GraceLife Church of Pineville

Grace alone. Faith alone. Christ alone.

Live by Faith: Strengthen Faith (Part 2)

Table of Contents

Scripture Focus: Various passages

Let me tell you a story, and I want you to think through what a person of strong faith would have done. Here’s the situation:

You’re part of a new and growing group. But with the increase in growth comes a little chaos. In fact, you’re part of the leadership team tasked with solving the problem, and the issues are mounting. There is potential neglect. There is potential financial mismanagement. There are some administrative problems that need to be solved, but those problems can’t be separated from the real and felt issues, the personal relationships.

Territorial tension is high. There are cultural differences. There are language barriers. The optics are particularly bad because the victims in the scenario depend on your group for daily care, and they haven’t been getting it.

What do you do? What action do you take that results in someone saying, “Now there’s a person of strong faith!”?

If the story sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve read something similar in Acts 6. Why do I appeal to this story and ask what a person of strong faith would have done? What does Acts 6 have to do with our current study on strengthening faith? Let’s familiarize ourselves with the details of the story and find out:

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews1These were the Jews who had adopted the Greek language and much of the Greek culture. against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1–4)

Follow me for a moment, because there’s a lot contained in this passage that’s beneficial. But as Acts 6 itself shows, with increased benefit comes the possibility of increased abuse, and we don’t want to be guilty of mishandling the text.

Individual and Collective Strengthening

Think of strengthened faith on two levels: individual faith and communal (or collective) faith—in other words, faith that is strengthened individually and faith that is strengthened collectively. Strong individual faith is important, which we’ll see if we continue reading:

… and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:5b–6)

They chose Stephen, a man—an individual—full of faith.

But communal (collective) faith is also commended across the New Testament. For example, the apostle Paul praises the Ephesians for their collective faith in his letter to them (Ephesians 1:15). In addition, Jesus, in the book of Revelation, commends the faith of the collective church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:19).

My charge—to local bodies of believers everywhere—is for a strengthened faith both individually and collectively. There’s a synergistic expectation here:

  • Your strong individual faith makes for a strong communal faith. (You can’t have a strong communal faith if you don’t have strong faith individually.)
  • Our strong communal faith provides the environment for a growing individual faith.
  • When both are present (individual and collective strengthening), the work of God’s kingdom is accomplished.

Plurality and Priority

The second thing to notice in Act 6 is that there exists both a plurality and priority in matters of faith. The plurality of ministries present includes:

  • Discipleship
  • Evangelism
  • Food service
  • Widow care
  • Administration
  • Benevolence

This plurality of ministries does not exist without priority. Let’s review two verses from Acts 6:

So the twelve [disciples of Jesus] summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. … But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (vv. 2, 4)

Let’s extract another principle from this passage—but let’s do so carefully, because there’s potential for mishandling this Scripture.2People love to wrangle over this passage. Just ask someone what Acts 6 says about deacons. Some will say, “Obviously, this was the first set of deacons,” while others will say, “Obviously not—the word deacon isn’t even used here.” The ministry of the apostles was unique. Even their devotion to prayer and their devotion to the ministry of the word, by nature of their calling as apostles, was distinct from what we see in the local church today. But their ministry was not so unique that we can’t recognize what’s generally true here. The timeless principle of this passage in Acts 6 is that devotion to prayer and devotion to Scripture hold a primary position.

There are a lot of fine details we could parse regarding how this plays out in a congregation, but the big picture is that strong faith is built upon a foundation of communication with God. Prayer and Scripture are the means of that communication. There is no faith toward God, much less a strong faith toward God, if we are not in a posture to receive and commune with Him. Apart from the communication with God in the form of prayer and the hearing of His word, the church is weak and its individual members feeble.

Apart from the communication with God in the form of prayer and the hearing of His word, the church is weak and its individual members feeble.

I highlight this to implore you to hear what I have to say regarding prayer and Scripture. Resist the urge to dismiss this instruction as trite. We’ve discussed the first way to strengthen faith: to return if you’ve been faithless. The next two ways we are about to discuss are as simple as the first, and consequently, we run the risk of ignoring them because of their familiarity. They are unsophisticated. They are expected. 

To strengthen faith:

  1. You must pray.
  2. You must take in the word of God.

I know what you’re thinking: Boring. I’ve heard this before.

Let’s think through the context in which these words of Acts 6 were originally written.

The early followers of Jesus have gathered and it’s as though they are saying to the Twelve, Hey, apostles, what are you going to do about this problem, this public crisis, that’s brewing?

The apostles respond, in essence, We’re going to stay committed to prayer and the word.

We know that. But what are you really going to do? We’ve got a church that needs strengthening here!

The apostles reiterate: We will prioritize prayer and the word of the Lord.

As basic as prayer and God’s word are, we would be remiss if, in our lessons on living by faith and specifically on strengthening faith, we failed to prioritize these two things.

The Priority of Prayer

Look at Matthew 17:14–21:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.”3From other passages of Scripture, it’s clear that the man was demon-possessed. And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

Don’t lose the point here because of the extreme nature of this encounter. I understand that you’re probably not running into demon-possessed people—knowingly, anyway—on a regular basis. But here’s a summary of the point of this passage: Weakness in the realm of faith results in ministerial deficiency. Strength is gained through prolonged exertion. The same is true in physical exercise or weightlifting: You don’t gain strength by picking up something heavy one time. Strength is gained through prolonged exertion, and the disciples apparently had not put in the work.

Strength is gained through prolonged exertion.

As to some of the specifics about this story:

  • I do not know why some demons can’t be defeated unless you pray or fast.
  • I don’t know why or how demons operate, period!
  • I couldn’t begin to tell you how my spiritual choice to deny my physical body would result in someone else’s physical deliverance from a spiritual It just happens!
  • I don’t know why or how anything works because of prayer. Do this … get that. Believe this … receive that. I don’t understand the rules of this place!

I’m reminded by the words of G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy, in which there’s a great chapter titled “The Ethics of Elfland” where he addresses the notion of trying to get behind this formula of why some option is activated or denied based on some other condition:4In this chapter, he takes up the topic of fairy tales and how the world works within those tales. He is making the point that such tales have something to teach us about how our own world operates.

[A]ccording to elfin ethics all virtue is in an “if.” The note of the fairy utterance always is, “You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word ‘cow”’; or “You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.” The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.

… but the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.5Read the full chapter here:

There are a lot of things I hope you will understand about faith. I want you to plumb its depths! That’s why I’m spending so much time preaching on the topic (this is the 24th sermon on it). But when it comes to this matter of prayer, the concept is clear even if you never understand the why: There is a strengthening of faith that comes via prayer. It is a mysterious grace. And there must always be some mystery preserved in matters of faith.

A strengthening of faith comes via prayer. It is a mysterious grace. 

What about Fasting?

The story in Matthew 17 mentions the need for both prayer and fasting to get certain demons to go away. I won’t spend a lot of time on the practice of fasting now, but I’ll say this: Beyond the science of fasting, and beyond the mystical nature of fasting, there lies this truth: Fasting is the reliance upon God. And reliance upon God is faith.

Fasting is the reliance upon God. And reliance upon God is faith.

Fasting is often paired with prayer because, when doing both together, your whole being is in a posture of dependence upon God—being fed from above.

If we can extract a principle from this Scripture—one that is generally applicable, regardless of whether you’re encountering the demoniac or other lunatics in life—it’s this: There are things in your life that will not move. There are enemies that will dig in. There are hurts for which you will be helpless. And it might be that some of them could be cast away by God in connection with your devotion to prayerful reliance upon him.

There are things in your life that will not move. There are enemies that will dig in. There are hurts for which you will be helpless. And it might be that some of them could be cast away by God in connection with your devotion to prayerful reliance upon him.

I can hear your objection: This prayer and fasting business is just for the big stuff like exorcism and mountain moving. No, that’s not the point. The point is that prayer is effective even in those large and extreme situations. But we should certainly give it a try in all things.

Without prayer, your faith will not pass the endurance test.

So my admonition is: Pray. By it you will gain strength; you will build yourself up. That’s not my idea; it’s straight out of Scripture. Jude 20 affirms it:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit …

Note the advantage we have over those who are of a worldly mind. We’re built up in faith because of our connection to God in prayer via the Holy Spirit. Worldly people are the opposite, and Jude 19 speaks of them: “[They] are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.” Worldly people do not build up but tear down. Why? Because they don’t have the Spirit.

Also of value in the book of Jude is the introduction of the charge to take in the word of God, which comes in the context of the instruction to pray:  

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ … (Jude 17)

We’ve discussed how prayer strengthens faith. Let’s turn to how taking in the word of God strengthens faith.

The Priority of Taking in God’s Word

Take a look at John 5:46–47, mindful that the term used for “believe” in this passage (as in other places in the Bible) is the same as the one used for “faith,” but in verb instead of noun form:

For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

This is an interesting statement by Jesus: “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me.” This is not like saying, “If you believed Peter, you would believe Paul” or “If you believed Matthew, you would believe John.” Those men were contemporaries. You could have theoretically spoken with them at the same time. Jesus and Moses, by contrast, lived 1,500 years apart! Jesus sets up a clever dilemma. He establishes that believing Moses is about believing the Scriptures. And the one believing the Scriptures—not just believing their own interpretation (everyone does that), but believing the truth that is actually contained in the Scriptures (remember, faith is measured by the worthiness of its object)—must recognize that the Scriptures point to believing Jesus.

There’s an inextricable link between one’s devotion to Jesus and one’s attitude about the Scriptures, the word of God. Your Christian faith cannot be strong if your belief in the Scriptures is weak. Some will say, “Just give me Jesus. I like Jesus, but I don’t need all these words and theology and Old Testament.” Yet, Jesus says all those words (in the Old Testament) are about Him. Jesus and God’s word are inextricably linked.

Your Christian faith cannot be strong if your belief in the Scriptures is weak.

Let’s see what else the Scriptures say about growing stronger by taking in the word of God. Look at Romans 10:17, which offers a simple statement—simple, but with an impact that lasts for all eternity:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Please hear me, especially if you’re a younger person: Do not ignore that internal voice that is encouraging you to be a person of faith. Because you can be. You really can. Your desire in this regard is important. It’s a big desire. But a desire that is that large, that important, can become greatly twisted. You’ll be tempted to have great faith in things that you generate yourself or that the world generates for you. They will seem like shortcuts to faith. They aren’t. They are short circuits. Don’t fall for them. We live in a sound-bite culture. Sound theology, strong theology, strong faith, won’t be built via a series of inspirational Instagram posts. There is one source of faith, according to the Scriptures: hearing the word of Christ.

There is one source of faith, according to the Scriptures: hearing the word of Christ.

If you’re not as young, that message is for you too. But if you’ve already traded the meat of the word for the meme of the day, I fear it might be too late. I pray not. I urge you to recall the day of your beginning. In fact, I urge all of us—old and new believers, of all ages—to do that: Consider the day of your beginning. How did your journey of faith begin? If you’re a follower of Jesus, it began by hearing His word. And we will not complete the journey by some other means. We begin our journey of faith by the word of God, and we finish it the same way.

We begin our journey of faith by the word of God, and we finish it the same way.

Devote yourselves to the word of God! Read it, buy books that discuss it, listen to it being preached. There is power in just hearing the word of God. By the word of God, this very world was created (cf. Psalm 33:6). The word of God stirs the Spirit that is within you.6What’s said here about the “word” of God is applicable to any of God’s verbal utterances, whether spoken or written. The normative means for our hearing of the word today—and the means by which you will strengthen faith—is taking in the written word of God contained in Scripture. It secures truths within you that allow you to combat the lies of the world (cf. John 17:17).

Hebrews 4:12 says “the word of God is living and active.” Those words were written in the context of a people who had become dull of hearing—they, like the Israelites before them, were in danger of hardening their hearts upon hearing God’s voice (v. 7). Like the word of God, our faith should be living and active. Is it? Or is it lying dormant? If it’s dormant, I challenge you to take in the word—it is living and active.

The word of God is also living and enduring. That’s the message from the apostle Peter:

You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)

The word of God is living and active; is your faith living and active? The word of God is living and enduring; is your faith living and enduring? If not, take in the word of God.

Peter goes on to say:


“All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25)

You and I are like grass, like flowers that fall off. We eventually die. But God’s word lives on forever. And this is the word that we (and other faithful Christians around the globe) preach every Sunday. It’s the word we’ll preach until our faith is strengthened. It’s the word we’ll preach until our faith becomes sight.

Application: Read and Pray

The application to this sermon is obvious: read and pray. You can even combine these two practices into one: Read prayerfully. 

You don’t have to read through the whole Bible in a year. You don’t have to follow an elaborate reading plan. But here’s one idea: Consider reading through the Psalms and Proverbs over the course of a year. Here’s one possible plan to do that.

When opening the Bible to read, many don’t know what to do next. Let me give you an example of how to prayerfully engage His word.

Consider the January 22 reading in the plan linked above: Psalm 11. The first step is to read the passage. Then, ask questions about what you read. Finally, make the psalm part of your prayer.

Step 1: Read

Here are all seven verses of Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge;
How can you7The psalmist, King David, is talking to a hypothetical objector. say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain;
For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,
They make ready their arrow upon the string
To shoot in darkness8In other words, he doesn’t know where these attacks are coming from. (By contrast, he does know where God is—enthroned above, as he will remind himself two verses later, in verse 4.) at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face.

Step 2: Ask Questions

Challenge yourself as you read to ask questions like:

  • Am I taking refuge in the Lord?
  • Are there those in my life giving me bad advice, telling me to flee when I shouldn’t?
  • What’s my reaction when enemies take aim?
  • Am I more focused on my enemies than on the presence of the Lord?

Step 3: Turn It into a Prayer

After reading and meditating on the passage, turn it into a prayer. Praying is effective, and praying the word of God is very effective. Here’s a possible prayer based on Psalm 11:

Father, You are my refuge. Strengthen my faith to rest in You. Strengthen my faith while I rest. Help me resist the urge to take refuge anywhere else. Speak to me Your words, so that I might reject the words of those who tell me to run away. Father, may I not fear the arrows that fly in the dark. Remind me not to worry about the unknown location of my enemies. Remind me to focus upon your known presence. You are seated in holiness; Your eyes see through the dark. May I not seek a high vantage point for myself. May I trust instead in Your rule from the highest heaven. May I seek your face so that I might know righteousness and take refuge in Your love.