October 14, 2001
Lord, Increase My Faith
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
This is the last sermon in a series of three with the theme, “Sixty Minutes with Jesus.”
What would you ask Jesus if you had the opportunity to spend an hour with Him? I have asked Him two questions:
How should I, as a Christian, relate to people?
Will you give me a better understanding of my relationship with You?
Today my question is: Lord, will you increase my faith?
The prayer, “Lord, increase my faith,” came first from the apostles. These men felt inadequate when they heard what plans Jesus had for them. They were convinced that, as humans, they could not accomplish what God wanted them to do. Christians in every age have shared these same feelings. The human being does not have the spiritual strength to live the Christian life without the Lord increasing his or her faith.
From this request, “Lord, increase my faith,” we learn that faith is not static. It either grows or diminishes. There is a weak and strong faith. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you.’” Using pictorial language, Jesus is saying, “That which looks impossible becomes possible if it is approached in faith.”
But before we go further, we must clarify what faith is. Bishop Ryle, in his commentary, says, “Faith is that hand by which the soul lays hold of Jesus and is united with Him, and is saved.” It is far more than simply giving intellectual assent to all that the Bible says about Him. Some of the world’s greatest theologians who have acquired vast amounts of knowledge about the Lord often do not have the faith that their parents, with much less education, have. One theologian of our generation was asked, “Do you believe there is a hell?” He replied, “That is an interesting question. I am not sure how to answer it. I know my parents believed in hell, for that was the reason they spent their entire life in Africa as missionaries.”
Faith is throwing ourselves into the arms of Jesus and trusting Him for life and salvation. As we are baptized and instructed in God’s Word, the seed is sown. Then it has to be fed. As we walk with Christ in His Word, the faith increases. It is the Holy Spirit who creates the faith through the Word and sacrament. As our faith grows, we receive the guidance and strength necessary to carry out the work our Lord has given us to do.
In faith we bring our cares to the Savior who has invited us to come. Today we have cares in our national life that are quite different from what they were two months ago. Then our greatest concern reported by the media was the falling economy. Today, in the midst of a scary war, we are concerned about biological warfare and other threats that could affect us seriously right in our homes. How do we deal with this care? In faith we bring the concern to Jesus, who is adequate and will give us grace to face the day.
In faith we bring our sins to Christ. Our sins will differ. Yours could be different from mine, but neither of us can afford to let them linger long in our souls. The guilt can kill us. Not long ago, I visited with a young woman who felt life was over for her. She had made some serious mistakes and tried to deal with them in her own way, which did not work out. I pointed out to her that these sins can be forgiven, and, in Christ, she can start over again. “But how do I get this faith to believe these promises? I have known them all of my life, and I believe they are true, but I just cannot seem to make them the truths with which we live.” It is at this point she prays with the apostles of old, “Lord, increase my faith. The temptations of the day are strong, and I am weak.”
In faith we bring our families to Christ. Our children and our grandchildren live in a world where temptation is all around them. Imagine walking on the campus of one of our colleges surrounded by a vast majority of students and professors who claim no allegiance to Christ. How important it is that we pray for them, not only that their grades will be good and their experience at the university will be pleasant, but also, in the midst of it all, that their faith will be strong.
In faith we bring congregations to Christ. “Lord, increase our faith to reach out to the lost. Help us to at least entertain the thought that not all who sit in our churches on a Sunday morning are saved. Give us the grace and love to make clear that only in Christ is their salvation. It is frightening to evangelize on our own strength, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christians can be assured that we will not only have the right words, but also the right spirit to confront the lost with God’s love in Jesus Christ.
This prayer, “Lord, increase our faith,” can be answered. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). If we will only spend some time with Him in His Word and prayerful meditation, we will experience God at work within us. It makes no sense to say, “I want a stronger faith,” and then turn our backs on the means – Word and sacrament – that God has chosen to increase our faith.
Meditation is another means God has used in increasing my faith. It is good for us to look back and see how God has been at work in the lives of those who trust Him. The present can sometimes be discouraging, and the future can be frightening, but meditating on the past can be encouraging as we see what God has done in our lives. He was with us as He said He would be in those perilous times. He gave us a peace which passes all understanding, as He said would be the case. He has given us strength to move mountains that would otherwise have destroyed us.
Note how Christ has changed the lives of friends and family. We often lament that some have gone astray and are living wretched lives. Such is true, but think of those who have been turned to the Lord and their lives are entirely different from once they were. All of these experiences are used by God to answer our prayer, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Yes, the apostles knew they were inadequate to do what the Lord had called them to do, but they learned after Pentecost that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they could become powerful people as the servants of Jesus Christ.
So also with us, our prayer needs to be, “Lord, increase our faith,” and that is why one of my requests in the sixty minutes with Jesus would be to ask Him to cast out my doubts and trust Him for all he has promised to do for and through me.
Rev. Homer Larsen