Text: Mark 9:14-29
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” —Mark 9:24
Every year, Breakaway Outreach facilitates a summer camp for under-served children and youth facing adversity in East Tennessee. This year’s Bible theme centers on the book of Exodus and the leadership of Moses. In one of our small group discussions, a leader used a soft sponge and a hard rock to contrast the difference between hearts that are sensitive to God and those that are calloused, stimulating an interesting response from one of our campers.
“S” is a camper whose mother is in prison. She’s been dealt a pretty difficult hand early in life—a hand I believe she is going to play with great resilience, to overcome the odds stacked against her. She took the sponge from the object lesson, wrapped it around the rock and told the group leader:
“Sometimes God wraps His love around our hard hearts.”
In Mark 9, a troubled father appears to be dealing with a heart crisis. His son had been seized by an unclean spirit, which left him mute. He asked the disciples of Jesus to cast it out though they were unsuccessful. Then Jesus came down from the mountain and the man pleads with him, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and uttered one of the most authentic prayers of the Bible: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The man seemed unsure if this miracle worker could do anything to help his son, but according to Jesus’ response, the “if” wasn’t contingent to what Jesus could do, the “if” was conditional to the man’s faith. The distressed father was challenged by Jesus’ appeal for faith. He had his beliefs and doubts, and what made his prayer so authentic is that he acknowledged them both. Thus he ruefully pleads with Jesus: I believe; help my unbelief! Jesus answered and the boy was healed.
A prayer of faith isn’t necessarily one void of fear or unbelief, but one that knows what to do with these crippling feelings. Sometimes the most powerful prayers of faith are those that, despite being mixed with feelings of trepidation, express trust in a God Who isn’t intimidated by our weaknesses—a God Who is fully capable of helping our unbelief.
“Help my unbelief” is something a person can only say by faith. As Charles Spurgeon said:
“While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief.”
It’s comforting to know that we don’t have to cloak our weaknesses when we are with God in prayer. It’s when we are transparent about those weaknesses that God wraps Himself around those places in our hearts that are getting jaded by our doubts and unbelief. Help my unbelief is a prayer we can all pray when it feels like our hearts are getting a little stony.
Think about that as you abide in Him this week.
Heavenly Father, help us to remember that the most powerful prayers are free of masquerades. We don’t have to pretend that our weaknesses, doubts, or fears don’t exist. We can boldly bring them to you and cry out in our time of need: Lord, help my unbelief! Teach us how to pray authentically like the man in this story prayed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:
- When was the last time you were overcome by feelings of inadequacy?
- Why were the disciples unable to cast the demon out of the boy? (Mark 9:18-19, 28-29)
- How should we pray when we feel inadequate?
- In what ways has God helped you to overcome unbelief in the past?
- Why do you think it is important to God that we pray authentically, and not with masquerading or long and pretentious words? (Matthew 6:5-8)
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