Small Faith versus Great Faith
In the Bible, we read of people who had great faith and others who had small faith. One example of someone with small faith is the Judge, Gideon (Judges 6-8).
We first meet Gideon in his winepress, hiding from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord (note: whenever we read of the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament, it is probably a Christophany, which is a physical manifestation of Jesus before He was born (John 1:1-2)) comes to Gideon and calls him a valiant warrior (Judges 6:12).
Gideon struggles with his faith: he doesn’t trust God (Judges 6:13), he doesn’t see himself as a valiant warrior (Judges 6:15), he isn’t sure who this being is (Judges 6:17) and he isn’t sure he can trust him (Judges 6:37, 39). So Gideon asks God for a series of signs in an effort to strengthen his own faith.
God will use Gideon to do one of the great miracles in the Old Testament – the total destruction of the Midianite army of 135,000 men with an Israelite army of 300.
Many in the Christian community will say God can only use great faith. They will say God has not answered prayers because the petitioner did not have enough faith. They will require those suffering to have great faith when they are sick or bad things happen to them. Is this Biblical? Is this really what the Bible says?
We will start with the simple answer – no.
Small Faith is Real Faith
Jesus himself says that if we have small faith, we can do great things (Matt 17:20).
Peter, the one who would become the chief apostle, had small faith but still he became the second person ever to walk on water (Matt 14:29). Peter obviously didn’t have great faith, even Jesus says so (Matt 14:31), yet he was able to walk on the water. God works great things through the faith of His people, whether that faith is great or small.
(A quick aside here of the utmost importance – Peter was able to walk on the water but not because he was special or had any kind of special abilities. The only reason he is able to walk on the water is that God enabled him to do so. We take away from the glory of God and make Peter a sort of god himself when we give Peter the credit for walking on the water. This is true for anyone else as well – Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Peter – we must ascribe to God what is God’s.)
We encounter people like Gideon and Peter, who had little faith but God worked great things through them. We also see there are people with great faith who are able to do the same.
Two people in the New Testament are called out for their great faith by Jesus: a centurion (Matt 8:5-13) and a Canaanite mother (Matt 15:21-28). In both cases, these people displayed their great faith, not by their deeds, but simply by speaking.
Faith isn’t Always About what we Do
We expect people of great faith to be those who perform miracles, but God sees into the heart and in the case of faith, He can see who those with great faith are, regardless of what they do.
The reality is, those with great faith will always display their great faith by either word or deed.
This is true of the Centurion and the Canaanite mother. They displayed their faith with their words. Their faith is what brought the healing of the mother’s daughter and the centurion’s servant. Jesus performed a miracle of healing and he does it through the great faith of these two people.
Abraham had great faith for something he didn’t do: sacrifice his son. God sees the great faith necessary for Abraham to believe that through his son Isaac, God has promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand on the shore.
Yet, he also believed that God would give this to him through Isaac, even should he be sacrificed (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham had no idea how that would happen, but he knew God would make it happen. That’s great faith!
The Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) recites the names of people who had both great and small faith. God recognized their faith regardless of the apparent size of their faith.
Why Great Faith?
So then, why do we need great faith? If God can use someone like Gideon and Peter as well as he could use someone like Abraham, why do we today need to have great faith? Isn’t small faith enough?
Small faith is enough! God does not use great faith differently than He uses small faith. Those with little faith can be used greatly of Him.
Small faith, however, is not ideal. God does not necessarily desire small faith. God has placed each of us here on Earth to glorify Him. We can bring glory to Him with small faith, but we can bring greater glory to Him with great faith. Peter was able to do a great feat with a little faith. Yet, Jesus obviously desired him to have more (Matt 14:31).
Everyone who has gone to church will have experienced a request for donations for a mission or ministry. “Joe and Jane are going to do a great work in a needy place. They need our help to do God’s work. Let’s give whatever the Spirit calls us to give to enable His work to be done through Joe and Jane.” Missionaries have been able to go out and help those in need, physically and spiritually, because of the help of churches throughout the world over the past 2000 years. This is good.
The Ministry of George Mueller
A pastor named George Mueller, in the late 1800’s, heard God’s call to build an orphanage to house the orphans of London. Mueller was able to pay for the food, housing and education of the thousands of orphans that came into his care over many years.
What sets Mueller apart from most other missionaries is that he did not once ask for donations. His story is a remarkable one of how God provided for the ministry, often miraculously, without his once depending on others. His dependence was on God.
Mueller, and those with him, would pray for their needs and that would be the only request they would make. God would then bring people into their lives to supply those needs. Mueller’s life was a tremendous witness to the power and care of God.
Why Great Faith?
If God can use small faith as well as great faith, why does God desire great faith?
First, we see that though we can do great things with a little faith, great faith will overcome fear and doubt.
Peter fell into the water because he began to fear and doubt. He had little faith and God used that to allow him to walk on water and glorify Himself. How much greater would it have been if he had no fear or doubt and was able to not only walk but dance and run on the water?
We recognize the great work of missionaries across the world. However, Mueller’s fearlessness to care for thousands of homeless children without any resources except those provided by God has brought great glory to God over the past 120 years.
Second, great faith will enable us to go longer and further than small faith.
Gideon’s story ends in disaster (Judges 8:24-32). Gideon’s small faith was used by God for great things, but it also did not allow him to finish strong.
Peter could have continued to walk on water if he had great faith. God would have received much more glory if Peter had been able to walk to the shore.
Many missionaries are able to go into the mission field for a short time. Either they run out of money or they burn out doing the work.
Mueller was able to go longer and further even though he had no resources of his own. He tells us that each time God provided for them, it caused him to have even more faith in what God was able to do. This seemingly endless loop – have the faith to take a risk, God responds, faith grows – was the spiritual engine that powered his faith through his entire life.
A third and final reason we desire greater faith is because great faith will bring greater glory to God, which is what we were made to do.
Jesus desired for Peter to have greater faith because he knew that throughout the Church Age, teachers and preachers would talk about how important faith is by using Peter’s small faith of getting out of the boat and walking on water as an example. However, he also knew how much greater glory God would have received had Peter not feared, doubted and walked such a short distance.
On the other hand, George Mueller’s faith has brought God more glory than most missionaries in the history of the Church.
Our Chief End
Greater faith brings greater glory to God. This is the reason God made us. We must build up our faith so that we can do it to our utmost; excel at our core purpose.
The best way to build up faith is to use it and stretch it past its comfort level.
Seldom used faith will result in weakness, like a muscle which is rarely used. However, faith which is continuously used and stretched will become stronger and bigger, like a muscle that is continuously trained and stretched.
Every one of us can build our faith beginning right now. Promise God that you will do one thing of faith today. Then go out and do that one thing. You will be afraid and you will have many good reasons not to do it, but if we want to grow from small faith to great faith and bring the greatest glory to God, we must overcome those excuses and trust that God will provide whatever we need to accomplish His work for His glory.