On a recent evening, a father was at home listening to a televised address by a Church leader as his 6-year-old son sat nearby in a chair, quietly playing a game on a laptop computer.
The father wondered if the boy was absorbing anything the speaker was saying. Presently, the son looked up and said, "Dad, exercise is good for your body and good for faith."
The father smiled as he reflected on what had happened: The boy's comment had been triggered by a phrase occurring in the speaker's discourse, a phrase used quite often in a scriptural or other gospel setting: "exercise faith." (See, for example, 1 Nephi 7:12 and Alma 34:17).
With his developing vocabulary, the boy had not interpreted the phrase with precisely the meaning it was intended. Generally, when we use the word exercise in the context of faith, we mean it in the sense of the dictionary definition "to put into action; use; employ" as in "to exercise self control."
The 6-year-old, however, had understood it in the sense of another dictionary definition: "to put (the body, a muscle, the mind, a skill, etc.) into use so as to develop or train."
Actually, the father mused, the two senses of meaning are rather closely associated. When a muscle, mind or skill is employed for some purpose, a side benefit is that it inherently grows stronger, keener, more efficient, more mature; it is developed and trained through exertion.
So it is with faith.
"Faith is a principle of action and of power," our Bible Dictionary states, "and by it one can command the elements and/or heal the sick, or influence any number of circumstances when occasion warrants. … Even more important, by faith one obtains a remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God."
The Bible Dictionary further instructs that faith in Jesus Christ "is more than belief, since true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action."
That faith is a quality which, through the grace of God, can be developed, strengthened and enhanced, seems to have been understood by a father who implored Jesus to rescue his son who was possessed by a foul spirit. With tear-filled eyes, the father said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
The man's faith undoubtedly was strengthened when he witnessed the Savior cast the spirit from his son. As the Bible Dictionary entry on faith points out, "Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; in other words, faith comes by righteousness, although miracles often confirm one's faith."
The scriptures are replete with dramatic accounts of blessings resulting from faith (see Hebrews 11 and Ether 12, wherein Paul and Moroni enumerate some examples). But most of the time, and for most people, faith's results are more quiet and personal, especially in the early stages when one is developing the capacity for faith.
That said, faith need not be great or profound to achieve results. As though to underscore that fact, Jesus said to His disciples, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you" (Matthew 17:20). Also, "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).
In a similar analogy, the prophet Alma compared the word of God to a seed that, when planted in one's heart and nourished by faith, eventually sprouts, grows and yields the fruit of a perfect knowledge (see Alma 32:27-43).
Likewise, Paul observed that faith yields such fruit when he wrote, "For by it the elders obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:2), meaning, according to an alternate translation from the Greek, that they received a witness, a testimony.
Some despair, grow frustrated, or even give up, when, after a period of time and endeavor, they have not received such a spiritual witness. They are like the would-be athlete who gets impatient while training to accomplish a particular feat when results do not come quickly enough to suit him. Both athlete and truth seeker need to take cognizance of progress that has been made and let that spur them on to renewed and persistent effort.
Viewing the phrase "exercise faith" with fresh eyes, the 6-year-old expressed himself in words that perhaps were wiser than he knew when he said, "Exercise is good for faith."