I Believe, Help My Unbelief
The Open Door is a weekly breakfast and community primarily for the homeless and vulnerably housed in the Cardiff area.
I gave a brief talk on Mark 9:17-26 on how to deal with doubts and struggles.
Mark 9:17-26 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
I love this story. It’s the story of a father who loves his kid. This man is desperate, he’s hurting, he loves his son and sees him in pain every day. For years. Perhaps some of you can relate to that. There was a baby born into my wife’s family with cancer. It’s heartbreaking. You’d do anything to help a kid like that, wouldn’t you?
There’s a lot in this story, but I want to draw attention to how this man came to Jesus. He sounds tired, desperate. It must have been hard to have a kid who foams and thrashes about - embarrassing amongst other things. He’s heard about Jesus, and it may have taken all his courage to take his son to the disciples and the disciples have tried and failed to help this kid. His son is still suffering and with the tattered battered trust he had left he says to Jesus - “If you can do anything … help us”.
Jesus saw the “if” in the man’s question and said “Everything is possible for one who believes”.
How would you react to that?
Have you ever said “I’d love to have faith like you people have got”, or “I’d believe if I could, it must be such a comfort”? After all, faith in Jesus Christ is life changing stuff, there’s many of us here can testify to that.
Let’s look at what this man did when told he needed to believe. Here are some things he COULD have done.
First, this man could have responded impatiently. “My son is suffering, why aren’t you helping already?” He could have felt entitled - “you’ve GOT to help him!”. But he didn’t.
Secondly, he could have tried to make faith himself looking within. A lot of people do this, they look endlessly inside themselves and analyse themselves over and over. Some people call it “finding yourself”. How can you find yourself from within? That’s like trying to know what street a house is on by wandering around the kitchen. We need an outside point of reference.
So I think the way this reacted is real and beautiful. He says “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Do you see what he’s doing here? He’s coming to Jesus as best He can. He’s saying “look, I’ve got some faith. It’s battered and torn but here it is. I know You can give me more. Where else can I turn?”. That is the essence of Christian faith. We’ve got to come as we are - how else can we come? We can’t clean ourselves up, give ourselves perfect faith, just by force of will.
Whether you’re not yet a Christian, or you aren’t sure, or you are a Christian and you’re struggling, or even if you’re feeling on top of the world, there’s something in this for you.
Pastor John Piper puts it like this: So we should pray for ourselves and for others this way. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a good prayer. It acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe. Similarly the apostles pray to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They pray this way because Jesus is the one who can do that. - John Piper
If they’re praying it, who have seen Him in the flesh, how much more should we need to pray for faith? Because God is the giver of faith. We don’t produce it. We don’t work for it. We don’t create it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.”
Because let’s be honest here. We all struggle. My own history of faith is a bloody, painful journey at times, filled with all kinds of doubt. If you’re doubting, you’re not the first! Jude 22 says “Be merciful to those who doubt”
That doesn’t make doubt GOOD though, it’s not a strength. Some people think doubt makes them deeper people, but the Bible says it’s like being tossed about in a storm, and I know that feeling inside out and back to front. There have been times when the only faith I’ve had is just enough to say “please help me. Please don’t let me give up”.
You might have read the Bible, and if you haven’t, get stuck in - we would LOVE to give you a copy! You will probably notice that what God asks of us is pretty much impossible - to be loving, kind, give freely, turn from all sin - what human being can perfectly do that? My point is this - what is impossible for man, is possible for God. The Bible says that God can give a new heart, new desires. Something clean, something new.
That doesn’t make the old go away entirely. It’s still a battle. John Gill said
every believer, more or less, at one time or another, finds himself in this man’s case; and also that it is necessary to (pray help me with overcome unbelief); for faith is imperfect in this life, and often very weak and defective - John Gill
But we press on. Another great Christian leader, John Calvin, wrote:
“He who, struggling with his own weakness, presses toward faith in his moments of anxiety is already in large part victorious”
So don’t try to have perfect faith. Instead, have faith in the One who is perfect - in Jesus. Just point your life at Him, as best you can, and ask Him for help. Believe me, He would love to. He loves you! He died for you! He’s the One who can make you whole! Just come to Him, wherever you’re at, lean on Him with whatever faith you have. Even if it’s as small as a mustard seed, it will start to move the mountains in your life.
If this has spoken to you, here is a prayer that may help you:
Lord Jesus, I believe in You, help me with my doubts! Lord Jesus, I love You, help my selfishness! Lord Jesus, I care about others, help me to see their needs more clearly! Lord Jesus, I trust You, help me with areas that I hold on to my old ways! Only You can change my heart and make it like your own. Here I am! I can, You can, please help me! Amen.