Believing in the One Who is Able
(2 Tim. 1:6-12 and Mark 9:14-29 NRSV)
Pastor John Gill
I suppose we all are familiar with Pope John Paul II, the popular Pope from Poland who helped bring down Communism. But I wonder how many remember his predecessor, also called John Paul? As you may recall, he served as pope for only about one month before his death in 1978. In reaction to the pope’s premature death, Archbishop James Casey of Denver told a reporter, “When we woke up this morning, we were a little disappointed and annoyed with God.”
Even though we aren’t Roman Catholic, we can all identify with that emotion. How many of us can honestly say that we have NEVER been “a little disappointed and annoyed with God”?
Yes, if we are truthful, we have to admit that we all have experienced “disappointment with God” at some point in our lives: a loved one is sick, and we pray fervently for healing, and yet she or he dies; we suffer in an abusive relationship and plead with God to change the heart of our abusers, but things only get worse; our son or daughter, or our grandchildren, are moving down the path toward self-destruction, and we ask God to turn them around but they seem to fall farther and farther into the pit; we pray for protection for our family members, but in spite of our prayers, tragedy strikes.
It’s enough to make us ask, “Where is God?” “Does He care?” “Does He even exist?” At times like these, we try to hold on to our faith, but it’s hard not to be disappointed with God.
The Father in our story this morning experienced disappointment, too. Try to put yourself in his place: No doubt, he had prayed for God to heal his son all his life, but his son’s condition never changed – years of unanswered prayer. As a last resort, he brought his son to Jesus, hoping that everything he had heard about this miracle-worker from Nazareth might be true, only to discover that Jesus wasn’t even there. He would have to settle for substitutes.
And the Disciples tried their best to pinch-hit for Jesus, but all their efforts were in vain. At that point, I’m sure that the father even began to question whether Jesus himself could do any better. The man had done all the right things – prayed all the right prayers – and sought out all the right people, but STILL his son was possessed by a demon. Yes, this man had every reason to be disappointed and annoyed with God.
We understand his skepticism – we’ve been there ourselves, haven’t we? When we experience disappointment with God, we can react in one of several different ways:
Some people turn their back on God, assuming that He has turned His back on them.
Others remain “Christians” – “in name only” – but give up on practicing the faith.
Still others continue in faith, but no longer believe in the power of prayer.
And at the very least, we all can begin to doubt our faith.
When Jesus finally came down off the mountain and began to minister to the boy and his father, this man’s crisis of faith became evident. Out of frustration, he says to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything – help us!”
“IF you are able!” What an insulting thing to say to Jesus – “IF you are able…” But isn’t that how you and I tend to pray? “Lord, my loved one is sick, and the doctors don’t offer much hope, but IF YOU CAN DO SOMETHING, please heal him.” “O God, my marriage is falling apart, IF YOU CAN DO SOMETHING, please help us.” “We are having financial trouble, God. IF YOU CAN DO SOMETHING, provide for our needs.”
It’s as if we’ve been burned by our faith in God before, and so this time we want to hedge our bets so that, if He doesn’t come through, we won’t be disappointed – again.
Talk about timid prayer! Prayers like that don’t deserve to be answered!
The famous TV evangelist, Oral Robert, used to say on his program each week, “Expect a Miracle.” Whatever you think of Oral Roberts, his slogan has merit: If we don’t believe Jesus can perform miracles in our lives, then we shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t. Did this father REALLY expect a miracle from Jesus? Do we?
Seldom do we see glimpses of Jesus so annoyed as he was in this story. “IF I can do something! All things are possible for the one who believes!” In other words, Jesus was saying, “It’s no surprise your son has not been healed… you have no faith! The cure for your son depends, not so much on me as it does on you! The question is NOT “if I can,” but if you believe I can.”
When we have been disappointed with God and our prayers have gone unanswered, it may well be that we don’t really believe that God CAN do anything. And if that is so, then God can’t. We could paraphrase Jesus’ words to the father like this, “All things are possible for those who believe – but without faith, nothing is possible.”
This is one of the great truths of the Bible. God will not work in our lives without our consent. When our faith is weak, it hampers God’s activity. Do you remember when Jesus visited his hometown of Nazareth? The Bible says he was unable to perform any wonders there. Why? Because of their lack of faith. The text is clear. Faith is the pre-requisite for answered prayer. We have to show faith!
But there is a problem. If great faith is required for God to act, who among us has enough faith? We’ve seen that the father lacked sufficient faith. But so did the Disciples – those closest to Jesus – those who had already gone out on healing missions of their own, and had had success, preaching and healing in Jesus’ name. Surely THEY had enough faith! But no, not even the Disciples had the faith required to bring healing to this poor boy. So what hope is there for us?
But there IS hope in this little story. Our God is a gracious God who can work with even our weak and faltering faith, faith small as a tiny mustard seed. After hearing Jesus’ challenge, the man in the story understands… he understands he has only a paltry little faith – far less than he should. So he cries out, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
And therein lies the good news for you and me. Our faith doesn’t have to be perfect for God to use it – only sincere! God can take what little faith we have and use it for his glory!
When we admit our faith is weak – when we appeal from the heart in prayer and ask God for an extra measure of faith – then God takes over and begins to move in our lives.
This is great news! At least for me! I KNOW that my faith isn’t what it should be. And I know that God would be perfectly justified in not answering my prayers. Yet, this text is telling me that if I am willing to admit my weakness, my doubts, my unbelief, my disappointments… and exhibit, even a small mustard seed measure of faith, trusting He will act – HE WILL!
My friends, if you have been disappointed with God – if doubts have crept into your faith and you have wondered “if He is able” at all, don’t give up on Him. Claim what small measure of faith you do have, cry out to Him, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief,” and you might just be amazed at what He will do!
Then you can say with the assurance of Paul, “I know the One in whom I have put my trust, and am sure that HE IS ABLE to guard until that day what I have entrusted to Him.”
He is able – if we are able – to trust Him.
Let us pray:
We confess that our faith is not what it ought to be – We say we believe you love us and forgive us, but we have a hard time accepting your love and forgiveness ourselves – We say we trust you to provide for all our needs, but then panic and grasp at money and possessions, believing our salvation is in our bank accounts or our belongings – We say we understand that you have called us to love all people unconditionally, but we often put conditions on our love when the “other” is of a different race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, political party, or sexual orientation – We say we believe you can work miracles in our lives, and yet we fail to trust you to do so . We say we believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. Amen.