Jesus encourages his disciples to have more faith. He criticizes those with little faith (Matt 6:30) and challenges people to believe in a deeper way. But how do I increase my faith?
Growth in faith is a cooperative process. “Increase our faith”(Luke 17:5) is a prayer, meaning that God holds the key to it. One man cries to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”(Mark 9:24). Yet it is also clear that Jesus wants people to make choices that develop their faith. “Have faith in God”(Mark 11:22). “Do not fear, only believe”(Mark 5:36). God will increase my faith but it is something that I must pursue.
I increase my faith by receiving teaching. I have to be willing to listen. This is why Jesus often corrects his disciples. As they seek to be the greatest, Jesus tells them to humble themselves like a child (Matt 18:4). Jesus corrects them about money, forgiveness, judging, and a host of other topics. Faith means that I accept correction and trust that Jesus has a better way for me to live. The more I listen and follow him, the deeper my faith grows. The challenge is that I do not just learn to know more information about Jesus, but to trust him more. What am I learning about God right now—and how is he teaching it to me?
I increase my faith by developing discernment. I have to see the spiritual importance of ordinary life. Jesus is always aware of the spiritual dimensions of the world and tries to open the eyes of his disciples. “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”(Mark 8:15). There are moral (not just physical) threats here that must be attended to. Jesus teaches his followers to make spiritual applications of tragedies and national disasters (Luke 13:1-5) and wants them to interpret “the signs of the times”(Matt 16:3). Faith means that I see all the events of my life and the wider world through the lens of divine realities. That includes learning to discern good from evil when they are not always readily apparent (Heb 5:14). What activity of God and Satan can I discern in my life right now?
I increase my faith by consistent, sincere obedience. Sometimes we obey our way into greater faith. Peter does this. He clearly thinks Jesus is foolish to suggest casting the nets again, “but at your word I will let down the nets”(Luke 5:5). Afterward, his faith is stronger. When we go ahead and obey despite our misgivings, we often find such efforts rewarded. I can see no other meaning behind Jesus’ statement, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”(Luke 17:6). While not encouraging us to test God, Jesus wants us to reach out in faith. The more we obey and expect his blessing, the deeper our faith grows. We begin to see the strong realities that undergird the promises God has given—and the commands that spring from them. In what area am I hesitant to obey because I am weak or struggling to understand? What could I do—even though it is risky or confusing—to rely more strongly on God right now?
Then, when we have studied and thought and given our all, we ask for growth from God. “Increase our faith!”