Do you ever struggle with unbelief?
Do you ever have thoughts like, “I have prayed for this for years and nothing has happened, so what’s the use of praying”? Do you ever doubt God’s love for you? Or when you pray, do you ever feel like your prayers get about as high as your ceiling, then fall back to the ground? I often have to fight to believe God’s word, which is why I love the story in Mark 9…
In this chapter a man has a son who has been afflicted for years by a spirit that gives him seizures and makes him mute. He brings his son to Jesus, hoping he will heal him. He has probably prayed for his son for years. He has obviously heard about Jesus and his disciples doing amazing things, and hope has risen in his heart. Maybe here at last is an answer to his prayers. So he brings his son to Jesus and his disciples. But Jesus isn’t there. He is up on a mountain with 3 of his disciples. So the desperate father asks the other disciples to heal his son, but they are unable to.
While he’s still there, Jesus comes down from the mountain, the father runs to Jesus, and cries out to him:
“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” MK 9.17-18
Jesus has them bring the boy to him.
And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 20-23
We see the father’s doubt when he says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus is not offended by the “If you can!” but tells the father to have faith: “All things are possible for one who believes.” Which triggers the father’s desperate response:
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (24)
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that dad. Sometimes I struggle to believe God’s promises. If I have been praying about something for years, and have yet to see an answer, I can be tempted to wonder if God hears my prayers. Can think that maybe I’m praying in vain. Can you relate?
Sometimes it’s really difficult to have faith – we have to fight for it
Faith doesn’t always come easy. Paul talks about faith as a fight, a battle. He told Timothy:
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 TI 6.12
Paul describes this fight of faith in Ephesians 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. PHP 6.10-18
We have an enemy who constantly assaults our faith. He lies to us just like he lied to Eve: “Did God really say…?” “You won’t die, God wasn’t honest with you…You’ll be like God…” Satan constantly challenges God’s word and his promises…”Why would a loving God allow you to suffer like this? God isn’t faithful. God isn’t loving. Look at what happened to you, etc, etc.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to have faith when we or a loved one has been through tragedy or suffering. The man in Mark had watched his son suffer from childhood:
“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. …And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. (17-18)
21And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. (21-22)
The father had watched his son suffer seizures for years and years – his son was mute. His son would fall on the ground, roll around, twisting and grinding his teeth and foaming at the mouth, then become stiff. If the boy were near fire or water, his seizure would fling him into it. The father had probably prayed for years and years and seen nothing change. Then he heard about Jesus and his disciples so he brought his son to the disciples, and once again, nothing changed. No wonder he struggled with unbelief.
Some of my family members have suffered horrible afflictions for years. I pray for them almost every day. But I must admit, there are many times I’m tempted to unbelief. Sometimes I can’t understand why God doesn’t answer my prayers. I have to fight to believe that God is a rewarder of those who seek him. I have to fight to continue to believe Jesus heals. I believe he does, but I have to keep fighting.
I know many believers who have gone through horrific tragedies I can’t even imagine. To lose a child or a spouse or suffer a crippling accident is something I cannot even fathom. I can’t imagine how challenging it is for them to fight to believe God is good or that God heals. If you struggle with unbelief after a tragedy, I can understand that. And infinitely more so, our Lord can understand it.
The father’s humility – he admits his unbelief
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (23-24)
When Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
He wasn’t telling Jesus anything he didn’t already know. The father was humble. He admitted his weakness in front of the disciples and the great crowd that had gathered around. God hears the cries of the humble.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. PS 25.9
God tells us to humble ourselves before him, to do exactly what the father did, to cast all our cares on him:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PE 5.6-7
The dad cries out to Jesus for help with his unbelief
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
The father doesn’t merely admit his struggle with unbelief, he begs Jesus to help him with it. In essence, he cries out to Jesus to give him faith. “Jesus, I do believe, but my faith is so very weak. I really struggle with unbelief. Help me! Please give me more faith.”
If you’re struggling to believe God’s promises, tell him. He knows us inside out already. You’re not going to tell him something that will surprise him. We should always ask Jesus for whatever we need. After all, he said in Matthew 7:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! MT. 7:7-11
Do you struggle with unbelief? Ask Jesus for more faith! He’s just waiting to give it to you.
Jesus doesn’t rebuke the father, but works with the kernel of faith he has
Jesus doesn’t say, “Come back when you have gotten rid of this unbelief.” No! Jesus says, “So you believe? I can work with that. I’ll help you with your unbelief. I’ll use that little bit of faith you have.”
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” MT 17:20
Jesus can work with the tiniest seed of faith.
He took the father’s mustard seed of faith and healed his son. Jesus will take our tiny seeds of faith and use them to do great things. If you struggle with unbelief and feel like your faith is tiny, just bring it to Jesus. Admit your unbelief to him. He is waiting to help you. Ask him to increase your faith. He will!
All of us have to fight the good fight of faith. That’s the Christian life. Most of us struggle to have faith at times. We have an enemy who challenges our faith every day. We need to cling to God’s word and humble ourselves, cast our anxieties on Jesus and ask him for more faith. There is no shame in admitting you struggle to have faith. But don’t let your struggle hold you back from asking Jesus to help you with your unbelief and give you more faith