I come from a faith tradition that believes in miracles. We believe in divine healing, in supernatural provision, uncommon blessing, in Gifts of the Spirit like speaking in tongues and prophesy. We believe that God still speaks and moves today like he did in Bible times. But we also sometimes carry a heavy burden of “faith”. It’s the doctrine that God has given us authority to exert his power — if we have faith to believe it. And sometimes, I’ll admit, that faith is pretty elusive. So if some tragedy happens to us, if we lose our jobs or a loved one, if we get sick and recovery seems slow in coming, if our finances are a mess and the blessing isn’t falling like rain, we tend to beat ourselves up — if some caring brother or sister isn’t already pointing the finger at us — for our lack of effective faith. “Well, you know,” they will say, if we haven’t said it to ourselves, “‘if you only had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, Be removed and cast into the sea, and it would be done.” Guilt, on top of trouble.
Jesus apparently had that same problem sometimes. The same man who caused a fig tree to wither just by speaking to it also could only perform a few minor healings in a certain town because no one had faith and the power just wasn’t flowing. And that stymied him. Faith, real faith that unleashes miraculous power, is a rare commodity.
Faith is also selective. And I think this is where most of us miss it. We tend to take the shotgun approach: aiming at whatever target is in front of us at the moment and yanking away recklessly at the trigger. But faith is really a sniper’s rifle, a bolt-action, single shot weapon. When Jesus was walking along one day in the suburbs of Jerusalem, he runs across the pool of Bethesda where sick people would wait for the water to stir, then try to crawl into it to be healed. Like a modern-day evangelistic healing crusade, this place was packed. “Here a great multitude would lay, waiting …” (John 5:3). But Jesus picks out a single man. “Do you want to get well? … Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” What about all the others? This guy had been there a long time, to be sure. 38 years. But there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about this guy. In fact, the quality of his faith isn’t even mentioned.
When the religious leaders of the day challenge Jesus (because it happened to be the Sabbath, and miracles make religious people nervous), Jesus points out a few things. “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. … I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:17-19).
A long time ago I was in a small group conversation with a pastor in Argentina. At the time, he was well known for his massive crusades where healings regularly took place, so naturally, they were always packed. He commented that it seemed like God tended to focus on one type of healing at a time in his meetings. One night, blind people would be healed. On another night, it would be the deaf or lame. This apparently bothered him, so he asked God about it one day in prayer. “Lord, why do you do it that way, and why are some types of people healed and others not?” God’s answer, he told us, put him in his place and at the same time, set him free from worrying about such things. “None of your business.”
This pastor, like Jesus, just did what he was told. He only cooperated with what God was already doing. And if God chose to heal only people with eye troubles that night, then that’s what he’d go along with.
Our faith needs to be targeted the same way. We need to stop trying to command that mountain unless we see God already moving it and he specifically instructs us to speak the words. And it’s not like we’ll be sitting around for long periods of time with nothing to do. “My Father is always working — even to this day.” We just need to remember that when we try to assert divine authority “in Jesus’ name”, then Jesus needs to be the one actually giving the direction.
I believe in miracles. I believe in divine healing, in supernatural provision and blessing. But faith is the powder inside the sniper round. And I shouldn’t try to pull the trigger until given the order to fire.