Did you know that there are more than 200,000 health and fitness clubs throughout the world? From local enterprises like your neighborhood YMCA to global corporations like Gold’s Gym, the industry reports an estimated $84 billion in annual revenue. Clearly, people understand the benefits of physical exercise!
But what about spiritual exercise? If building our physical strength and stamina is important, imagine how vital it is for us to continually work to strengthen our faith. As our faith strengthens, we become more forgiving and more peaceful. Strong faith leads to greater courage and deeper confidence in God. And best of all, it makes us more loving.
In the previous two articles, we looked at the faith of four people in the Gospels: the hemorrhaging woman, the blind beggar, the leper, and the sinful woman. Each had a faith that was bold and proactive. Each took a risk to seek Jesus and ask for his healing—and each was rewarded. Jesus said to each of them, “Your faith has saved you.” Now in this essay, we want to examine four ways that we can strengthen our faith. We want to see how exercising our faith in these ways can bring us closer to Jesus’ saving, healing touch.
1. Ask for More. The word believe can have many different shades of meaning. But the kind of belief that Jesus commends is something more than an intellectual agreement that something is true. It’s far more personal than that, and it’s far more active. It’s the kind of faith that propels us to act, a faith that moves us to stake some vital part of our lives on who Jesus is and what he can do in our lives.
This kind of faith means knowing not just that God is good or that he loves humanity in general. It means knowing that he loves you. It means trusting that Jesus wants nothing but good for you and that he delights in healing you and bringing you into a new relationship with him. It also means trusting that even if you don’t receive the precise physical healing you are asking for, Jesus is still healing your heart—he is still removing fear, anxiety, bitterness, or helplessness.
This is not the kind of faith that we can drum up on our own; it’s a gift from God. In fact, faith like this often flies in the face of human logic. On one level, we might say that it was illogical for the hemorrhaging woman to think that simply touching a piece of fabric could stop her incessant bleeding. But on a deeper level, it was completely logical. Mark tells us that she had heard about Jesus, and that the stories she heard convinced her that Jesus could heal her. So it wasn’t just her logical reasoning. It was her reasoning combined with an inner conviction that drove her to reach out to Jesus. That inner conviction, that drive toward Jesus, came from the Holy Spirit.
What kind of healing are you looking for this year? It may be an illness or medical condition. It may be a pattern of sin that you find hard to put away. It may be a sense of guilt or shame from some past sin. Or it may be the wounds inflicted on you by someone’s sin or carelessness. Whatever it is, Jesus can bring you freedom and peace. If you feel doubtful, ask for the faith to believe. Ask him to give you more of his grace so that you can place your life in his hands more fully.
2. Persist in Prayer. When he wanted to teach his disciples how to pray for things they needed, Jesus told a parable about a widow who was relentless in seeking justice from a corrupt, indifferent judge. This widow ultimately prevailed because she never stopped asking. Jesus then asked, “If this crooked judge finally gave in, don’t you think God will hear and answer us when we cry out to him?”
But Jesus doesn’t want us to think that we can get whatever we want just by pestering God. That’s why he ended by asking a pointed question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). He linked persistent prayer with faith. In essence, he was telling us that our prayers should come from a place of trust and belief. He was telling us that the best possible prayer we could make is the prayer of his Mother, Mary: “May it be done to me according to your word” (1:38). It’s the same as praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” and “not my will but yours be done” (Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:42).
So the persistence Jesus is looking for is the kind that keeps praying, “Lord, you know I want this healing. You know how much I am hurting. But I trust that you know what is best for me, and so I will surrender myself to you.”
We know how challenging the spiritual life can be. This is why Jesus tells us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. He knows how easy it can be for us to place our needs in God’s hands—only to take them up ourselves again and try to resolve everything on our own.
So don’t stop petitioning your heavenly Father for the healing you need! But at the same time, don’t stop asking him to deepen your faith. Keep praying, just as the persistent widow did, and watch how God changes not only your situation but your heart as well. He may not grant you the exact healing you are asking for, but he will certainly draw you close to his side and pour out his grace—maybe in ways far more wonderful than you were asking for.
3. Repent of Sin. Nothing blocks our experience of God’s healing power more effectively than sin. Each transgression, each act of selfishness or disobedience, is like a thin layer of gauze over our hearts. If we don’t deal with these sins, the layers will build up and create a stronger and stronger barrier between ourselves and God. Either we will end up feeling so guilty that we won’t believe Jesus loves us anymore, or our consciences will become so dulled that we won’t even notice how far from the Lord we have wandered. And the further from the Lord we are, the harder it is for us to open ourselves to his healing power.
This is why daily repentance and regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are so important. Jesus doesn’t ask us to confess our sins because he wants us to feel bound in guilt or because he wants to beat us down. He wants to set us free. He wants to heal us, spiritually as well as physically. In fact, physical healing often follows after spiritual healing. This is why St. James exhorts us: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). He knows that by clearing out the spiritual barriers of sin, we are paving a path for God to come closer to us and to heal us.
Think of the sinful woman from Luke 7. Jesus could tell that this woman had been touched by his message of mercy and forgiveness. It was this experience of being forgiven, in fact, that moved her to anoint Jesus’ feet and weep tears of gratitude over him. Because she had put away her old life, she felt free enough to rush into Jesus’ presence and worship him. That freedom enabled her to hear his promise that, not only was she forgiven, but she was saved and healed as well!
So don’t let any sin stand between yourself and the Lord. If it has been too long, go to Confession and get right with God. Repent, and you will experience the power of Jesus’ mercy to heal and restore.
4. Be Confident. Finally, be confident! Rest assured that your Father in heaven knows what you need even before you ask (Matthew 6:8). He won’t give you a snake when you ask for a fish; he won’t give you a scorpion when you ask for an egg (Luke 11:11-12). He longs to heal you—body and soul—even more than you long to be healed.
So every day, as you come before the Lord, ask for more faith. Keep praying for healing, even if you have to ask again and again. Repent of any sin in your life. Then trust that your Father hears you and knows exactly what you need.
This kind of “spiritual workout” can’t help but strengthen your faith. It can’t help but bring you into the presence of the One who has the power to heal you—and the wisdom to know exactly how and when to do it. May God bless you with his healing grace as this new year unfolds.