Want More Faith? Start Listening

January 14th, 2014

If you want to start a lively discussion, just bring up the subject of faith. Not faith in the religion sense (What faith do you belong to?), but faith meaning belief or trust (How much faith do you have?)

In a society where we value equality, suggesting that faith can or should be quantified is almost taboo. Oh, we don’t have so much of a problem with the notion that someone can train and run faster or farther than someone else. And if I practice shooting free throws and get my percentage higher than another person, it may irritate them and spur competition, but it doesn’t usually offend anyone. Even if they’re envious, people usually have a certain amount of respect for those who discipline themselves and produce fruit from that discipline. But if you suggest that someone has a lot of faith, or that perhaps someone lacks faith, you may suddenly have a fight on your hands.

Make no mistake, to a certain degree, faith is a gift. Just like natural talents and the basic blessings of life itself, the Bible tells us that God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of us (Romans 12:3.) We all start with something, even if it only seems like the capacity to believe. That’s good news, and a reminder that grace is unmerited. And no matter how mature we get, there are times when we need a supernatural burst of faith from God. 1 Corinthians 12 even lists faith as one of the nine supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

But the curious thing is, faith is also mentioned in Scripture as a fruit of the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-23. Some translations use faithfulness here, but the Greek word is the same word from 1 Corinthians 12:9.)

The difference is, gifts come easily. Fruit, not so much. You have to put in some effort. But the simple principle at work here is this: you have to take what God gives you and develop it. (Parable of the talents anyone?) Consider Michael Jordan, by any measure one of the most gifted basketball players ever. And yet he still needed to practice. He had to work hard to take his skills to the next level. And the next, and the next.

So how does one get more faith? Ask God for more and wait for it? Asking certainly isn’t a bad idea. I know I want all the faith I can get. So I ask for it and ask often. But I also want to take the faith I already have and do whatever I can to increase it. The Bible suggests that one way to do that is by listening. Romans 10:17 says faith comes from listening. (Some translations use the word hearing.) And it’s not listening to just anything, it’s listening to Christ’s message—the word of God.

I like the word listening here better than hearing because you can hear someone without listening. The words can sometimes be used interchangeably, but to me, listening carries the connotation of giving one’s attention to something, taking notice, or heeding. You can hear advice without listening to it. And you can read the Bible without listening too. I believe there's a connection between the way we view Scripture and how it affects our faith.

When we hear listen to what God is saying (note the present tense), that is how faith comes. It’s not always going to seem magical or instantaneous—in fact, sometimes the process feels quite laborious. But while we’re waiting for God to help our lack of faith (see Mark 9:24) in an obvious supernatural way , it’s good to know that we can do something now to increase our faith. We can spend time listening to God. And a big part of that is approaching God’s word with a teachable attitude. That’s the secret to getting more faith.

But there’s also such a thing as negative faith. This can be doubt, or it can be faith in the wrong things. The principle of faith coming through listening is the same. The things we really give our attention to are the things that are going to impact what we believe and where we place our trust. That’s why I always try to keep an open mind, but if I discover that an influence is helping produce the wrong kind of fruit in my life, I make it a point not to pay heed to that particular voice anymore. At the very least, I try to be more discerning. An influence can be anything—friends, movies, television shows, song lyrics, even family. And the things we make into idols are the very things most likely to usurp the position of God’s word producing faith in our lives. We’ll probably get more faith from those things, but it’s not going to be the kind we want!

What voices are you listening to the most? How are those voices affecting your faith? What can you do to listen to God’s voice more and not just hear it?

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and editor of the Converge Bible Studies series from Abingdon Press. Connect with Shane on Google+Twitter, and FacebookSign up to receive Shane's posts free via email.

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