The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:5-10)
The apostles begin these verses with a powerful request, “Increase our faith!” What would happen if we all would pray with such fervor?
What caused the disciples to speak this heart cry? Jesus had just taught them that they could cause others to stumble if they were not careful, and it was extremely dangerous to do so (even compared drowning in the forgotten deep in a particularly horrifying way) (Luke 17:1–3). Then He followed with another tall order: they should forgive any offender seven times a day (Luke 17:4). They were likely still chewing on Jesus’ command to forgive 70 times seven (Matthew 18), but now, seven times in one day?
Suddenly, they were aware of their great need. They could fail a “little one” and be in line for terrible wrath, or fail to have the grace to forgive in an extraordinary way, so they cried out for faith.
Maybe the disciples hoped for a sudden rush of strength from Jesus that would immediately fix their lack of faith. Jesus, on the other hand, answered this request with two analogies that showed great faith was really a simple matter, and humility in following God is how it begins.
First, Jesus said that if the disciples had faith the size of a mustard seed, a large mulberry tree could be cast aside. His point was that the simplest true faith could have great power. I am aware of no one casting mulberry trees into the sea, but such a feat would be simple with faith supplied by the Father.
Jesus then, in an abrupt change of thought, plied the disciples with a question about a servant: Should a servant be served before his master? Certainly not! Even if a servant were to have a hard day in the field, he would serve his master’s meal first, and then he might rest and eat. The servant would not expect compliments for this, because he would know it was simply expected.
In our service in the kingdom, do we grow dissatisfied? Do we grumble, wondering why we are not appreciated more? In these verses, Jesus shows that faith increases with simple, humble service.
When we find ourselves hungry, thirsty, blasé, wanting recreation or sexual stimulation, we should be aware we are in a danger zone. None of these is intrinsically wrong; however, each can lead to dissatisfaction by becoming our focus and then can lead us to fail in faith. The phrase “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop” applies here. Idleness and discontent seem to be seedbeds for error. When we idle spiritually, when we want to take a break from God, we tend to get in trouble.
Peter must have learned this later. In 2 Peter 1:5–7, we read a laundry list of good character traits with each supporting the next: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. Then Peter wrote, “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).
That word “ineffective,” translated in some versions as “idle,” means to be inactive or indolent. Therefore, our active and joyful following of Christ battles idleness and dissatisfaction.
In “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “The right thing to do with habits is to lose them in the life of the Lord, until every habit is so practiced that there is no conscious habit at all.”
Chambers is hard to understand sometimes, but I think I get this one: The habits (or disciplines) can become what we worship. When we say we have spent an hour with the Lord, we have not spent an hour with the Lord — just an hour with our habit. Prayer is not the thing; our relationship with Jesus is. We can spend an “hour with the Lord” and not really meet with Him. We must learn to let our compartmental spiritual actions become immersed and swallowed in an ongoing relationship with the Lord.
Dissatisfaction is the result when we get off this relationship. Perhaps you’ve heard “the problem with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar.” We tend to crawl around. The result is we are dissatisfied with our ministry success or we are dissatisfied with our ministry failure. We compare our ministry history with our ministry dreams and find them much different. We have a midlife crisis at all ages. We began to think we should have been rewarded more than we have been, and it steals our ministry vigor.
Here is the picture the Lord was giving us in these verses. True faith is evidenced by trust. Our faith in God will result in trusting in each situation for His guidance and protection. Our following in His name is simply what we ought to do. We are in a relationship of such quality, that His presence — rather than our success or joy — is what matters. Just being able to complete His work is the reward we seek. Everything else is incidental.
At the end of this short parable, the Lord tells us that we should consider ourselves “unworthy servants.” It cannot mean that He disrespects us, as He loved us enough to die for us. What it means is there is no need for further comment as we have arrived in the presence of the Master.
Paul, a late arrival to this holy family, came to the point where he could say without irony: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
This is simple faith that can remove mulberry trees or mountains.
David Downey is a freelance writer in Fort Worth, Texas.
- What are common areas of dissatisfaction for you or other people you know?
- What are some ways to overcome dissatisfaction?