Faith LIKE a Mustard Seed
This is one of the longer blogs I have written but I believe, if you stick with it for the six and half minutes it'll take you to read it, you’ll leave with at least one thought provoking takeaway to carry into the rest of your day…
In the summer of 2016, we had taken a team of 15 wild young adults into the thick jungle in The Yucatan, Mexico. We were on the hunt for a small Mayan village called X-Pom (pronounced: “ish-palm”). We would come to find out that this Mayan village was home to only about thirty people whose village had been discovered by the government within the last five years and wasn’t even on the map (seriously…google maps it). Yet, there they were; a community in the jungle, a Mayan community at that. The Mayans are the indigenous people of that state, so their community has most likely been in that region for thousands of years and yet no one knew about them. There was one woman, though, a pastor named Miriam in a nearby town, Yaxcaba (yash-coba) who knew and cared about them deeply. I say nearby, it’s about a 45 minute drive down what seemed more like a walking trail than a road. Miriam asked our team to go with her into X-Pom to provide them with the Gospel. She had been praying for years for the village and had made efforts on her own, but was not being received well. When we heard about this village from our contact in the Yucatan, Gama (a pastor in the Yucatan and the leader of The Message for Mayans, a ministry looking to bring the Gospel to all people in their homeland) we jumped on the opportunity. Gama said it was a good thing too, he couldn’t imagine any group other than a bunch of young crazies making it down that hair-raising road.
When our team arrived in the village, Stacy (my wonderful partner in ministry and life) and I looked around and were amazed at what we saw. We had just a few months before, been living in Africa and what we were seeing in this village made us feel like we had somehow gotten on the wrong flight to the wrong nation. There were straw huts, people sleeping in hammocks, farm animals walking along the dirt tails, and only enough electricity to power a clip-on fan in the home. I think in today’s age it seems hard to believe that there are communities of people who still live in that manner, sometimes it’s easy for us to think about some African nations that way, but Mexico, a developed nation in our own backyard? We got out of the van, circled up and prayed and then went from home to home as we typically did to invite the families to meet us for the special event. It was an incredible night. We washed the feet of the people in the village, gave them all shoes and we all sat together to watch the story of Christ in the Mayan language. At the end of the film we gave a salvation message and watched as the entire village stepped forward to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The pastor was off to the side with tear soaked eyes as she was watching her prayers get answered. Taylor Shaw was a team captain on that trip and during our time of prayer before we left he felt like he received an image in his mind of a rare type of flower that only blooms once a year in the middle of the night. That night as the pastor had tears of joy rolling down her face we saw that she was wearing a beautiful white shirt with a big flower on the front. We felt that it was no coincidence, this woman was that flower. In the middle of the night, before our eyes, all her prayers, hard work and persistence was blooming into reality. As incredible as that story is, if I stopped the story there I’d be doing God’s work an injustice…oh yes, there’s more.
Two months later Dustin Sandoval, Bobbie McDaniel and I returned to that Mayan village to capture some film of the people but more importantly to follow up and find out how the people were doing since we were last there. As we were driving down the “walking trail” toward the village a truck full of people was driving close behind us. We were surprised to see another vehicle on this road because, obviously, it wasn't very trafficked. We pulled off to the first clearing we had and got out for a moment. They stopped for a moment as well and explained to us that they were also a missionary group. There was so much excitement wrapped up in that moment, but if I’m to be brutally honest my mind had a very cynical thought. Great, they tell all missionary teams that this is an unreached people group. We’ll bring in our clothing, shoes, food, whatever provision; they’ll “accept Christ” and everyone is satisfied. That thought did not come out of rivalry or some territorial position but rather out of a place of fear, that our work was being manipulated. God came crashing through just a matter of minutes later and completely crushed my cynicism -thankfully. We pulled up to the community in the jungle, as we did we saw that the other half of the mission team from the road was there and they were adding cinderblocks to the final wall of the church building. Pastor Miriam walked up and greeted us. She began to explain that once the whole village made Jesus their Lord, she wanted to make sure they had a place for continued discipleship and worship. She then connected with a pastor friend of hers who had a church in Chihuahua, Mexico; a province near the Texas boarder. That pastor and some of the members from his church drove 5 days in a van that broke down twice to reach X-Pom. What faith and perseverance!? They came with the plan to build a physical church building for this new church to meet in and by the time we got there, they were well on their way.
As Pastor Miriam was talking to us a man named Anastacio walked up and invited us to follow him to his home to try some deer jerky that he had killed and prepared. After following him through the jungle avoiding poisonous trees for a quarter of a mile we began to think,
….we’re the deer, he’s going to kill us and eat us…we’re dumb, this is dumb.
Soon we arrived at his home where he also works. He had a smoldering carbon pit, where he heats up wood until it turns to coal and he takes that around and sells it. It was this tiny hut buried in the ground, it was smoldering hot with thick and extremely toxic white smoke coming out of the palm leaves that were teepeed at the top; of course, that’s where we decided to stand and talk.
He explained to us that everything changed when the policemen showed up. He was speaking in Mayan so everything he said had to be double translated from Mayan into Spanish and then translated again into English. Obviously, we were intrigued but also confused wondering if something got lost in translation as he continued,
“Everything changed when the policemen showed up and they told me I could talk to the president.”
We were thinking, the president?…like of Mexico? How long has he been around these toxic fumes?
“The pastor came to a group of us and said that the village was hungry and that we needed to hunt a deer for the people to eat. The other men laughed because it was no longer deer season and the recent deer season was very scarce, but I said that I will get a deer. The men then laughed at me.”
Anastacio said he went into the jungle, sat and waited for several hours but a deer didn’t come. Then he remembered how the policemen taught him how to talk to the president and that he could ask him for things and the president would respond and provide. He said,
“…so I was sitting there and I started talking to the president and I asked him for a deer. As soon as I had asked, there walked up a deer, I shot it and that’s the jerky I have here.”
His daughter brought us a bowl of deer jerky. It was what you’d expect deer jerky that was killed, cured and prepared in the jungle to look like. It was slightly charred, not made from the finer cuts, and it still had the hair attached to it. When it comes to missions I’ve eaten some weird things in hopes not to offend. Balut (Ba-Loot) in the Philippines, which is a fermented duck egg. A poisonous sea snake..also in the Philippines. This concoction called "hot porridge” in Lesotho which I can only sum up as tasting like someone scraped the floor of a barn and added some hot water to it; I think that might be an acquired taste. The deer jerky was probably the first time I’ve ever drawn the line. I took one mini bight to show my appreciation but could not continue to eat the piece of sticky jerky after I had to pull a piece of deer hair out from between my teeth. I was gracious and then quietly sneaked my piece to the street dogs nearby.
We were still confused about who the policemen were and who this president was that Anastacio had been talking to. Double translation will do that to you, it makes sense in hindsight and even when we tell the story, people catch on pretty quickly, but in the moment it was hard to decipher. Anastacio then did what he could to try and explain. He started using broken Spanish to explain. “Policia…Po..Policia…” Then he pointed at Bobbie, Dustin and me. “Policia - - Za…Zapatos!” —moving his point to his feet. Then it all came together like a radio dial being adjusted just slightly, bringing alive the same station just on the correct frequency. WE were the policia! So that made the president…God. He was saying we were the police who brought shoes and told him about the president, God. He used these words because being from in his village there were no words in his dialect for missionaries or God, because we were the first interaction with the gospel. He chose the closest thing, in his mind, he could to represent our roles - police being an authority and president being the supreme authority. Using these terms, Anastacio told us about the first time he ever prayed and that God heard his prayer and answered him. What’s even more amazing is after his prayer was answered he was able to walk into his village and show how God provided a deer; bringing the scoffers a new, complete understanding of God's love and power.
Our experiences in X-Pom really spoke to me concerning faith and it made me look at Matthew 17:20 a little differently. Jesus had just cast out a demon from a young boy that the disciples were unable to cast out. After, the disciples approached Jesus privately and asked him why they could not cast the spirit out. His answer is one of the most preached sermon on Sundays and perhaps one of the most misunderstood. In Matthew 17:20 (ESV) Jesus 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.”
Many translations including KJV and ESV read the original greek here with a more face-value approach, not adding a context to the words of Jesus. So if you read that verse again, you will see that Jesus said
“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed…” It does not say “…if you have faith the sizeof a mustard seed…” Often in our prayer lives we pray for our “mountains” to be moved using our “mustard seed” faith. Saying, "God, I know I’m praying with faith…it’s hard right now and it’s only a little faith, but you said with faith the size of a mustard seed….why did that cancer not get cured?…why did I not get that promotion?…why is my marriage still dissolving?” I believe that the Lord can and does work in moments like these, because it’s not the size of your prayer but the size of your God; I just don’t want us to miss a beautiful picture that Jesus painted with His statement. He said, “…faith like a grain of mustard seed…” The word “like” here is not so much about the characteristic of the mustard seed—it’s small, but rather the character of the mustard seed—it’s resilient and life producing. Have you ever read about a mustard seed? They're fascinating. It provides a spice that is used in cultures all around the world for culinary and medicinal purposes. It indeed is tiny enough to sit on the tip of your finger and produces a bush/tree that can stand 20 even 30 feet tall. One of the most interesting things about a mustard seed is their resilience. You can plant a mustard seed in cold conditions and it will thrive and grow. You can plant it in hot conditions and it will prove to grow and produce. If the conditions are too wet or dry the seed will still find a way to survive and produce. I believe Jesus was not rebuking His disciples for not having enoughquantifiable faith (size of a mustard seed) to cast out the spirit but rather the endurance of faith (resilience of the mustard seed).
Before Jesus walked upon His disciples with this man in the crowd whose son was being afflicted by a demon, Jesus was on the mountain with three of his disciples Peter, James and John. It was the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration. There is a parallel being drawn here to when Moses was on the mountain with God and as he was the Israelites began to stir and become fearful and lose sight of God’s promises. Moses was gone long enough that the people turned their faith towards idols. They lost sight of their direction and God’s promise of the Promise Land. Jesus was not on the mountain as long but perhaps it’s fair to believe the disciples who were not invited to join on the mountain lost sight of the power and authority Jesus handed to them,
“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” Matthew 10:1.
Perhaps their faith in the situation was unable to endure the time and distance away from Jesus. Perhaps the enemy used that opportune time to speak lies over their calling whispering things such as… “Jesus didn’t invite you up the mountain”…“the power Jesus gave you to heal and bring deliverance has expired”. The disciples were not omitted from the woes of doubt, pride or a short term memory. Don’t forget the doubts of Thomas (John 20), or the disciple’s argument over who was the greatest disciple (Luke 9:46) or any plethora of stories where the disciples failed to remember Jesus’ plans and miraculous work. I think when Jesus said, “Because, of your littleness of faith…” He was speaking not to the size of their faith but the steadfastness of their faith. It was almost as if He was not answering their question but rather speaking to their understanding of the situation. When Jesus rebuked the spirit the boy was healed immediately and if the disciples had a faith that was enduring they would have recognized that we do not heal or bring deliverance on our own accord but from the power that comes from God and in the timing of God’s will. Jesus did not say, “…you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move immediately.” Yet, that’s how we read it. If our prayer is not answered immediately then the size of our faith is too small. Does the tree grow from the seed immediately? This can be a very dangerous outlook, because when we are the one’s quantifying our faith, by measure of size, we are given the opportunity to get angry at God when He doesn’t “fulfill His promise" or it makes us look at our faith as unworthy of His intervention or even attention. Worse yet, the glory for answered prayers rests in our faith and not in the one who faithfully answers them. When we see it’s about the endurance of the seed then we can know that if we pray in faith and it is not answered then we pray again, and then again, then again, until our faith intersects with God’s timing and will. Ultimately, the disciple’s prayer was answered…when Jesus came and rebuked the demon. It left immediately because Jesus is God and His timing and will is perfect.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) My dad got into a career ending car accident that brought on a traumatic brain injury. The accident happened nine years ago and he’s still dealing with the struggles and pain of his injury. To this day I still pray daily for his healing. I have seen healing take place in his life, but in ways I have not expected, I continue to pray for total healing. I pray with a mustard seed faith, enduring the last nine years knowing that God has his plans for my dad and they are far greater than my own and even greater than my dad’s healing. My faith does not determine my dad’s healing nor does his healing determine my faith, rather my faith is in the Lord knowing that His plan is far greater than my own. The disciples forgot this. The question should not have been, “Why couldn’t we do that?” Their question should have been, “What are you up to Lord?” Their question to Jesus may have been evidence enough that their faith may not have endured their self conscious, introspective beliefs to remember Jesus is God and He is in control.
An entire village, that is not even on the map, discovered Jesus as their Lord. Unity among the global church helped establish a local church building and body. A man prayed for the very first time and asked God for His provision and he experienced God answer his prayer. A group of scoffing men watched as their reality was changed and discovered that God makes the impossible, possible. X-Pom was changed by a woman’s muster-seed-like faith. For years, Pastor Miriam prayed to see breakthrough in that village. Years she experienced resistance. She continued to pray, in faith, until her prayers intersected with God’s timing. What an example of faith she is.
God’s grand plan is relationship with us. Mustard seed faith is not about healing, it’s not about deliverance or even miracles in general. Mustard seed faith is about God…and us. We see immediate breakthrough because that’s God’s will. We don't see immediate breakthrough because that’s God’s will. Our faith is to be like a mustard seed because we need to endure in the face of self doubt, doubt in God, ridicule, rejection, lack of understanding; knowing that God knows best and plans the best for us. When we take on this point of view we experience something brilliant and beautiful: When God answers immediately our faith deepens and our relationship with Him develops. When God does not answer immediately we pray longer, harder and more often causing our faith to deepen and by proximity it positions us closer to Him.
Faith like a mustard seed:
What have you been praying for?
How long have you been praying for it?