Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief. Mark 9:24
This verse has become the prayer accompanying the beating of my heart and every thought that crosses my mind. I obsessively write it on cue cards and pin the cards to my walls. I write it in my journal. It’s almost as though I am being haunted by this prayer – only 6 words but the perfect summary of my faith journey.
Let’s go back and think about the context in which it was said. Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down from the mountain to find a large crowd and a big dispute. A man in the crowd tells Jesus that his son is possessed by a spirit trying to make his son commit suicide. The man asked the disciples to cast it out but they could not. Jesus responds to him saying, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:14-23).”
Maybe you know the story well and maybe you don’t. Either way, I want you to put yourself in this man’s shoes (sandals?). The person he loves most, who will carry his name and his heritage, is overcome by a spirit who throws him into fire and water. He has helplessly watched this occur to his son since he was a small child and there is nothing the father can do. Perhaps the father is praying regularly for his son. Perhaps he offers many burnt offerings and sacrifices in the temple.
And then he meets Jesus. A famous and alleged prophet who works similar miracles to the one he needs across the region. Jesus tells him, after all of these years, that he just needs faith. What would you do? Scream at him? Give up hope? Get defensive and prideful? You have no idea whether this man understands everything you have been through – and for your only and beloved son! But this father was humble. He put his son ahead of his pride. He knew that his heart was not entirely convinced about Jesus but a small part of him believed a miracle was possible. It is in this context that he prays:
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Isn’t this your prayer too? A few chapters later we read that Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24).” How this verse does convict us! I can hardly pray a single prayer believing that God hears me, let alone that I will receive what I am asking for!
It is from our doubt that I humbly feel that we sometimes add “if it is your will” to the end of every prayer to protect God. We want to make sure that if He doesn’t deliver we can’t accuse Him or lose hope in His love for us so we claim that it was not His will. Is this the kind of faith Jesus was referring to?
Is that what the will of God is? Does he want us to hide the doubt that dwells in our hearts about His goodness, grace, mercy, and love with a quick “if it is your will”? I agree that we must submit all of our plans to God, or better yet let Him make plans for us, but in this case we do not desire His will truly. We just don’t want to be rejected.
I should ask Him for His will because it is my deepest desire. I should not be disappointed about not getting what I want, because my wants should be conformed to His. It was said once in a sermon that it is impossible to hear the will of God for your life, if you are not prepared to follow it.
This leaves us in quite a situation. What do I do if I have doubts? What can I say if I am not fully convinced of living in His will for me? He does not desire false prayers or hypocrisies from us. We must simply, like this man, come to God in humility and confess our doubt. We need to be more honest about the confusion we feel with regards to faith and disbelief.
And then I know that He will work in our hearts, conform us to His image and desires, and we will be able to pray with all the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and honestly confess “Your will be done”. He will keep the spirits of disbelief away from us just like He cured the man’s son.