When the mountain is actually a fig tree
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:19-22 (NIV)
When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it [the demon] out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy [mustard in other translations] seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”
Matthew 17:19-22 (MSG)
How many times have you heard that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains? I’m guessing a lot. It’s one of those verses that gets thrown around when talking about faith and/or prayer, something we as Christians are accustomed to hearing and get a lot of teaching on. But at LifeGroup the other week, I heard it from a version of the Bible I don’t normally read and the whole passage took on a new life. And that revelation led to another.
By Matthew 17, the disciples have been putting what Jesus has taught them into practice. In this passage, we don’t actually hear about them trying to drive the demon out of this boy, but we hear them ask Jesus why they were unable to and His response. Listen to it again: “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously…”. The context of Jesus saying that faith the size of a mustard seed could get a mountain to throw itself in the sea is Him telling the disciples off because their faith is not even that big!!!! Because they’re not taking God seriously, their faith isn’t even the size of a mustard seed. If it were, they could tell a mountain to move and it would and getting that demon out would have been easy.
Oh. So if my faith doesn’t move mountains, I’m not taking God seriously? Yep, that’s what it says.
Just let that sink in.
So then what about this fig tree?
I’ve always associated the mustard seed and the mountain, but for some reason not the fig tree and the mountain. The second time Jesus talks about faith getting mountains to move, it is after He has cursed a fig tree for not having any fruit, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. I’ve never really understood this. Why didn’t He tell it to be fruitful? Why was He so angry when it wasn’t the season for figs anyway? I’ve heard several explanations and I encourage you to look into it, but what God showed me at LifeGroup was that sometimes the mountain we need to move is actually a fig tree. Let me explain.
The fig tree was in leaf, that means it was getting enough water and nutrients to be growing and healthy, but it wasn’t being fruitful. It was being fed, using resources but not being productive. Sometimes we can be so caught up in overcoming the mountain, trying to get that thing in our way to get up and throw itself into the sea that we don’t notice the fig tree sitting there looking healthy, using our resources and energy to grow without actually producing any fruit. And unless, like Jesus, we take the time to walk up to it and inspect it, we can totally miss that there is no fruit because the tree just looks so good.
It could be a relationship, a hobby, a job, a ministry, anything. And it could have been fruitful once upon a time. But at some point it became a beautiful resource drain, a lovely distraction that takes our energy away from being productive in other areas.
And what does Jesus do? He doesn’t command it to be fruitful, He commands it to wither. I always thought this was pretty harsh, especially as the Bible makes it clear it wasn’t the season for figs. Wouldn’t it be better to tell that healthy looking thing to bring forth fruit? Aren’t we supposed to pray for fruit? Yes we are, but we’re also supposed to be discerning. We’re supposed to listen to the Spirit and notice that the fig tree is using our resources without producing fruit and then do something about it.
And that something just might be to tell it to wither and die. And that might be very hard to do. Letting go is not easy, especially when you’re trying to let go of something beautiful, that you’ve nurtured and cared for, even more so if it was fruitful once. But doing so releases all that life, energy and resource to be used elsewhere, maybe even to see that actual mountain moved.
So take a moment to look at your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there are any mountains or fig trees that need dealing with, and then ask Him how to tackle them. Because at the end of the day, He knows best and He wants to give you the strategy that will lead to you living the most fruitful life possible.
Then, take Him seriously. You can’t truly believe in your heart without doubt if you don’t take His word and promises seriously. And if you don’t take Him seriously then you won’t see any results. But if you do take Him seriously, listen to Him, obey Him and take hold of every promise He’s given then you really will have life in all its fullness, fig tree and mountain free.