Have you ever whispered, “Help me believe, Lord! Help me have more faith!”?
Come meet a desperate father, crying out those words across twenty centuries. His son is possessed by a demon that throws the boy to the ground, leaving him rigid and foaming at the mouth.
Jesus’ disciples try to drive out the evil spirit, but fail. When the Lord arrives and learns what’s happened, he doesn’t mince words.
“O unbelieving generation” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Mark 9:19
Is it just me, or does he sound (forgive me, Lord) frustrated? “You faithless generation” (CEB), Jesus says. “You unbelieving people!” (NIRV) The interjection at the start must be what prompted some translators to add an exclamation point: “A! thou generation out of belief” (WYC) and “You faithless people!” (NLT).
Jesus goes on, perhaps with a note of weariness in his voice, “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (ESV) We can almost hear a long sigh. “How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?” (MSG).
I love seeing the human side of Jesus, openly expressing his emotions and showing us how real he is. He is the Son of God, yes, and also the Son of Man — fully divine, yet a living, breathing person, like the young man in this photo, who looks rather put out.
However frustrated Jesus might be, it seems he’s not chastising his disciples with this speech on faithlessness. Later, when they ask him privately why their deliverance efforts didn’t work, the Lord tells them, “The only way this kind of demon is put out is by prayer and by going without food” (Mark 9:29 NLV). He’s speaking to them as their teacher, telling them how to approach things next time, not scolding them for getting it wrong.
What Jesus is unhappy about is the spiritual state of the crowds who follow him, yet haven’t placed their trust in him. Because of their unbelief, demons roam the land. Because of their lack of faith, a young boy lies stiff on the ground. Because they doubt God’s power, they cannot call upon it.
Beloved, we needn’t wonder why there is so much evil and suffering in the world: it’s because the people who claim to worship God have stopped believing in God. We may acknowledge that a Creator exists somewhere out there, but deep down we don’t believe he can triumph over evil. We don’t believe he can really fix things. We don’t believe he is the great I AM.
Listen to this boy’s father, whose words reflect that kind of uncertainty:
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Mark 9:23
If Jesus can do anything? Clearly this man doesn’t know Who he’s talking to!
Yet, how often do we sound just as doubtful? We place our requests before God, then take them right back, fretting over how we’re going to solve our problems, not convinced God can really do anything about them.
The Lord repeats the man’s words back to him — not to mock him, but to underline this father’s misplaced doubt.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. Mark 9:23
It’s a gentle but firm reprimand, as well as a loving reminder: “What do you mean, ‘if you can’?” (CJB), Jesus says to him. He says it to us as well.
Then comes the good news we’ve been longing for, the response to the question, “Can you help us, Lord?” The answer, of course, is “Yes, yes, yes!”
“Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23
The poor man who thought nothing could be done, yet pleaded for something to be done, has just learned, “all things can be done” (NRSV). In fact, “anything” (CEV) and “everything is possible to someone who has trust!” (CJB).
His Word assures us of this truth over and over. “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27) and “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
We’re listening, Lord, and we want to believe. Help us. Please, help us.
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,…” Mark 9:24
This father doesn’t think at length about what Jesus just said. He doesn’t chew on it, consider it. No, he responds “instantly” (CJB), “straightway” (ASV), “at once” (GNT). And not only is he quick, he’s also emphatic. Loud, even. He “cried out” (CEB), he “shouted” (CEV), and did so “with tears in his eyes” (NLV).
We can almost feel the tightness in his chest, the stinging sensation in his nose as he tries to keep from crying. But he has to speak, has to blurt this out. Right now, right now.
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24
There it is: his confession of faith. And, in the same breath, his admission of doubt. What an example for all of us! He embraces the unbelief inside him — his fears, his uncertainties, his trust issues — and gives them to Jesus, telling him, “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more” (CEV).
For those of us who believe in God, trust in God, and yet have times when we doubt, moments when we lose heart, here is proof that we can admit our lack of faith to God and ask for his help. Incredible, isn’t it?
Last Sunday in church we sang an old hymn. I mean really old, like 1740. Charles Wesley simply called it, “Morning Hymn.” When we reached the third verse, I thought of this grief-stricken father and his longing to be done with doubt.
Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin, and grief,
Fill me, Radiancy Divine,
Scatter all my unbelief.
“Help my weak faith to be stronger!” (NLV) the man cries out. “Help me with my doubts!” (MSG).
The Word tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and yet God gives us that faith when we ask for it. Now, this is a God we can count on.
“Oh, but Liz. It’s hard to trust the unknown. It’s hard to believe the unseen.”
Truly, you can do this. In fact, we believe in things we can’t see every day of our lives.
Let’s say you order a pizza over the phone. When you hang up, you trust them to make your pizza, right? You don’t call back every five minutes and say, “Are you making it? Are you sure?” You believe. You trust. In fact, you know they are making your pizza. You’re so certain of it, you get in your car and drive there to pick it up, and aren’t the least bit surprised when they pull it out of the oven, fresh and hot.
Why do you have so much faith in the pizza place? Because the last twenty times you called, that’s how it worked. (Okay, there was that one time they accidentally gave your pizza to somebody else, but you still trusted them enough to order another one a week later.)
Time after time, they proved themselves trustworthy, yes?
Well, if you can trust the strangers who make your pizza, you can surely trust the One who made the sun, moon, and stars. God has proven his faithfulness over and over. Not twenty times — twenty thousand times. Truth is, you can’t put a number on it. “He is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).
As I wrote in this chapter of Embrace Grace, “It’s God’s faithfulness — not ours — that makes the difference. He can handle our suspicions and fears, our misgivings and apprehensions. He is not dissuaded by our cynicism, our incredulity. He understands doubt.”
In 1770 the explorer Captain Cook didn’t venture into a certain inlet on the coast of New Zealand, fearing he couldn’t navigate its waters under sail. He named it “Doubtful Harbor” (later called “Doubtful Sound” by whalers and sealers).
Some of us avoid our own Doubtful Harbors, fearing that if we dare to enter those unknown waters, if we confess our moments of unbelief, we’ll sink.
Yet it’s clear that Jesus’ disciples had such moments, especially after his death on the cross. And they definitely survived their doubts. When he returned after his resurrection, Jesus asked them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Luke 24:38).
He wasn’t angry with them for doubting — he simply wanted to help them believe. So he invited them to experience him in a personal way: “Touch me and see” (Luke 24:39).
Will this be the day you touch him, dear sister? Will this be the day you discover he is a God who can be trusted?
Now, it’s your turn:
I cannot thank you enough for your comments here each week. Your honesty, your bravery, and your vulnerability are precious to me, and your ministry to one another is even more so. Thank you for letting God’s Word do a cleansing work in your hearts.
This week’s questions are especially personal. Of the three, I’d encourage you to answer the third one, if only because your ideas might be a help to us all. I’ll include one brief answer, just to get things started, but it’s your responses that matter most.
- What doubts or fears — about God, about faith, about heaven — do you harbor in your heart?
- Pinpoint any experiences in your life that might have triggered such uncertainty.
- What would it take for you to put aside your doubts and fears and “just believe”?
After more than thirty years of knowing the Lord, most of my fears have faded like morning mist beneath a rising sun. But doubt still rears its ugly head now and again, especially when the enemy tries to discourage me with statements like, “You don’t really believe every word of the Bible is true, do you?” That’s when I’m grateful for all the Scriptures I’ve hidden in my heart. They stir inside me, strengthening my faith, so I can send that bad boy packing, with my confident words ringing in his ears: “Yes, I do believe!”
I look forward to reading your comments, and I’ll only jump in when needed. In the next chapter we’ll Embrace Faith with both arms. Until then, bless you for opening God’s Word with me!
Your sister, Liz