Last evening I was working on a paper for the Chrisitian Education certification class I am taking. My assignment was to write about my life experiences in molding my call to and practice of ministry. As I thought about my faith and how it developed, I realized that my preparation to take on the ministry I now have has been a lifelong process, guided each step along the way by God’s providential hand.
This morning I attended my Thursday morning women’s accountability group at a local restaurant and we had our usual vigorous conversation about what the Lord is teaching us and how we are applying it. I shared about my re-reading of Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer and the rather obtuse logic of separating the life of Christ from our pursuit of authenticity. But as I drove home afterwards, I was contemplating Christ’s words about us only needing faith as tiny as a mustard seed. What occurred to me was that the significance of that scripture, Matthew 13:31, was not the size of the mustard seed, but the fact that it is a seed and that it grows abundantly when given the proper conditions for growth.
I’ve known friends who wore a mustard seed charm and claimed comfort for themselves in the promise that they had only to have faith that small. Some of them, sadly, never seemed to grasp the larger concept that one needs to give that mustard seed faith over to the wisdom and skill of the Master Gardener- putting oneself in His loving care and yielding to those He has placed in their lives to plant, cultivate, and water it- to have it flourish into a tree that could shelter and nurture others in the kingdom. Rather, they continued to be people of “little faith” (Matthew 6:30) , fretful, worrying, controlling, failing again and again in attempts at faithful living, resigned to fact that they have, at least and only, faith as tiny as a mustard seed.
When I arrived back home, I checked my email before heading out to work. Among my incoming daily posts was today’s devotional from Ravi Zacharias’ ministry. I share it with you to proclaim how very good God is to lead us into understanding as we contemplate His Word, then give us affirming messages in a timely fashion to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Continue to come to me and I will show you how you may grow and how others have grown in this way before you.”
01/19/06 Tiny Beginnings byAlison Thomas
When I was a little girl, my father would affectionately call me “kaduku” which means “mustard seed.” Since most of my friends were called the more common food-inspired nicknames of honey and sugar, I never understood why I was compared to such a strange item. Years later, I described my bewilderment to a friend as we were preparing a curry dish—mustard seeds in hand. She chuckled and knew immediately why the name was appropriate. She said, “Look at these tiny seeds, so quiet and inconspicuous. Yet when we throw them into the oil, they will show us how loud and explosive they can really be.” I could not help but smile recently with that memory in mind while reading the parable of the mustard seed, another comparison that bursts of paradoxical imagery. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31). The significance of this parable is illuminated when connecting it to Old Testament passages that describe little birds nesting in the branches of mighty trees. In a revelation to Ezekiel, the Lord described Assyria as “a cedar in Lebanon with beautiful branches and forest shade, and very high; and its top was among the clouds… all the birds of the heavens nested in its boughs, and under its branches all the beasts of the field gave birth, and all great nations lived under its shade” (Ezekiel 31:6). In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream he too beheld “a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew large and became strong, and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it” (Daniel 4:10–12). Since Jesus and his disciples were familiar with those mighty images, the deliberate irony in the parable of the mustard seed was clear. The kingdom of heaven would grow from tiny beginnings to a great tree that would ultimately provide shelter, protection, and benefit to the entire world. As Craig Keener notes, “The parable is intended to accent both the qualities of growth and contrast. Like the mustard seed, the kingdom’s humble beginnings and unpretentious character offer no visible indication of its future growth and glory, but just as there is continuity between the tiny mustard seed and the resulting ‘tree,’ so there is continuity from the seemingly inconsequential beginnings in Jesus’ ministry and the future glory of God’s consummating reign. Thus even though the beginnings of God’s kingdom as manifested in Jesus may appear unimpressive, it is casually dismissed at one’s own peril.” How marvelously the parable of the mustard seed highlights the past, present, and future magnificence of the kingdom in which God reigns. Though the presence of the King among us may at times feel threatened and slight, his is a kingdom with an explosive promise: it is not the one who plants or waters; it is God who makes things grow. Even now He is working to that end of future glory, calling us to see the great tree in the seedling, growing all things in his time—even those things with the tiniest of beginnings.
(1) Craig Keener as quoted in The College Press NIV Commentary: Matthew (Joplin: College Press, 1997), Matthew 13:31.
Alison Thomas is an itinerant speaker for youth at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.