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Spiritual Growth

Help My Unbelief

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

When life gives us overwhelming circumstances, we’re told to turn to God. Often, we do. But that doesn’t guarantee immediate resolutions. It can feel disheartening when we’re met with outcomes that are different than our expectations. If we aren’t careful, our minds begin to wander as doubt creeps inside, resulting in unbelief. It’s not that we’ve stopped believing in God, it’s just that we’ve put more weight on what we can or cannot achieve by ourselves. We may even lower our own expectations, as to temper the disappointment. Yet there is a story in the Bible about a man who was willing to face his unbelief, so that his son could be healed. From him, we learn a valuable lesson – that if we expect God to rise to the occasion, we too, must be willing to do the same.

Found in 3 out of the four gospels, this story actually starts without Jesus and three of His disciples – Peter, James, and John. Jesus was on the mount with the disciples as they bore witness to His transfiguration. Upon their return, Jesus saw the remaining disciples, the crowds of people, and the scribes disputing. Jesus inquired as to what was happening, and in Mark 9:17-18 we learn of the response:

Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”

Help My Unbelief: The Father

The father’s response to Jesus started with a problem, and then an accusation. His son was sick, and Jesus’ disciples could not heal him. After further dialogue, the father stated: “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22). His plea to Jesus contained feelings of trepidation as his doubt was made apparent. He prefaced his need for help with “if You can”. He already experienced disappointment with the disciples, who were considered to be representatives of Jesus. Nevertheless, we know man and our Savior are not one in the same. Where we fail, God does not.

And so Jesus, sensing his hesitation, responded to the father in the exact manner in which the father asked for help. Jesus said: If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23). We might think it’s easy to believe in God’s ability to do the impossible, yet too often, this requirement is not met. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”(Mark 9:24). We should take a moment to appreciate the honesty of a such a response. It’s the same honesty we need to have with God when approaching the throne of grace in prayer. It is not our belief, but our unbelief, that limits us. Let us pray today – please help my unbelief.

We can’t fully step into the light of God if we haven’t addressed the unbelief that resonates within our own hearts. And it’s in the trials, that our unbelief has a way of surfacing to the top. It’s self-righteous to only focus on the parts of us that reflect our belief in God. To experience true growth, we must acknowledge that belief and unbelief can coexist inside of us, which is a detriment to our connectivity with Christ. When prayers are not met in the way we expect, unbelief will come knocking. It’s only by the strength of God that we can stop it from entering.

Help My Unbelief: The Disciples

Even the disciples needed help with their unbelief. In Mark 6 (as well as in Matthew and Luke), we read about how Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to minister, and “gave them power over unclean spirits”. (Mark 6:7) And so they left, preaching the gospel, and inspiring those they encountered to repent of their sins. They also “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13) With that context, it is understandable as to why the disciples questioned Jesus about their inability to heal the child in Mark 9.

In Matthew 17:20-21, we are given the most detailed version of Jesus’ response to their concern. He said:

“Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

It may be difficult to grasp that the disciples experienced unbelief but consider their situation. They had previously cast out spirits, so this was not new to them. Yet, their efforts didn’t work. How often do we start off believing, and then because we are met with outcomes contrary to what we expected, we lose faith?  Jesus knew that not all our trials would be immediately solved. He gave the disciples, and us, advice for such situations when He stated – this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. An initial delay isn’t a final no. Instead, as difficulties arise, God is asking us to go deeper with Him. Some situations take more time, more connectivity, and more faith. It’s important that we seek God with all our hearts, even when we feel like giving up.

Removing Our Unbelief

As we go to the foot of the cross, I’d like for us to again, think about the father in this story. In his unbelief, he thought that no was a possibility, but in his belief, he knew that yes was a possibility too. I believe that Esther went to the king, because although no was an option, so was yes. Moses, although he had sinned against God, still pleaded with Him to enter the promise land (Deuteronomy 3). In this instance God said no, but still had compassion by giving him an altered yes. Moses would be able to see the promised land with his eyes from the top of a mountain, which could only be possible through divine intervention.

Believing in God allows us to give Him the respect He deserves when He says no while continuously approaching the throne of grace knowing that He can say yes. If we limit God because of our own unbelief, we fall short of all that we could accomplish with Christ by our sides. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we ask God to help us remove our unbelief. By doing so, we will rid ourselves of the doubt that tries to imprison our souls. We can then walk fully in God’s light, knowing that whatever comes our way, we can find peace by trusting in God. Remember, God never asks us to lower our expectations. Instead, He calls us to have faith so we can rise to the occasion.

Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts below, and if you’ve enjoyed this devotional, be sure to share it with others.

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