Have you ever been in an impossible situation? One that you had no ability to change in your own strength?
Have you ever struggled with serious doubts?
I used to think doubt was a sign that I was a bad Christian. That if I ever questioned God’s power or his sovereignty, then there was something wrong with me. That if I ever questioned the legitimacy of Christ or the Bible, that I was in serious error. Having struggled with crippling illness and depression for years, at times I wondered if my faith was even genuine at all. It isn’t easy to admit that have these thoughts, but I no longer feel bad about having them.
Because I have come to believe that Jesus has no problem hearing and answering my questions. In fact, I am convinced that he welcomes our honesty, and rewards our boldness to be vulnerable with him. It’s not always easy to have faith when we suffer or experience a delay in answers. Fortunately, Christ is not intimidated by our skepticism.
Let’s get one thing out of the way- I don’t believe it is always God’s will to do what we want. I’m not really into the “name it and claim it” types of doctrines that well-meaning Christians sometimes push.
As hard as it may be to hear, there will be times when we pray in faith, and don’t get the answer that we expect. He may not heal the disease or give you the salary that you want. He may not change the heart of your spouse or intervene in all of your broken relationships. And if he doesn’t, I am inclined to think that there is a good reason for that. Maybe one that you won’t understand in this lifetime.
However, when God sets his mind on answering our prayers, there is absolutely nothing that can stop him. And let’s be honest; When He does show up, it’s pretty hard to miss. If have ever witnessed a miracle then you know it’s often difficult to even wrap your head around it. And when it happens, it’s very often so “last minute” that you would never expect it to happen. Sometimes we don’t get our answers until we’ve exhausted all other options.
There is a story in the book of Mark that I find very relatable. For anybody who is dealing with difficulty, this one might hit close to home. If you are having doubts, then you may find it comforting to know that there are plenty of people in the Bible who struggled to come to terms with their human feelings.
In this specific example, Jesus has stumbled upon his disciples, surrounded by a crowd, as the “teachers of the law” challenged them. After addressing the situation, he receives a response from a desperate man, who’s son is in dire condition.
Mark 9:17-29-One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
Jesus said to them,“You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,”he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”
Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”
Admittedly, this is a pretty crazy story. It’s not every day that we encounter a situation which involves not just a physical problem, but an instance of demonic possession. Whether or not you believe in demons (it’s pretty hard to imagine all of this playing out), it is a clear example of a situation that required a drastic intervention.
Now, it might be easy to read this passage and think that it’s a simple story about believing Jesus so that he will answer your prayer. However, upon further examination of this interaction, a couple of details stick out to me.
The first is the man’s reply to Jesus’s proclamation that anything is possible if we believe. In response the man exclaims, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
Have you ever had faith, and yet struggled with unbelief at the same time? If there is anything we can take from this conversation, it’s that this is entirely possible. This often happens when our head and our heart can’t seem to agree. We might want to believe, but find it difficult to get past our own barriers of rationality. Our common sense can sometimes prevent us from fully embracing the childlike faith that we wish we had.
What I like about this interaction is that Jesus doesn’t tell the man to get over his unbelief. He doesn’t wait until this poor guy gets his act together. He doesn’t demand that he remove all unbelief before getting involved in this predicament.
Instead, Jesus gets right to work. He takes care of this emergency situation, promptly and effectively. He did what nobody else could accomplish. And yes we do in fact, get our happy ending.
The boy is healed.
What we can take from this, is that Christ honored this man’s request to help him overcome his unbelief. Even in his doubts, Jesus was compassionate to this man’s plight. It is not so much about our ability to live up to God’s perfect standard of faith, as it is about him showcasing his own faithful nature toward us.
The second thing I noticed, is Christ’s response to his disciples. When asked why they weren’t able to cast out the demon themselves, he replied “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”
In other words, sometimes prayer is the only answer to our problems. When we have done all we can do, there are times when we will have to fully rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to take care of that situation. If your issue is too big for you, that may be because it’s not for you to handle.
So if you find yourself struggling with doubt today, don’t let that create a barrier between you and Jesus. If you have any conviction at all, don’t allow your unbelief prevent you from approaching him in prayer. You don’t have to have the perfect words. In fact, you don’t even need to have the perfect heart. You don’t need to have your act together, or all of your ducks in a row. You don’t need to be free of doubt in order to receive help.
All you need is the will to pray. An open mind and heart to accept whatever answer Jesus may choose to give in response to your need. He will either give you a miracle, or the grace to get you through the storm.
When in doubt, simply be vulnerable. Be willing to be honest about what you need and what you want. When all else fails, ask Christ to do what you can’t. Ask him to move what you can’t move.
Ask him to help your unbelief.
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