Question: Did the Savior teach his apostles that the power to perform miracles requires a great amount of faith and trust?
Answer: Jesus taught his apostles that in order to perform miracles they had to develop complete faith and trust in the Lord.
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1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb (who had been crippled since he was born) was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms (donations) of them that entered into the temple;
3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
5 And he (the cripple) gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he (the cripple) leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
10 And they knew that it was he which (who) sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
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Elder John K. Carmack, Of the Seventy:
Jesus Christ’s early Apostles opened a rich vein of pure gold for our consideration when they pleaded to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). The statement was made in the form of a request, perhaps asking for a free gift of greater faith, but the Savior responded with a statement and a parable, treating their request as if it were the question “How can we increase our faith?” As was so often the case with such inspired inquiries, this question opened the way for a powerful teaching opportunity of great worth to all of Jesus Christ’s truly committed followers. Indeed, increasing our faith in Him is one of our greatest needs today...
The Untapped Power of Faith
Jesus began His response by declaring, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed [a very tiny seed], ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Luke 17:6). Jesus often hinted at the untapped power of faith and thus affirmed its elusive value. Faith to do such a miracle would be power indeed...Surely Jesus did not mention the great power of faith merely to tease His Apostles by describing something beyond their grasp. More likely He expected some of them to discover and mine the gold hidden in the vein.
What is faith? Like a nugget of pure and precious gold ore, faith has many surfaces and defies a one-dimensional definition. The Apostle Paul’s statement that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (JST, Heb. 11:1) is a classic statement where we can begin our dig. Often in the scriptures, faith seems almost to be a synonym for belief, albeit a strong belief that leads to righteous living and action. Yet faith is based in the truth, whereas belief alone may be in what is true or false (see Alma 32:21)...
Remembering that Jesus spoke of the enormous power that a tiny seed of faith contained, we must conclude that in addition to belief, faith is also a principle of action and power. But unlike the belief part of faith, the power aspect of faith would not be dormant just because belief has progressed to knowledge. Faith as a principle of power continues to operate when the belief part of faith has grown to knowledge and caused that aspect of faith to become dormant. Such faith is a great tool to do the Lord’s work. ...
As the Apostles watched Jesus calm the roiling waves of Galilee, raise Lazarus from the dead, walk on water, and cause the man blind from birth to see, they desired greater faith that would enable them to participate in similar miracles. Later, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we see that their faith had actually risen to much higher levels. Thus they participated in experiences similar to those of the Savior, beginning with Peter and John’s healing of the lame man at the gate of the temple. In this and other miracles, they exercised great faith and used their priesthood, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (see Acts 3:4–8).
The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant
Let us return to Jesus’ response to His Apostles’ request for greater faith. After affirming the power of faith, He answered them with a parable. Perhaps they had expected a formula. Maybe they had expected Him to merely touch each of them and confer on them an increase of faith as a gift. That was not to be. His parable was extraordinary in its subtlety, probably to require the Apostles—and us—to think more than superficially about the subject of increasing one’s faith. Most of us pass by this clue to a rich vein of ore with merely a passing glance. I quote it in full:
“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
“And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
“Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow [think] not.
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:7–10).
At first reading, this answer is obscure to most of us. Where in this parable do we find the formula the Apostles might have expected? For that matter, how does the parable teach us how to increase our faith? It seems to ignore the Apostles’ request rather than answer it. We might have expected Jesus to say something clear and concise, such as: “To increase your faith you must pray more, study the written word of God more deeply, magnify your callings more fully, and fast to help you realize your utter dependence on God.” All of that is probably good counsel and true, but that is not how Jesus chose to respond to the request. That He chose to respond as He did is much to our benefit.
On another occasion, when the Apostles had failed in an attempt to cast an unclean spirit out of a man, they asked a question closely related to the subject we are considering. They asked Jesus, “Why could not we cast them out?” Jesus explained that it was because of their unbelief, or lack of faith. He further explained that if they had just a little faith, again likening faith to a mustard seed, they could remove mountains. “Nothing shall be impossible unto you,” He told them. But then He added significantly, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (see Matt. 17:18–21). It is clear, therefore, that prayer and fasting are a part of increasing faith and accessing its power. His fuller answer in response to the Apostles’ plea can lead to additional insight into what is required to gain greater faith.
Gratitude and Sacrifice
King Benjamin of the Nephites may have caught the meaning of Jesus’ parabolic answer as well as anyone. In the final teachings to his people, he explained that we are utterly reliant on our Lord, even for each day of our lives and our very breath. No matter how much we have served Him, even if with our whole souls, we are “unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21)...
Could this be what Jesus is teaching us in His parable? This begins to illuminate Jesus’ parable of the servant who comes into the house from plowing or feeding cattle, yet still must prepare a meal for his master before eating and drinking. In the parable, the master would neither thank his servant nor release him from the balance of his duties. Though the insistence on preparing the meal after a long day of work sounds harsh and ungrateful on its face, in reality that servant is greatly indebted to his master and will always be...Just keeping the commandments, while laudable, may be enough to maintain our faith but not enough to increase it. We must continue sacrificing and serving with no thought of reward. We do it out of love and gratitude for the Lord, to whom we owe everything.
Too often we allow ourselves to think or even say words like these: “I don’t deserve this setback. You’d think after all I’ve done, it would not have to be like this. Why must I prove myself over and over again? This is my time to rest from all this responsibility. I’ve done enough.”...
Complete Trust in the Lord
It thus seems that Jesus gave His Apostles a clue to the lonely and hard road that must be followed if they desired to increase their faith. He wasn’t saying, “Don’t bother to be obedient.” “Obedience,” He seemed to say, “is a beginning, but if you want faith as the ancient Apostles and Enoch, you have to do and be much, much more.” ... Likewise, the Apostles who attained greater faith also bore little resemblance to the good but ordinary men who responded to His call to the ministry. The road to increased faith is long and hard but is available to those willing to pay the price...
To summarize, we do not increase our faith by following a formula, although the ingredients of fasting, prayer, and righteous living are part of that process. Increasing our faith requires trusting the Lord with our whole souls. We cannot say, “We have done enough and deserve to rest.” Nor does the increase come through definitions, logic, or philosophy...
As members of the Lord’s Church, we can increase our faith, if we desire, by going beyond the minimum requirements of the gospel and developing complete trust in the Lord. All of this is part of the golden ore found in Jesus’ interesting and subtle parable given in response to the early Apostles’ request, “Increase our faith.”
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 103; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 8; Excerpts from the Ensign, March 2002, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” by Elder John K. Carmack, Of the Seventy.