The people of faith who impress me the most are the people who are the least impressed with their own faith.
Folks like this are slow to throw down glib and easy answers to life’s hardest questions. They’re quick to be present, mostly in silence, as they put an arm around a friend facing one of life’s genuine tragedies and offer real tears, but they’re slow to show up to add verbal drizzle and plastic platitudes that, well-meant or not, make a horrible situation even worse.
One of the most impressive people of faith in the New Testament is the father in Mark 9 who is completely unimpressed with his own faith. He’s not one of those self-confidently “spiritual” folks who have all the answers, rock-solid “faith,” and are always the first to show up religiously with more nails at the site of any opponent’s crucifixion.
No, this guy is just an ordinary guy, and he knows it. (Oh, how much extraordinary courage we can see daily in the lives of ordinary people, if we just look!) But he’s long dealt with serious heartache as he’s had to helplessly watch his son being victimized by terrible affliction. His hope is almost gone; he’s just about down to empty, running on fumes.
And then Jesus comes.
Truth be told, Christ’s disciples had shown up first, attempted a healing, and failed so miserably that they had just about exhausted the patience of their Lord (read about it in Mark 9).
But this ordinary man bypasses the failed apostles and goes right to the top, desperate: “Lord, if you can do anything . . .”
“‘If I can do anything?’” Jesus replies. “Everything is possible to him who believes.”
Then comes from this ordinary man a statement, a pattern, I think, of real faith: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” He humbly asks, and Jesus heals.
I like this guy. I like his “lack.” He knows that his faith is lacking, but I like his lack of pretense. I like his lack of whatever were then the popular pious phrases of the “spiritual” folks. I like his lack of guile. I like his lack of reliance on the self-help “mental gymnastics” some folks equate with faith as they try to snooker themselves into “belief” that if they work hard enough to believe enough, the Lord will give them just the answer they want. I love this man’s simple request. And, yes, I love the Lord’s answer, the Son’s healing of the son.
It’s rather amazing how little of what we hear about faith describes the real thing. Skeptics are religious about charging that it’s devoid of reason. That simply is not true.
And, far too often, believers twist it into something more akin to magic than real faith. Say the right words in the properly worked up frame of mind and we can manipulate the Almighty? I doubt it. Real faith means allowing God’s love and power to act on us; it is not a tool we can use to act on him.
I have a great deal to learn about faith. I need more faith to pray for more wisdom. I need more faith to pray for more patience when my prayers are not answered as quickly as I like or in the ways that I like. I need more faith to pray that the Lord will help me to understand that often what I ask for is not what I need. I need more faith to pray to be less impatient and less angry when the answer seems not to come at all or comes in a package I’d very much like to “return to sender.” And I need more faith to pray for eyes to see the memercy-filled answers that have already come and a heart to be filled with gratitude for the wonderful answers that will come.
Even when faith questions and prayer perplexities drive me nuts, I need to remember what my Father has done, that he is always good, that he is always loving, and that I am always his. I need more faith to know that, while I may be in a difficult chapter, the end of the story the Author has in mind is utterly delightful.
But, yes, what a great prayer for a father at the end of his rope and a child like me: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.