The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
How often have you prayed what the apostles asked of Jesus? Like the apostles, we want to rely on faith to carry us through life’s trials and tribulations. Yet we question whether or not we have enough. “Lord,” we might say, “help me to have enough faith to endure this season of pain.” “Help me to have enough faith to remain sane during this season of sadness and uncertainty.” “Help me to have enough faith to withstand the stress produced by this conflict.” No doubt the earnest desire for more faith resonates with most believers.
According to Jesus, however, faith is measured by quality, not quantity. First, Jesus compared faith to a tiny seed: “If you possess faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and the tree will obey you” (Lk. 17:6). Jesus is saying, in effect, stop worrying about whether or not you have enough. Focus on determining whether or not your faith is wholehearted and genuine. Such faith is powerful—powerful enough to deliver you safely on the other side of any season of life.
Second, as Jesus was wont to do, he told a parable about a master and servants. For the sake of argument, he invited his audience to put themselves in the position of a master wealthy enough to afford servants (quite a stretch considering the social status of Jesus’ first followers). When the servants return from completing their tasks, do you think the master will say, “Welcome home! Sit down and make yourself comfortable while I prepare your dinner!”? Of course not, says Jesus! The master will say something like, “Wonderful, you’ve finished plowing and tending the sheep! Now, get in the kitchen and make my dinner the way I like it!” Servants work at the pleasure of their masters, not the other way around. They don’t expect to be rewarded for simply doing their job (Cf. Lk. 17:7-10). Similarly, disciples maintain a firm grasp on where they stand in relation to the Master. They don’t consider themselves more highly than they ought to.
In light of Jesus’ teaching, at least two points of application come into focus: (1) Christian grammar calls for caution when using the word “deserve.” All we deserve, strictly speaking, is the punishment due sinners. Which Scripture clearly affirms to be death (Rom. 3:23). Consequently, beware of “woe is me” thinking when facing hardship or suffering. Receiving God’s grace should exceed any disciple’s wildest dreams. (2) Instead of wringing our hands and fretting about the quantity of our faith, we’re called to be about our Master’s business. Genuine faith will manifest itself in dutiful action performed unconditionally. May the Lord give us such faith as we get to work!