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September 2019


A Contemplative Exercise for September

 

The following is a possible framework for the Witnessing of the Word. It can be personalised, or altered: its purpose is to serve as an example of how this Saying might be used primarily in the context of a Prayer Group, but it may be used by individuals if so wished. It is not intended to be definitive.

 

In the context of a group: the periods of silence should be appropriate for your group - probably not less than 5 minutes, or more than 15 minutes.

 

Saying for the month

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed……nothing will be impossible for you”   Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

 

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; become aware of the sounds around you and put them aside; offer this time of prayer to God.

 

Say this introductory invitation to prayer, then keep a further minute or two of silence:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"   Matthew 11.28 

 

Introduction to the first silence - a preparation for listening with the mind:

 “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed……nothing will be impossible for you”   

 Jesus has descended from Mount Tabor where His Transfiguration has taken place.   Jesus had taken Peter, James and John with him to the top of the mountain where he became clothed in light and his face shone like the sun as his glory was fully revealed.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed his disciples not to tell anyone what had taken place.  Jesus then sees a disturbing scene: a big crowd had gathered; the disciples who had remained behind had been struggling to heal a boy with epilepsy but they have failed in their task although Jesus had given them authority to heal and cast out demons.  When the boy’s father sees Jesus, he appeals to him in despair and Jesus immediately heals his son.  His disciples asked him why they had not been able to cure the boy and Jesus answered “because you have so little faith”. He tells them “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”.  This sounds obscure but his disciples and other listeners would have understood what Jesus meant when he used this phrase.  

Moving mountains was a common metaphor in Jewish literature and was mentioned several times in the Old Testament, for doing what was seemingly impossible.  It was also a symbol for overcoming or removing obstacles and other difficulties or hardship in life.

Jesus refers to a mustard seed several times.  In one parable He compared the mustard seed to the Kingdom of Heaven, saying “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 seeds, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Matt 13:31).  In Luke he tells another parable, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you’” (Luke 17:6).  Again this was not meant in its literal sense, but Jesus is indicating that even a very small amount of faith, if it is genuine trust in God, can lead to remarkable results.  The issue is not the size of faith, but its presence.

A mustard seed is a wonderful allegory.  It is a tiny seed commonly found in the Middle East that needs to be planted in the earth to grow.  Once in the earth the protecting outer layer of the seed (or husk) slowly disintegrates to reveal the living germ which then starts growing.   This small seed in the fierce heat of the Jordan valley will thrust itself upwards through the earth where it will grow into a plant, eventually becoming a large tree where birds can nest.  The seed has to die in order have life. 

So what does it mean to have mustard seed faith?  Faith is so vital to the Christian life that scripture tells us that without it, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Yet faith is such a powerful gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Christ told His disciples that with just a tiny measure of faith, the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains.

Jesus is teaching that stunning things happen if we have faith, and by using a mustard seed he is speaking figuratively about the enormous power of God when channelled through the lives of those with true faith.   The mustard seed is one of the tiniest seeds found in the Middle East so it must be true that the amount of faith needed to do great things is very small indeed. Little is much when it comes from God.  The mustard seed in the parable grows to be a large tree, representing the tiny beginnings of Christianity when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually, the kingdom would grow to huge proportions, encompassing the world and spreading over the centuries.  The kingdom of God at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry was small in the beginning and yet from this tiny seed, it would grow and continue to grow. So does the tiniest bit of faith, when it is true faith from God, grow to immense proportions in the lives of believers, spreading out to influence all with whom they come into contact with.  Looking back over the centuries we can see the almost impossible things that are achieved by those with faith.

So now we have our first silence, the silence of the mind.  Let us listen to the Words of Jesus, as they were first spoken to His disciples in the Jordan valley. Imagine we are in their shoes as Jesus speaks His Words of encouragement to them, and to us:  “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…. nothing will be impossible for you.”

A time is now kept for silence of the mind - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

The silence concludes with a short thanksgiving, and/or repeat the Saying:

 Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed……nothing will be impossible for you”

 

Introduction to the second silence - a preparation for listening with the heart:

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed……nothing will be impossible for you”

We are prone to think if we just had more faith, then God could do amazing things in us.  But Jesus tells us that it isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith. If we have the smallest amount of faith, God works on our behalf. Jesus stops his disciples short and asks them. Do you believe in me at all? Do you trust God at all? The answer of Jesus is encouraging to us because when facing a given situation, we can ask God to give us faith however small. A small amount of faith is sufficient because the focus is not on our faith but its object.  

Our faith has to have an object. Why is it true that mustard seed faith can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Jesus tells us that it is not the quantity of our faith that is effective but the object of our faith. If our faith is in God, then it has a great effect.  Our faith makes a difference not because it is so great but because God is so great, because he is the Sovereign Lord who rules over all things. 

The seed grows into a tree and can grow in dry, arid climates where it is found in various locations in the world, including the Jordan valley where Jesus is preaching. They thrive even in clay or sandy soil.  Perhaps this can represent our faith, that it is often tested in the dry, arid times that we sometimes experience in our lives, but faith survives and grows stronger during these testing times when endured in a spirit of faith in God.  If we have faith as small as a mustard seed this can be enough. Faith is living and tiny amounts of living faith in Christ really can move mountains.

The disciples were not devoid of faith, but their faith was not functioning properly. They had not placed their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and were unable to heal the epileptic boy.  In addition there may have been an element of doubt, because Jesus was not there with them.

Jesus rebuked the disciples so often about their having “little faith” because they doubted His divinity.  We tend to believe only what we see.  Thomas needed to see the wounds of Jesus before he could believe, which caused Jesus to say “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  We need to believe with the eyes of faith.  We may not be able to see him but he is there nonetheless.

Most of us have problems with our faith from time to time, especially when we are going through challenging times of bereavement, serious illness, or any painful or difficult situations, and these are times when our Fellowship’s way of prayer is so valuable; we find more and more, when we have our prayer time, that we are living in the present moment, and we become intensely aware of God’s presence with and within us. Through receiving His Words in our mind, heart and will, we draw energy and sustenance from the fountain of life within us when we realise that Christ dwells in the centre of our being.   Our faith which may begin small, as with the disciples, grows stronger through testing times, and through action and intercession.  Our response is to give thanks for the boundless profusion and generosity of God’s love for us and His creation.

So now we come to our second silence, the silence of the heart. Let us open our hearts to God, and listen to Him saying to us in the very depths and centre of our being:

  “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…..nothing will be impossible for you”.

 A time is now kept for silence of the heart - between 5 and 15 minutes

 

Conclude the silence with a short thanksgiving and/or repeat the Saying:

Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…..nothing will be impossible for you”

 

Introduction to the time of intercession – we use our will to reflect God’s Word outwards.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…..nothing will be impossible for you”

Now we come to our Intercessions when we allow the Words of Jesus, that we have received in our mind and more deeply in our heart, to flow out through us to those who are in need. Perhaps we can concentrate on those who need more faith in Christ or those without any faith.  We can then become a reservoir of spiritual and life-giving energy for others.

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the saying.

 

Conclude the time of intercession with words of thanksgiving: 

Father, we thank you that your Word has gone out through us to those for whom we pray.

 

Use the Fellowship Prayer or another closing prayer to conclude your time of contemplative prayer.

Ever Loving God, we thank you for all your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, ourselves, our souls and bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do, until you are all in all and we are complete. Amen

 

 You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.  

 

Some Watchwords for this month:    “…have faith…”      “…nothing will be impossible for you…”


This month's exercise was contributed by MN