I Believe, Help My Unbelief
Topic: Faith Passage: Mark 9:14–9:29
Grace Community Church
May 5, 2019
I Believe, Help My Unbelief!
God has made us in such a way that if we want to grow what we have we need to exercise what we have. If we want our brain to do more, we need to demand more of it. If we want our body to get stronger, we need to exercise it more. If we want to grow the talents God has given us, we need to use them more. And the opposite is true too: the less we ask of ourselves, the less we’ll have.
This was confirmed in a study at the University of Massachusetts where they had participants wear a leg device so when they walked they only used their right leg and their left leg didn’t bear any weight at all. They found that after just two days of disuse the left leg began to atrophy. Use it or lose it!
The same is true when it comes to our faith. The Christian life is a walk of faith from first to last. We take our first and most important step when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior but that’s just the beginning of a lifetime of walking by faith. If we want our faith to grow stronger, we need to use it, exercise it. The question we’re looking at in this series Only Believe is, how’s our faith doing? Is our faith healthy, strong, and growing? Or is it atrophying, wasting away from disuse? God has been convicting me recently that my faith has gotten out of shape and a little flabby. I had settled into a comfortable place where I didn’t think I needed much from God so I wasn’t expecting much from God. And I was ok with that. And that’s an unhealthy place to be.
When our faith is weak and out of shape (Jesus would call it little faith) we stop expecting to see much from God. Our Christian experience becomes more of a statement of faith than a walk of faith: “I believe in Jesus and I believe in the Bible” but it doesn’t go much further than that. Even those two things get flattened: our personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t feel very personal or dynamic. And when we read the Bible we don’t really expect to hear from our heavenly Father. If we pray, we don’t pray with an active expectation that God will answer our prayers. We don’t share our faith with people much cause, you know what? they probably won’t believe anyway. When we go through hard times – whether it be financial, marital, problems with our kids (or our parents), or with our health, we worry and we plan and then we worry some more but we neglect to carry our burdens to God in fervent prayer.
Jesus said “My Father (God) is always working and I am always working” – God is always working powerfully and I believe God wants us to experience His hand at work in our lives all the time, but if we are walking in little faith, we may not see God doing much in our lives because God has chosen to match the level of His power to the level of faith operating in His people.
So the question we’re looking at is, if our faith is weak and struggling and out of shape, how do we get it stronger? Get it in shape? If our faith is in an unhealthy place, how do we get it to a healthy place?
And that’s why I love the story we just read! When this desperate father says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” we can totally relate to him! He has faith, but his faith is struggling. He believes but there’s this conflict going on inside of him. Jesus, I definitely, absolutely, positively, believe that you can heal my son, probably, maybe.
Here’s what I love about this dad: when we’re talking about the health of our faith, this guy isn’t some faith powerlifter at the gym bench pressing 500 lbs of miracle-working power, this is the guy at the gym loading up 10 lb weights on the bar. He’s not a marathon runner, he get’s winded running around the block. We’re just not intimidated by this guy’s faith! He has faith. He believes! But he also has doubt and unbelief too. So as we want to get our faith in shape and healthier, we can relate to this “doubting dad” and there are healthy faith tips we can learn from him. Before we do, let’s first consider the context of what’s happening.
This dad’s son was being tormented by a demon and he brought him to Jesus, only to find Jesus wasn’t there. Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John to what we know as the mount of transfiguration. But this dad is desperate so he asks the other nine disciples to cast the demon out and they try, but nothing happens. An argument breaks out between the scribes and the disciples, the scribes being religious lawyers who hated Jesus and probably saw this as a great chance to make Jesus look bad.
That’s when Jesus walks up. The dad doesn’t care about the argument, he wants to see his son healed. Mark says he has a spirit (a demon) who, when it seizes him, makes him mute and causes him to go into severe seizures where his muscles lock up, he foams at the mouth and his teeth are violently grinding from the seizure. This is different than the epileptics that Jesus has healed. This is different than the mute, deaf, and blind people that Jesus has healed. These are the symptoms of the boy being possessed by a demon.
This dad watched the nine disciples try to cast the demon out without success, so he’s discouraged and probably afraid. In fact, right at that moment the spirit grabs the boy and he starts to convulse and foam at the mouth. Looking at the boy Jesus asks the father how long this has been going on, and the father says his boy has been tormented from childhood and that it has tried to drive the boy to try to kill himself over and over. Feel the emotion of the moment. When this boy should have been laughing and playing and enjoying himself, and mom and dad should have been enjoying their boy’s childhood, they live in constant heartache and dread. In the momentum of his emotion the father says “Jesus, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” It’s an honest, down to earth plea, but it gets one thing really wrong that Jesus needs to correct.
Look with me at verse 23: “If you can!” Not sure you’re able to do anything here Jesus but if you can… That’s a faith problem. The question is never can God do something, it’s will God do something. A leper once said to Jesus, “if you’re willing, you can make me clean.” I know you can, what I don’t know is, are you willing? Jesus said, “I am willing, be clean.” But this dad’s faith is weak, struggling, conflicted. He believes – he brought the boy to Jesus, didn’t he? But he has this “if you can do anything” rolling around in his heart. Jesus tells him that all things are possible for the one who believes. God doesn’t know the word impossible! That’s when the dad cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”He’s asking Jesus to help him, and as we want to see our faith grow, let’s remember we can’t do it alone. We need the Lord’s help just like this dad did.Three healthy faith lessons we can learn from this doubting dad:
- Healthy faith starts with honest faith
He didn’t need to add that second part. He could have just said, “Lord, I believe!” and kept the unbelief to himself. I have met people in the “faith movement” – a movement that I consider to have some unbiblical and unbalanced teachings– but I’ve met people who think faith means never making a negative confession. They can be hacking and coughing and sneezing with snot coming out of their nose but when you ask them if they have a cold, they say, “nope, by faith I’m healed. I’m totally healthy!” Ok, glad to hear it. But please stay away from me - I don’t want to catch your healthiness.
Healthy faith can’t grow in a fake environment. We might be tempted to put on a “super Christian” image where we try to look like our lives are all together, our marriages are all together, our families are all together, our walk with God is all together but we need to resist that temptation and pursue honest faith. Jesus doesn’t want fake faith, he wants honest faith, even if it’s not perfect. Life gets messy and sometimes our faith gets messy too. Be honest with God about where you’re at. He knows everything anyway. If you’re struggling with doubt, tell Him. When you’re discouraged, let God know. When worry is keeping you up at night and eating away at you, lay it at the Lord’s feet. Isn’t that what Peter means when he says “cast your cares upon the Lord for He cares for you”?
Healthy faith starts with honest faith. This dad needed to be honest with Jesus to see God’s power at work in his life. Jesus wants us to come to him honestly.
- Be committed to get from unhealthy faith to healthy faith
I’ve noticed a strange thing that happens in me that when we go to visit Janice’s younger sister and brother in law: because they’re really into eating healthy, by the end of the visit I feel like I’m eating healthier too. I’m not, but I’m thinking about it. After talking about eating kale and grape nuts and Greek yogurt, I feel so good I owe it to myself to eat a cheeseburger! With a little kale on the side. The same weird thing happens when I walk into a Staples Office Supply store: just walking through the aisles make me feel like I’m getting my office and my life more organized.
The truth is that thinking about getting healthier doesn’t substitute for taking steps to get healthier. This man is honest about where he is, but he’s also asking Jesus to help him get to a better place. His faith is in an unhealthy place but he’s asking Jesus to help him get to a healthy place. Help my unbelief get to belief. If the Lord is convicting us that our faith isn’t where it should be, Jesus can work with us as long as we are like this man – here’s where my faith is, help my faith get to a healthier place!
There was an article in my inbox by Carey Nieuwhof this week and this line caught my attention: the difference between an unhealthy person and a toxic person is unhealthy people want to get better. Toxic people don’t.
The scribes were toxic. They had no faith and they didn’t want faith. They wanted to argue. No matter how many miracles they saw Jesus perform they weren’t ever going to believe. They had no intention of changing, they were toxic. This dad’s faith wasn’t super strong or healthy but he wanted to get there and Jesus could work with that. Jesus came for the sick…but we need to admit we’re sick and need help to get well. Some people have expressed that last week’s message spoke to them and they were seeing ways their faith had grown unhealthy. Jesus totally can work with that as long as we’re not wanting to stay there. We begin by being honest with Jesus and say, “this is where I am” but we can’t stop there, we need to ask Jesus to help our unbelief get to belief. Be committed to get from unhealthy to healthy faith.
- Look for ways to challenge your faith
Jesus’ heart was filled with compassion for this father and his son and he cast the demon out and the
boy was healed. After everyone left the nine disciples came up to Jesus and said, “how come we couldn’t cast the spirit out?” Jesus answered, “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
The disciples had successfully cast out demons before – this wasn’t their first time at the demonic rodeo. But what worked before didn’t work this time. Jesus said “this kind” – this demon is cut from a rougher cloth than what they had encountered before. Didn’t mean they couldn’t cast him out, it just meant they needed to grow their faith muscles by spending more time with the Lord in prayer.
If you’ve never run a marathon before and suddenly decide you want to, you can’t justjump off the couch, throw the bag of chips away, and run 26 miles on your first day. We need to build up endurance incrementally. Some might need to start with a half mile, a quarter of a mile. That’s challenge enough. Then after a while, you up it to a mile. Two miles. Three miles. See what’s happening? When you get strong enough that something isn’t challenging, you up the challenge. That’s how we grow.
I was driving the other day when the words came to mind: “you need more challenges”. I don’t think it was just for me – I think it was for us as a church. We need more challenges. It’s how our faith will grow stronger. Do you want your faith to grow stronger? Challenge it! Believe God for something that’s bigger and bolder than what you’re used to. But don’t start by trying to move a mountain. Start smaller. Then let’s increase the challenge. It’s how we grow stronger.
- Pray with a fresh faith for a loved one who doesn’t know the Lord or who is straying far from the Lord. They aren’t so far the Lord can’t reach them!
- Ask God to fill your heart with love for someone you’re having a hard time loving, then look for ways to show love to them
- Find some way to use the gifts God has given you to minister to others. Especially if it costs you something in time or energy.
- Ask God for boldness and share your faith with someone.
Whatever it might be, remember, growth doesn’t happen by thinking about it or talking about it, it comes by acting on it.
I know some here may feel like you’ve got enough challenges and can’t handle another one. That may be true. But let me gently challenge you with this thought: often people who work out will find that if they do the same things over and over, they eventually plateau. No gains. They need to change it up some. Maybe stepping out in a new faith challenge will breath fresh life into your faith. Think about it.
Challenge your faith. That’s our homework for this week, pray about taking on a new challenge. Not 20 new challenges. Just one. At most two. Make it on a level that’s uncomfortable but not more than your faith is ready for. This isn’t about impressing anyone with our faith. It’s about growing closer to our heavenly Father by inviting and expecting Him to be involved in every aspect of every day. He loves you and wants to be a part of your life moment by moment. We want to live believing that.
If Jesus isn’t your Savior, if you aren’t a Christian, or aren’t sure what it means to be a Christian, the first and most important step God wants you to take is to believe in His Son Jesus. Do you ever feel like something or someone is missing? That Someone is Jesus Christ. God created you and wired you to have a relationship with Him, and Jesus came to make that relationship possible. You can ask Jesus to come into your life right now and not only be your Lord and Savior, but your friend.