What ‘Faith As Small As A Mustard Seed’ REALLY Means

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.” Matthew 17:20

Jesus says that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. A mustard seed is only about one millimeter, yet it can grow into a bush 30 feet tall. Similarly our faith, even if small, can do incredible things. 

In this blog post, we are going to take a closer look at the Matthew 17:20 meaning and what it holds for our life and our faith. 

The Context Of Mustard Seed Faith 

Prior to this famous verse in Matthew 17:20 we see a father in desperation bring his demon-possessed son to the disciples. The disciples had tried to heal him but failed to do so. (Matthew 17:14-16)

Something is wrong here; a while earlier Jesus had given them authority to do this very thing. (Matthew 10:1) But still they failed. Now they go to Jesus to figure out what happened. 

Once Jesus steps in he quickly rebukes the demon and the boy is healed. (Matthew 17:17-18) 

The disciples are likely embarrassed. They should have been able to heal this boy. They wait until everyone leaves and approach Jesus in private. 

“Why couldn’t we drive out the demon?” – Matthew 17:19

It’s this question that leads us to Jesus’ famous response about faith as small as a mustard seed in Matthew 17:20.

Matthew 17:20 Meaning (The Mustard Seed Meaning)

What we are going to see is Jesus address the problem, give the solution, and show what the result will be. While this response is directed at the disciples’ failure, this verse still contains powerful truth for us today. 

Let’s dive into the Matthew 17:20 meaning. To do so we will break down the key parts of this verse.

Because You Have Little Faith… 

Here’s the problem. The disciples failed to cast out the demon from the boy because they lacked faith. The emphasis here is not on the quantity of faith, but the quality. The disciples had not placed their full trust in Jesus; they had some faith but it wasn’t strong enough. 

Earlier Jesus had given the disciples authority over demons and every kind of sickness (Matthew 10:1, 8). In this situation Jesus expected them to draw on this authority. But they had forgotten and attempted to do this on their own. 

Their lack of belief was the hinderance to allowing God to work through them. 

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed… 

The problem was their lack of faith and now Jesus gives them the solution: have faith. 

What’s surprising here is not that Jesus tells them to have faith, rather the amount of faith that Jesus requires. Faith as small as a mustard seed. 

‘As small as a mustard seed’ was a common expression in Jesus’ day. It had become a proverbial saying used frequently by Rabbis to indicate the smallest amount. 

Jesus is telling his disciples they don’t need an abundance of faith, just a little bit of faith. Remember the emphasis is on the quality, not the quantity. Just a little bit of quality faith is all that is needed. 

Jesus wants his disciples to understand this so he adds emphasis. Whenever you see the phrase “Truly I tell you” that means it’s really important. This is the crux of his point; dependent confidence in Jesus is what is needed in the disciples. 

Faith is not simply believing in Jesus, rather continually depending on him.

You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move…

So, what happens when we have faith as small as a mustard seed? We can move mountains. 

Now, this is a proverbial figure of speech about overcoming even the biggest of difficulties and challenges in our life. But I don’t want to lessen or explain away this statement. Jesus is saying that faith as small as a mustard seed can overcome the biggest challenges we face. 

This is astonishing. All that you need to overcome whatever is in front of you is a tiny bit of faith. Remember, quality not quantity. 

Too many Christians try to bear the weight themselves and push through their difficulties. Jesus is giving us a better way. Continual dependence on him is where we can find all we need. 

Nothing will be impossible for you… 

Jesus ends Matthew 17:20 by adding more emphasis, NOTHING will be impossible for you. 

We shouldn’t think of this as a way to get whatever we want. Jesus elsewhere explains that when we ask in his will (not ours) it will be done (John 14:13). What Jesus is driving at is that we will be able to overcome whatever he leads us to. 

In other words, we don’t need to look at how big the mountain is in front of us, but rather look at how big our God is. With faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing is impossible. 

How To Have Faith As Small As A Mustard Seed

So, how can we have faith as small as a mustard seed? 

I don’t know about you but I often find myself like the disciples in this moment. I try to tackle the problems in my life on my own power. I know of the power that God has given me, but I often fail to apply it. 

Matthew 17:20 is a reminder and a challenge to rely on God rather than our own abilities. Here’s how we can have faith as small as a mustard seed. 

1. Pray 

More often than not we are incapable of making significant changes in our life and faith. We need help. 

If we lack faith God has promised to give us faith AND to use us to do things far beyond what we could imagine. Growing our faith starts with connecting with God and asking him to help us. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. (John 15:5) 

For more check out: 9 Powerful Lessons In Prayer

2. Evaluate 

We each should evaluate our lives and our faith to see where we have points of weakness. 

I know this is uncomfortable. Most people won’t do it because it can be painful to see where you’ve failed. But it’s an important step. Turning a blind eye to our weakness is a surefire way to keep yourself from growing. 

Spend some time prayerfully evaluating your faith for areas of weakness and then ask God to grow those areas. 

3. Water

If you want a mustard seed to grow into its full potential then you need to water it and care for it. The same is true with your faith. What you water grows, so water your faith.

That means that you take time to pour into your relationship with God. If you don’t care for your faith, how will it grow? 

Find ways you can connect with God. There’s obvious things like reading your Bible and praying. But there’s other ways too. Go into nature, journal, paint, listen to worship music, find a book about faith, do a Bible study with others, go to church, serve someone, etc… 

There are lots of ways to connect with God and grow your faith. If you want to have faith as small as a mustard seed then you have to water it. 

4. Take A Risk 

God did not created you to play it safe. He created you for something meaningful and that will require some risks. 

Look at the disciples. When they answered the call to follow Jesus they took some HUGE risks. They left their old lives behind and embraced what Jesus had for them. 

2,000 years later we are still talking about their story and benefiting from what they did in faith. 

God has something meaningful for you too. But you will eventually have to take a risk on God. 

For more check out: What It Really Means To Follow Jesus

Final Thoughts On Faith The Size Of A Mustard Seed

The Matthew 17:20 meaning is powerful for us today. It’s an important reminder that God wants to use YOU to do incredible things. With just a little faith you can move mountains. 

With just faith as small as a mustard seed you can get through whatever is in front of you. You can accomplish incredible things. And you will leave a lasting impact. 

So, lean into God. Ask him to grow your faith. And see what he can do through you. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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