How Much Faith Do You Need?

Just last Wednesday we read a teaching in Mark that has always caused me to stop and think. In 11:24, Jesus said, “Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it” (see 11:12-26 for the full story). Really? What did Jesus mean by this? To put this stunning comment in context requires us to see the bigger picture.


How much faith do you need? I’ve always been a little confused by this question. At one level, it seems like Jesus is clear on the topic. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed” you could move a mountain or a mulberry tree (Matthew 17:6, 20). Yet in other places He commends people for having “great faith” (Matthew 8:10; 15:28) while stating that others have “little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26). Finally, we read how Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith (Matthew 13:58).


Wait a minute! Is it possible that a mustard seed of faith can move a mountain but my lack of faith (it did not say absence of faith, just lack) won’t cure a cold? Why are some labeled as having great faith and some as having little? How much faith do I actually need and how can I know when I reach that “amount?” I have wondered the same thing for many years and I think a possible response is found in looking at the people Jesus spoke to.


It seems that Jesus only mentioned “great faith” when He was speaking about a Gentile. Think about it from a Jewish perspective. The Gentiles did not have any of the advantages known by the Jews. The Jews were the ones chosen by God and adopted as His own children. They were the ones to whom God revealed His glory and made His covenant and gave His law. They were the ones who were privileged to receive His promises and offer Him worship (Romans 9:4). The Gentiles didn’t receive any such foundation for faith so for any of them to express faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah would have been a remarkable thing indeed!


On the other side, it seems like Jesus used the phrase “little faiths” when He was speaking to His disciples. These are the men and women who had received God’s revelation as a foundation for life but had failed or even refused to build on it or apply it. Jesus said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26) They replied, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38) “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” (Matthew 15:33)


So, where does that leave Nazareth and the paucity of miracles Jesus did there? Well, we know that the man healed by the Bethesda pool had no idea who Jesus was and so faith and amount of faith was not an issue (John 5:13). God is not bound; the release of His power does not depend on what or how much we believe. While Mark’s account of Jesus’ home visit says He could not do many miracles there, Matthew says He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. So, was the lack of miracles from a choice Jesus made or was it caused by a restriction placed upon His power? These were Jewish folk. Even though they had Moses and the prophets to clearly proclaim what was true about Jesus (Luke 24:27), they allowed their familiarity with Jesus to override what the Scripture said about Him. I wonder if Jesus could not do many miracles there because the people could not see Him as anything other than Mary’s little boy. Hmmm, sounds like a lesson for those of us who have become comfortable enough in the faith to think we have Jesus all figured out.


So it seems like the question may not be “How much faith do you need?” The better question is, “In whom have you placed your faith?” Whether Gentile or Jew, in all cases it is the object of one’s faith and not the amount of the faith that moves the mountain. The key phrase in Mark is in Jesus’ opening words. “Have faith in God” (11:22). A toddler in the arms of her father finds security in her father’s strength, not in the amount of her faith. As Josh McDowell said when he visited, “I’d rather have faith in a great God than great faith in God.”


Who do you know God to be? Does your picture of God match the one Jesus displayed with His life and described with His words? What impact does God’s love have on your life and faith?


May the Lord help us all know His beauty and character before we try to increase the amount of our faith. For when we know just how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ for us, I am pretty sure that a growing faith will follow.


Keeping my eyes on Him with you,