawakens us to how God can more than adequately empower us!
When faith becomes real … at the side of a hospital bed, at the side of a loved one, or at the side of someone who has suffered great loss or tremendous shame … we recognize “THAT” faith doesn’t eliminate every calamity.
Instead, the promise of Jesus Christ — the promise to never abandon nor forsake us — gives us the hope to see what tomorrow shall bring — when “THAT” shall become “THIS” of which we have overcome in Him.
Gracious God, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we celebrate the gift of life renewed in us each day by your mighty hand. Even when calamity overwhelms us or those close to us, remind us of the great strength we have in you, especially when our faith seems so little. We await your goodness. Amen.
Rev. Brian Keithline
Pastor, FBC of Loveland