Have you heard the phrase “faith that moves mountains”?
This beloved phrase comes from Matthew 17:20: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus utters this shocking pronouncement to his disciples. This brings up questions for us. Does this mean that if we have enough faith, we can do anything we want? If we believe hard enough, can we accomplish miraculous feats?
Some motivational speakers might say this is the case. Just believe hard enough, and you’ll get what you want. However, read in the context of the passage, and of the Bible as a whole, we begin to see that using faith like some sort of magical power is not what Jesus is advocating.
Faith is not a mustering of will or a power to wield. Faith comes from trusting in God and His will.
What Jesus is advocating is something far more radical.
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What Does It Mean That “Your Faith Can Move Mountains”?
We must go back to the context of this verse to truly understand what Jesus is saying.
“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’ ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”
Here, Jesus could potentially be talking about real mountains. The Lord does have that power. However, in context, the problem being addressed is that the disciples could not drive out the demon because they had too little faith.
Jesus constantly used metaphors and parables in His teachings. Here, the “mountain” Jesus is metaphorically alluding to is the demon-possessed boy. Jesus is making a point that even the tiniest bit of faith — the size of a mustard seed, the smallest seed the disciples would have been familiar with — can accomplish great things. The point here seems to be the vast difference between the size of a mustard seed and the size of a mountain. If the disciples had even the smallest bit of faith, it could do great — mountain-sized — things.
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What Do We Have Faith In?
This is another area of clarification. Do we have faith in our own abilities?
No. We are told, “Lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), and 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 reminds us, “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.”
Do we have faith in the favorable outcome? If we believe hard enough that a thing will happen, shall it cause that thing to do so?
Though “believe it and you can achieve it” may sound like a good slogan, it is ultimately foolishness. God controls the outcome, not us. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
So what do we have faith in? Our faith is in God.
Jeremiah 10:12-13 says, “But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”
This leads us to some wonderful news. We don’t have to summon up enough faith to perform miracles. It isn’t about believing hard enough, trying hard enough. We only need faith the size of a mustard seed. It is our God who performs mighty deeds.
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3 Ways Your Faith Can Move Mountains
We serve an awesome God who is capable of great things. He can move all of our mountains.
We may have faith in and claim His promises for our lives. Here are three ways our Lord moves mountains when we put our faith in Him.
1. Have faith that the Lord will move mountains that are obstacles to your faith.
Sometimes one of the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles is that of clinging fast to God.
Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
When we feel that we can no longer keep the faith, we may turn our eyes to God. When we don’t understand something about the Bible or God, the Lord will lead us toward Him. If we have faith that God will pull us through, He is faithful to lead us through this life and all of its snares into a full relationship with Him.
We may ask the Lord to help us overcome the obstacles in our hearts that separate us from Him.
2. Have faith that the Lord can move mountains that are obstacles in your life.
Clearly faithful believers are not promised easy lives. (The book of Hebrews puts this idea to rest quite solidly.) We will suffer. Our very world is broken. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” Paul says in Romans 8:22.
Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus promises that we will have trouble. However, He has overcome the world. Nothing in it holds power over Him or can thwart His will.
When we pray in accordance with God’s will, we may have faith that, no matter the odds, the will of God will be accomplished. When we pray, “If it is your will, may it be done,” we know His will shall indeed be done.
No sickness, no obstacle, no poverty, no broken relationship, no cycle of sin, nothing is too big for God to overcome.
Paul says it far better. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
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3. Have faith that the Lord can move the mountain of forgiveness.
This one is twofold.
First, our sin may seem insurmountable. We may believe that we are beyond saving, beyond forgiveness. If you truly knew what I’ve done, we think, you would understand. You would see that I am beyond rescue.
But if we have the tiniest bit of faith — faith the size of a mustard seed — and we put that faith in Jesus, our sins are wiped out forever.
Psalm 103:10-12 tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Second, we may find it impossible to forgive others. Humans do truly atrocious things to each other — things that do not deserve forgiveness. However, Jesus is very serious about forgiveness. In Mark 6:14-15, He says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Others may not deserve our forgiveness. However, neither do we deserve the Lord’s forgiveness. Yet, Jesus died a brutal death that we might be forgiven. He commands that we also forgive.
By human logic, this is nonsensical, even impossible. But by faith, forgiveness is possible. Through prayer, through faith, we are able to forgive those who have sinned against us.
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How Can We Continue to Grow Our Faith?
As we’ve discussed, moving mountains is not accomplished by mustering up enough faith. It is done by trusting God to move the mountains by His power.
However, it should be our desire to draw ever closer to Him, to grow deeper in faith.
Growing in faith is not about studying or intellect, though these can help. It is not about rigor or discipline, though these also have their place in our growth. Rather, growing in faith is growing in relationship.
Our faith is a relationship with our infinite Creator. The scandal of the cosmos is that the all-powerful God would call humans His friends (John 15:15) and children (1 John 3:1). As we spend time with Him, learn about Him, talk with Him, walk with Him, and follow His teaching, we will grow in relationship and grow in faith. For if we are God’s friends and children, will we not align with His will? And will not He, as the best of friends and fathers, delight to move the mountains that rise up against us?
Our Lord flattens mountains. He forgives sins. He makes a way. Perhaps none capture this so beautifully as Isaiah in Isaiah 40:1-4:
"Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
'In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.”
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.