Faith or Fantasy
Matthew 17:20 …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.
As a kid, I took this verse to mean that, like Luke in Star Wars, I could learn to move things with my mind. I took Jesus’ words literally and I spent a fair amount of time trying to move things, not mountains, but smaller things, with my faith. I planned to work my way up from pens to mountains but as I was unsuccessful with pens, I gave up the dream.
At the time, I understood that it was my lack of confidence or positive thinking that thwarted my efforts. I understood faith to be an absolute belief, void of any doubt. As I doubted my ability to magically move a pen, I failed. Had I believed harder, I thought, I would have been successful.
The idea of moving pens with my mind seems silly now, but what did Jesus mean? What is faith if it is not believing really hard? Why would Jesus suggest that we could move mountains? It hardly seems like a good idea to give people this kind of power.
As usual, my childhood folly helps me see the error in my understanding of God. Faith is not believing really hard that God will do what I want. Faith is, like Peter, keeping my eyes on God and following with my feet. Peter waited for Jesus to tell him what to do and then in faith got out of the boat. It was in keeping his eyes on Christ and following Christ’s will that he exercised faith.
I do not think faith means that I always know the outcome. Faith is following God even when the outcome appears terrifying. When Shadrach and company were threatened with being burned alive for not worshipping the king’s idol (Daniel 3), they believed that God could deliver them, but they did not know that He would. They knew they might burn, but they knew that following God meant following him even into death. God did save them, but they did not know this ahead of time. They just obeyed in faith.
As a child, it was fantasy, not faith, that led me to think that I could use God like the force to move pens and mountains. Fantasy is the opposite of faith as it is focused on me and my desires. Faith always keeps eyes on Christ. Fantasy always looks to what I want.
This is easy to see when it concerns moving pens. It is much harder to see when it involves painful trials of life. When a loved one is sick or a child is struggling, it is harder to separate my will from God’s. My will is not necessarily wrong, but it is easy to want something so badly that I confuse my will with God’s.
I often ask something of God and I feel like my faith must be broken when He does not answer. I need to remember the lesson of the pen and always keep my eyes on God, following him, even when the outcome is uncertain. Faith is not using God to enforce my will. Faith is following God even when it is contrary to my will.