“I believe; help my unbelief!”

belief faith gospel of mark jesus

One of the most entertaining things to ever happen to me occurred while I was attending a conference in Pittsburgh during the fall of 2020.  The conference was held in the downtown area, right by the baseball stadium.  In areas like that, parking is always hard to come by, but thankfully, there was a parking garage within walking distance of the conference venue that I was able to utilize.

 Everything went fine for the first day of the conference.  The sessions were great.  I even made some new friends, and at the end of the day I walked over to the parking garage to pick up my car and was able to drive back to my hotel without any issues.  The second day also went really well.  We all enjoyed our time together, and several of us grabbed a late dinner after the final session, but when I went back to retrieve my car, the parking garage was completely shut down and the rolling gates that cover the entrances and exits had also been rolled down and locked.

 I honestly wasn’t sure what to do, and one of my friends said to me, “How are you going to get your car out of there?  You must be furious!”  My reply, however, surprised him.  I wasn’t mad about it.  I actually found the whole thing rather entertaining and I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I bet it’s going to become a great story, and I think I’ll probably get my car out of there.”

 Eventually, I ended up squeezing myself under the gates so I could get inside the garage.  Then, with the help of my friends on the outside, I located an unlabeled button on one of the walls that electronically opened the entrance gate.  Once it was opened, I was able to awkwardly maneuver my car out of the building.  I even made a point to leave my payment and lock the place back up after my car was out.

 We were all entertained by what took place, but what really stood out to one of my friends, in particular, was my faith that it would all work out.  He didn’t really understand why the incident didn’t make me angry, especially because the garage was in the wrong since they locked the building earlier than posted.  In reply, I said to him, “Years ago, this would have most certainly been the kind of thing that would have provoked my anger, but things are different now.  At this season, my faith is a little stronger than it used to be, and I’ve learned that inconveniences like this tend to work out just when when given enough time.”

 Maybe you’ve been noticing something similar in your own life.  Over time, the longer we walk with Jesus, the stronger our faith becomes and the better we’re able to respond to the trials of life.  That was a lesson the disciples and the crowds of onlookers were also taught in Mark 9:14-29.

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”  (Mark 9:14-16)

Have you ever had a moment with your children when you stepped away from them for just a moment only to return and discover absolute chaos?  I wonder if that’s how this particular moment felt to Jesus.  He had just taken Peter, James, and John up the Mount of Transfiguration where they were enabled to see His divine glory revealed, but now as they returned to the rest of the disciples and the crowds that had gathered with them, the situation seemed tense and dramatic.  The scribes and the disciples were arguing about something, and a crowd was present to observe and participate in the spectacle.  Jesus asked them to clarify what all the arguing was about.

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.”  (Mark 9:17-18)

 A loving parent would do just about anything to help one of their children in need, and this father was genuinely concerned for the well-being of his son.  His son was possessed by a demonic spirit that made him unable to speak.  The demon would also cause other physical problems for the boy that had been an ongoing issue, and even though the disciples had been able to cast demons out of other afflicted people in the past, they were unable to cast this particular demon out of this boy.  I imagine this whole incident felt like a complete spectacle at this point.

And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought 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. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.”  (Mark 9:19-22a)

 Seeing all this take place, Jesus pointed out the deeper spiritual issue that was present in the crowd and even among His disciples.  If you asked the crowd to describe the problem here, they would have said, “The problem is that the disciples of Jesus can’t cast this demon out of the man’s son, and this demon seems bent on killing the boy.”  But Jesus revealed that the bigger problem was the lack of faith that encompassed that entire generation.  They were so bent on walking by sight that expressing heartfelt faith seemed so distant.

 As far as I can tell, this seems to be a struggle in our times as well.  We also live in an era that strongly prefers to walk by sight.  In some contexts, faith is seen as a weakness or a fantasy.  It’s thought of as a wish, not a reality.  But consider what Scripture reveals to us about the nature of genuine faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (Heb. 11:1) 

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  (Heb. 11:6)

 Faith pleases God.  When we walk through life learning to trust Him in every circumstance, He delights in the development and maturation of our faith.  Likewise, it can be said that our lack of faith has the capacity to grieve the heart of God, particularly in light of everything He has already shown us and how He meets our needs day after day, and has continued to do so all throughout our lives.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:22b-24)

 As the father continued speaking with Jesus he demonstrated the deeper problem that was present with one simple word, “If.”  The man literally said to Jesus (who is the author and perfecter of our faith, the one who spoke creation into existence and upholds it by His powerful word), “if you can do anything.”  If you can do anything?  How insulting it must be for the author of creation and Savior of the world to hear such a thing.  

 But Jesus is patient with humanity, and He demonstrated His patience in His reply to the man.  He assured him that everything is possible, even the seemingly impossible, when we genuinely believe in Jesus.  That’s a lesson this father needed to learn.  It’s a lesson that we will spend our entire earthly lives learning as well.  I appreciate the man’s humble response to these words of Jesus when he said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

 That’s a response we probably find easy to identify with.  A mature faith tends to develop over time.  Having walked with Jesus for multiple decades, my faith feels stronger now than it did at an earlier season of life, and by God’s grace, I desire to see it grow stronger than it presently is.  But this is what I have observed.  The more I’ve been blessed to witness the hand of God at work in my life, comforting me in grief, guiding me through trials, orchestrating my circumstances, opening up doors I’m supposed to walk through, introducing me to people I’m supposed to meet, resolving long-standing issues that I didn’t have the capacity to solve, and answering prayers in miraculous ways, the deeper my trust in Him is growing.  

 Maybe you feel the same way.  Day by day, He’s replacing your unbelief with genuine faith.  You’ve seen too much to ignore the reality of His hand accomplishing amazing things all around you, and your faith is growing stronger.  That’s such a beautiful thing to observe.

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  (Mark 9:25-29)

After speaking words of admonition to the boy’s father, Jesus rebuked the demon and commanded it to leave the child and never return.  The demon had no choice but to obey, but later in the day, Christ’s disciples wanted to know more about what was going on here.  In the past, they were able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, but this demon wasn’t like the others.  It wouldn’t obey them and they were confused, so Jesus gave them further information about the nature of this kind of spiritual warfare.

 Jesus said this kind of demonic entity cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.  Some translations of Scripture translate this passage to say, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, KJV).

 Again, what is Jesus communicating to us here?  He’s saying that faith in Him is the deciding factor as to whether or not we see certain seemingly impossible things in our lives take place.

 If you’ve been around long enough, you know that our time on earth is filled with trials.  Some would argue that we progress through an ongoing stream of trials from the moment of our birth until we are eventually glorified in the presence of Jesus.  I’ve seen my share of trials and you have as well.  Some are brief and relatively painless.  Others stick around for a long time and have the capacity to severely weigh our hearts down.

 Don’t give up praying about these things.  Don’t pepper Jesus with “if’s.”  When you pray, trust that He absolutely can do wonderful and miraculous things all around you.  He already has.

© John Stange, 2024


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