Let's try a little experiment this weekend. Imagine you are a seed. Your owner placed you carefully on the shelf in the cellar where you wouldn't get hurt or lost. He made sure not to place you too close to the shelf's edge. He didn't want you to fall off or get knocked off by accident. He placed you on a solid plank with no chips in the paint and no cracks in the wood. Then, he walked out, turned off the light and slowly closed the door to the cellar. Now it's just you, alone, sitting on the shelf all safe in the dark, wondering about life and the cosmos. Through the floor you can hear the occasional muffled sound of people talking. The cellar has no windows and you're a seed so you don't wear a watch – you don't even have arms. You don't really note the passage of time as you sit thinking of all the things you have learned and witnessed throughout your life. Every once in a while you catch your owner peeking in to check on you. "I'm still here and I'm doing fine," you tell him. He nods, turns off the light and closes the door.
After a while you start to see changes in your owner. He doesn't come to visit as often and when he does it's just a cursory look. His face ages and he loses that expectation you used to see in his eyes. Finally, he quits coming altogether. You don't really know why. You can still hear people moving around in the house above you from time to time, but you can't make out your owner's voice anymore. It's just you now in your perfect little spot on the shelf in the cellar, protected from the elements. The little seed your owner loved so much that he always protected. His precious little seed.
Unbeknownst to you, your brother seed was bought by the owner in the next farmhouse. About the time your owner was cleaning the shelf and getting your perfect home ready for you, your brother's eventual owner was digging a small hole in his back yard. When your owner placed you on your shelf, your brother's owner dropped him in his hole and covered him with dirt. Now your brother is filthy, covered in dirt and mud, exposed to the elements, and in danger of being eaten by worms and birds and bugs. Still, he can feel the sun warming the ground around him, so he reaches for it. He knows in his little seed heart that reaching for the sun will expose him to even more dangers, but he doesn't care. He can feel the warmth and wants to see the sun's light, feel the sun's burning rays on his bark.
Your brother rejoices when he finally breaks through the ground, but his celebration is short lived as a gust of wind whips up grains of sand and debris that batter his stem and threaten to tear off his one little leaf. Still, he perseveres. The rain soaks him, but he keeps pushing higher to get closer to the sun. The wind threatens to topple him, but he keeps pushing higher. The sun itself scorches him, but he grows thicker bark and keeps reaching. The birds pluck away twigs and leaves, but he grows more leaves on thicker branches. The winter freezes him cold, stealing away his foliage, and he shivers, awaiting the warmth of spring. Finally, when he is full grown, a majestic oak with strong boughs and full leaves, he watches as the people gather in the house next door, sad, melancholy, lost. So, he stretches his limbs to shade them too, as the sun sets low. He thinks about his life and all he has seen, the leaves and twigs he has lost and the scars on his trunk. He remembers the lightning and the wind and bitter cold winter nights, and the ground that nourishes his roots that penetrate deep into the soil. He is a majestic oak.
"So the Lord said, 'If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.'" (Luke 17:6, NKJV)
"So Jesus said to them, 'Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.'" (Matt 17:20, NKJV)
Bear with me, Christian, while I make a few points. First, a mustard seed sitting on a shelf will never flavor anyone's sandwich. Without the stresses of life, a mustard seed will never grow into a plant and its spice will never reach maturity. Like the majestic oak in our story, without the stresses of life, the wind and the rain and the lightning, the scorching heat of the mid-summer sun or the blinding cold of the deepest winter, without those stresses the oak would never grow strong. The oak spreads out its roots to build a stable base against the wind. It reaches high into the sky to find the most sunlight to nourish its leaves, and it spreads branches wide to grow more leaves to absorb that sun and draw in the air. And in doing so it makes the ground stronger, gives shelter to wildlife, and shades anyone who sits underneath. Like the mustard seed growing into a spice plant, only through the stresses of life does the oak realize its purpose.
Second, even without life's stress, the mustard seed is still a mustard seed and the oak tree is still an oak. They don't need an arborist to tell them what they are or convince nature of their purpose. The mustard seed carries all the genetic material it needs to become a spice plant under the right conditions, and the acorn will grow into a majestic oak every time it is planted. The mustard seed and acorn can sit side by side on the same shelf and never be confused about what they are. A farmer can plant a mustard seed in a row of acorns and he will always grow a mustard spice among the trees. Even if the seeds fail to grow, they are still mustard seeds and acorns.
And finally, like the seed, your faith requires testing. Your faith can sit on the shelf and wave as the Giver of Life peeks in. You will still have faith and you will still be a Christian. But if you take your faith and plant it in the rich soil of life, if your faith learns to reach for the Son, to withstand the tempest of sin and to grow deep roots in God's word, you will discover that the branches of your faith will not only grow strong and wide to shelter those in need, but your faith will realize its true purpose as the acorns borne by your life well lived begin to germinate in others. And while you may witness tragedy and suffer the scars of life, like the oak you will also witness the beauty of the Son as He shines all around you, the blessing of your shade as you influence others toward Christ, and the strength of your roots in God's word as Satan's temptations batter, but never topple your trunk.
So, Christian, join me in planting our faith as tiny as a mustard seed in the nourishing ground of God's word. Water it with Jesus' living water and shine on it the Light of Christ, so that it may grow to realize its full potential. Don't just sit protected on the shelf. Grow. Blossom. Be who God made you to be.
– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.