The other day a group of Christians was discussing how faith grows. One brought up praying for an increase in faith, and another spoke up and quoted Paul: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 ESV In my head, I went off on a tangent (only in my head though; I didn't want to get everyone off course). I got to thinking about how many times I've seen this same conversation take place (about increasing faith) and how often people bring up Romans 10:17 and quote it in a way that seems to me to indicate they think faith growth is merely a matter of reading more. If we read the Word more, we'll have greater faith. Now, I'm certainly disputing that spending time reading God's Word will increase your faith. I believe it will, and I strongly encourage you to practice the discipline of daily Scripture reading. But, I don't see that Paul was saying that's all there is to growing faith (it wasn't a statement of exclusivity), or that it was meant to be magic "faith pill". I believe we may be missing both the value and depth of what Paul was saying, and missing those other factors in the Christian walk that do indeed help to increase our faith.
Paul did not say, “So faith comes from reading.” He said, “So faith comes from hearing.” It may seem a simple thing, but there is a profound difference. The first would imply (as I've heard said and taught) that true faith only comes from reading the Scriptures (I don't know, does this come from the same [bad] idea that the Holy Spirit only works through our reading of the Scriptures?). The second is more encompassing. You see, we hear the word of Christ in many ways. Through the Scriptures, through preaching, through friends, through parents, through all kinds of media–music, books, etc. We hear the words of Christ spoken through the lives of His “witnesses” (see Hebrews11) and through those witnesses of His goodness today. Through all these avenues and many more, our faith is increased.
Just over two years ago, my faith increased. It did so as I heard the squeal of a newborn baby taking her first breaths, and as my wife and I looked at each other in utter awe and wonder of what God had done. Faith increases in our observation of life's wonders. God intended it to be so.
In Romans 1, Paul argues that all who ultimately reject God do so not out of ignorance, but out of selfishness. He argues that God's invisible qualities have been made evident through the creation in which we live, breath, and play out our lives. He implies that there is enough of God's character in the seen to create faith in the Unseen. And without ever picking up a book. How often have you witnessed the beauty of mountain peaks rising from the plain, or stood under the stars on a clear summer night and in the comfort of a gentle breeze thought, “How could I not believe?” Faith can increase in our observation of Creation.
A friend of mine stood on an assembly line and witnessed the character and joy of a Christian coworker day after day and came to believe that there “was something to this life” he was missing–that he desperately needed–and came to believe in God more deeply. He was soon baptized into Christ and is a vibrant, strong Christian man now. Faith can increase in witnessing the lives of the faith-filled.
A brother told me after he'd been a Christian for a while, “You know, when you first taught me that God answers prayer, I really didn't believe you. I thought that was too easy. But I prayed because I believed God wanted me to. And He answered my prayers several times. Now…I believe.” Faith can increase by trusting God through, even in spite of, doubt and questions.
I could keep giving examples, but you get the idea. I'd hate to think that a person who is seeking to deepen their faith would miss Paul's statement on the importance of the Scriptures in increasing our faith. But you know, I'm equally bothered by the idea that there may be people who are ignoring all these other opportunities to find their faith growing because they've been told faith only grows in proportion to our reading comprehension skills. Christ is trying to get His message across in so many ways, why not listen to them all, and let Him increase our faith beyond our imagination, beyond our reading level.
To close, I can't get that statement by the father in Mark 9:14-19 out of my head. “I believe. Help me in my unbelief!” Twice this week I've heard men (one a struggling to believe brother, the other calls himself an atheist–I don't believe he is) say that they want to believe, but can't escape certain doubts. I keep hearing in their voices that same prayer–I believe, help me in my unbelief. He will, you know. But don't box Him in to increasing your faith from just one direction. He'll surprise you. He'll increase your faith when you least expect it…just make sure you're paying attention when He does.