Mark 9:20-29 (ESV)
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. 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.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 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.” 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.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
I love this miracle, because it is so me! I want to believe God, but frankly… I have doubts. And I’m not the first Christian to experience doubt!
BELIEVE JESUS… I DOUBT IT!
St John of the Cross was a Catholic mystic who described a crisis of doubting his spiritual journey towards God as a dark night of the soul. What he was talking about was doubt, where you know God, you want God, you want to believe God but you struggle with doubts. This father sums it up for me!
And all of us have doubts. John the Baptist doubted Jesus, and Jesus didn’t smash him for that, He encouraged him. Elijah took on 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, then had a crisis of doubt and ran away from Jezebel. Gideon doubted, Moses doubted. So many have struggled with doubt.
Mother Teresa noted often in her diary her severe doubts about God and what He is doing, and Martin Luther suffered from doubt, also. He had a German word for it: Anfechtung. It just sounds awful! There is no single English word that captures it. It encompasses doubt, tribulation, and affliction. For Luther, it was a torturous doubt that he stood outside God’s mercies. God had turned a cold shoulder to him.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH DOUBT?
What do we do with doubt? First of all, it’s comforting to know that we are not alone in doubt. We’re not the rare outsider for experiencing doubt about our faith. Doubt is the norm.
In the same way, our doubts do not make something false. Doubts are greatly affected by so many things, like health, emotions and fears. The ups and downs of our souls, when we fluctuate between faith and doubt, don’t actually change the truth of the Good News of the gospel.
In fact, doubt can serve a productive purpose. Theologian Frederick Buechner had a lively name for doubt. He called it the “ants in the pants of faith.” Doubts, he said, keep our faith awake and moving. Doubt stirs the pot.
For one thing, doubts help us test our faith. If you’ve ever walked on iced-over water, in the early winter, you don’t jump, you carefully walk to test it before you put your full weight on it. Doubt sometimes helps us assess whether our faith will support the full weight of life’s trials and burdens.
So doubt can serve a productive purpose. But Mostly, doubt is troubling, but this miracle from Jesus is tremendously encouraging. We doubt the nature of God’s character. We doubt how valued we are by God, if God even hears our prayers. We question whether this faith thing is just a figment of our imaginations, and we feel like our doubt is second rate to the faith we see in others.
To understand this miracle, we need to closely examine the context and also the words used by Mark.
THE MIRACLE OF DOUBTING
Mark 9:22-24 (ESV)
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.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
How many of you have wanted to believe, but found yourself full of doubts? Here’s a great truth for you… God will meet you where you are, in order to take you where he wants you to be. God’s not afraid of your doubts… Are you?
The disciples had tried to cast this demon out of the child, and failed. So let’s look at some of the words Mark used to describe this miracle.
The Greek word BALLO which means “to throw” is used by Mark as the father explains the condition to Jesus, indicating that in the father’s view, these frequent mishaps were not accidental, but the result of a self destructive, suicidal mania induced by the demon possession. He then says “If you can do anything, have compassion.
Jesus, who or course can do anything, replies
Mark 9:23 (ESV)
“‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
The Greek word for “can” is DYNAMAI, which means power, explosive power which overcomes resistance. The same word used elsewhere to describe both the power of the gospel and the power of miracles, and the English word “dynamite” is derived from this word.
But the words I want to look at are the ones we all resonate with.
Mark 9:24 (ESV)
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The father cries out, I do believe, help my unbelief. The Greek word for help is BOETHEO, which means “to run towards the cry of someone and bring aid”. It is in the present imperative tense, which means continuous help is being asked for, not a one off, starting right now and ongoing into the future.
And what this tells me is that faith is a journey, and it’s a journey we need Jesus’ help, ongoing help, both now and into the future. You don’t generally just get faith, you need to grow into it, and need Jesus’ help to do so.
But it this DOUBT OR DISBELIEF
The problem here for this father is one of doubt (being in two minds about an issue) not one of disbelief (certainty that something is not true). The father did not disbelieve. After all, he had brought his son to Jesus to be healed with expectation of Jesus doing just that (v. 17).
But After watching the disciples fail, the desperate father’s faith was shaken, and he was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; hence his statement, “If you can do anything” (Mark 9:22 NASB). However, the father was honest enough to admit his own unbelief and to ask the Lord again to help him and his son.
James 1:6 (ESV)
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
Doubt tosses you, in the Greek it means agitate you, so you vacillate between believing and not believing, double minded as the Bible describes it. You can see it in this father, and I bet you can see it in yourself as well when you try to believe God for your miracle.
You look at those around you in the church, and they seem to have more faith for many things. It’s easier to have faith for another. You know the Bible says,
Mark 11:24 (ESV)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
But this is not just you summoning a fabricated faith. What builds your faith is testing God, and seeing small miracle after miracle. It is also built by hanging out in a church like Ignite that believes God, reading His Word daily, and connecting with other Christians who believe God.
JESUS DOES THE MIRACLE, DESPITE THE DOUBTS AND UNBELIEF OF THE FATHER
How does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “Come back when you have more faith.” Or “Get rid of your doubt and then we’ll talk.” Instead He acknowledges this dad’s conflicted emotions, then goes on to heal his son.
Mark 9:26-27 (ESV)
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.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
Ever heard someone say that things will get worse before they get better? Well that’s what seemed to happen, the child looks dead. But he’s not dead, he’s free, and soon the miracle becomes apparent. The demon is defeated, the child is healed and the Lord is glorified. But the disciples are puzzled…
THIS KIND ONLY COMES OUT WITH PRAYER
Mark 9:28-29 (ESV)
And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Jesus had given His disciples authority to cast out demons (Mark 6:7, 13), and yet their ministry to this boy was ineffective. No wonder the Lord was grieved with them! How often He must be grieved with us when we fail to use the spiritual resources He has graciously given to His people!
Jesus did cast out the demon and restore the boy to his father.
Why had the nine disciples failed? Jesus is not recorded as praying at the time of this miracle, so what is He on about here? What Jesus is referring to here is not that a quick prayer will get instant results, the word in Greek is PROSEUCHÉ, which means worship, and by extension, a place of worship. He is describing a lifestyle. Because the disciples had been careless in their personal spiritual walk and had neglected prayer and fasting, they were not walking close enough, living a lifestyle of prayer, to do this miracle.
Jesus gave them authority to cast our demons just like this one, but this authority was effective only if exercised by faith, but faith must be cultivated through spiritual discipline and devotion. We can have the same authority.
It may be that the absence of their Lord, or His taking the three disciples with Him up the mountain of transfiguration, had dampened their spiritual fervour and diminished their faith. Not only did their failure embarrass them, but it also robbed the Lord of glory and gave the enemy opportunity to criticise. It is our faith in Him that glorifies God, but it is proportional to our relationship to Him. Abraham walked with God, and this is how his faith was described…
Romans 4:20-22 (ESV)
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
The main lesson of this miracle is the power of faith to overcome the enemy. The neglected faith of the disciples failed, and the faltering faith of the father saw the right result, not because his faith was strong, but because even a small faith in an infinitely big God is what wins the day.
HOW TO OVERCOME DOUBT WITH FAITH
In a moment of honest reflection, the father of the demon-possessed boy acknowledged both belief and unbelief. If you and I are honest, we share the same struggle. This father believed that Jesus could restore his son to health, but he questioned whether Jesus would do so. He struggled with unbelief.
Sometimes we feel the same way. We recognise that God has delivered others, performed miracles for others, done miracles in the church and we believe he is able to help, but we are afraid that God might refuse to help us. We may believe that God feels we are unworthy of his deliverance.
Yet God never works that way. Not only is he able to help us, but he also wants to help us in our unbelief.
Romans 8:26 (ESV)
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Not only is He willing to perform miracles for the church and others, He wants to do this for each of us too. We must turn to him in faith, repent of our sin, ask for his forgiveness and follow his plan for us. God will do the rest. If we stick close to God, miracles happen.
What an encouragement to us all! You and I need not think we are hypocrites because our faith is not perfect. There are two questions we must answer:
- Do we believe God can do anything? Or, put another way, do we believe in the God the Scriptures describe?
- Do we believe that He will do what He has promised to do?
This father believed in Jesus and his promise, and his faltering faith was rewarded —the healing happened!
FAITH IN GOD OR FAKE IN GOD?
Which is the greater sin? Faltering in our faith, or faking our faith? FAKING! It is really unbeliefe, masked.
You need to understand, the strength of our faith does not save us; it is the object of our faith (not faith itself) that brings about our salvation and new life. We are saved by Who our faith is in, not anything we do. It’s not believing in ourselves but believing in Someone higher. We may have just enough faith to turn to God for healing and wholeness. We can barely turn, we can barely believe…yet God accepts our weakness; He even at times tolerates our faith failings–the many times we act on our own without trusting Him. Our faith is weak, but God is strong. With God, all things are possible! But remember, the stronger your faith the more miracles you will see, so keep growing it.
I’ve had people tell me, “I wish I had as much faith as you.” This is usually spoken either sarcastically or hopelessly. The sarcastic person dismisses faith as meaningless fluff; the hopeless person figures they’ll never have enough faith to find favour with God…not realising that they already do. “Faith is trust in a relationship with Someone who’s already accepted us”
So honestly, maybe we need to get over our hangups. Faith is a gift; so seek it, relax and accept it, but don’t fake it. We don’t have to drum up faith or bravado; we simply take whatever level of belief we have, however small, and run with it, trusting that God will help us to keep going one day at a time.
A small amount of faith in an infinitely powerful God will see miracles, in His time and in His way. Bill Moyers observed, “I used to think that faith was a state at which you arrived. But faith is an ongoing conversation between God and me.”
Honestly struggling with faith does not mean that Christ will not respond to our requests. He certainly expects us to grow and mature in our faith, not stay paralysed by doubt, but he also understands and sympathises with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15).
So what do we do when we say, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” And how do we keep hope alive through our doubt? Here are some steps we can take.
1. BE HONEST ABOUT UNBELIEF
So many Christians I have met are trying to convince themselves that they have faith. Sadly, they are lying to themselves, and God!
Proverbs 12:22 (ESV)
Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
When you feel doubt, don’t deny it… Just admit it. Admit it to God, and maybe to other believers. The truth is, we’ve all been there! Even the great saints like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther have experienced doubt. So when you feel doubt, don’t deny it; call it. “Hey, I’m feeling doubt! Yep, there it is!” Jesus, I do believe, but please help my unbelief. Don’t lie to Him or yourself. Admit it, and repent of it.
2. BE PRAYERFUL
Pray, lift it up to God in prayer. Pray like the doubting father, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Be honest in your prayer. I mean, God knows your heart anyway, you can’t fool Him!
1 Chronicles 28:9 (ESV)
for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
Doubt may leave you feeling like you’re praying into the wind. But Pray anyway. Jesus rebuked His disciples because this demon only comes out with a consistent, deep prayer life. In the end, when all is said and done, God’s faith endures forever.
You might be suffering from doubts, you might not believe fully in God, but God still believes in you! And God never gives up on you! You may be doubting right now, but pray “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
3. GROW YOUR FAITH
If you can grow your faith, you will see more and more miracles. So here is one thing you can do if you, like me, need more faith? God has an app for that!
Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The more we read and gain a working knowledge of the Bible, the more faith we’ll have. When faith flickers, stoke the fire. Come to church every week, even if we are still jammed in and have only 2 toilets. And read the Bible every day, even if you think you’re busy. You make time for what’s important, so get our app and read the Bible.
BELIEVE, EVEN WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Ultimately, to see miracles your need to step out in faith, somewhere, somehow, sometime. You need to grow to the point where you trust God, even when you cannot see the solution. That’s what trust is.
THE AFRICAN IMPALA is capable of jumping nearly 9 feet into the air,
although it is a very small creature, only about 3 1/2 feet tall. Yet, did you know that any zoo can keep the impala confined to a yard with a stone wall only 4 feet high? WHY? Because the impala will NEVER JUMP anywhere, unless it can see the place where his feet will land!
IS THAT YOU?
Why not start believing big? Why not jump, when you can’t see the landing? What have you got to lose praying and believing God for your miracle. Never be afraid to commit an unknown future to a known God.
Do you believe God?
Do you struggle with unbelief?
What miracle are you believing God for right now? Can you see the outcome?