Connections 03.06.2016: Powerful Faith

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Mark 9:14-29

I’ve kept a prayer journal for years. Somewhere along the way, I started writing down the Jesus Prayer as the first line of my daily entry: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sometime later, I began writing a petition from the Prayer of St. Francis as my second line: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Eventually, Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer became the third line of my daily prayer: “Not my will but your will be done.”

For a long time now, I’ve begun my morning prayer journal entry with those three lines. Then, I write down the day’s praises, petitions, and intercessions. After some time of listening, I get on with life.

A few months ago I added a closing line to my morning prayer. It’s what the father of the child in this week’s text says when Jesus tells him, “All things can be done for the one who believes”: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

That’s one of the most honest prayers ever prayed in the history of praying.

It is on the one hand an affirmation of faith: “I believe.” To believe is to trust, so to say “I believe” is to say “I trust.” I trust in God. I trust in God’s Son Jesus Christ. I trust in God’s love, grace, and mercy. I trust in God’s purposes. Some days I trust a lot and some days I trust a little. Sometimes when I think I trust a lot, I actually trust a little, and sometimes when I think I trust a little, I actually trust a lot. Every follower of Christ can honestly pray, “I believe.”

The prayer is on the other hand a confession of need: “Help my unbelief.” It’s an admission that I never trust as much as I could or should. It’s a confession that whatever else I need or think I need from God, I always need more faith. In fact, I may need more faith more than I need anything else. Every follower of Christ should honestly pray, “Help my unbelief.”

The interaction between Jesus and this father teaches us to acknowledge and to exercise the faith we have. It also teaches us to acknowledge that we lack faith and to ask for more.

If we ask in trust for more faith, we’ll get it.

After all, “All things can be done for the one who believes”—especially when we believe that God will help our unbelief.

Discussion

1. Why do you think the people “were immediately overcome with awe” when they saw Jesus (v. 15)?
2. Why do you think Jesus was so upset about the disciples’ inability to heal the boy (v. 19)?
3. What does this story teach us about the role of faith and doubt in our lives?
4. Jesus told the father, “All things can be done for the one who believes” (v. 23). He didn’t say, “All things will be done.” Imagine that later, the boy dies from some other cause. When the father thought back on this conversation with Jesus and on his son being healed by Jesus, what might he have thought? Would what he learned have been any help to him in his new situation? How or how not?
5. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast the spirit out of the boy, Jesus said, “This kind can come out only through prayer” (vv. 28-29). Why do you think Jesus stressed prayer? Did he mean that we should pray a quick prayer before trying to help someone? Or did he mean something else?

Reference Shelf

The father plays a supporting role to the disciples in the theme of the need for constant faith. The framing of the story within the accounts of Jesus’ approach to the disciples and his teaching of the disciples in the house at the end turn this exorcism into a lesson on discipleship. Faith is seldom pure or constant. The father becomes a model for the disciples. Like the blind man who could see but not clearly (8:22-26), he believes but still struggles with unbelief. The disciples follow Jesus and attempt to cast out the demon, presumably in Jesus’ name, but are unable to do so. Jesus’ admonition that they need to pray leads readers to fill the gap in the story regarding why they were unsuccessful by concluding that they relied on their own entitlement rather than seeking again the power that comes only from God.

…Mark shows that the disciples’ misplaced confidence in their own ability to help the boy robs them of the power to do so. Perhaps nothing leads to a false sense of confidence more quickly than a track record of success. Those who are most effective, and those who are called to full-time ministry, are therefore most at risk of falling into this trap. Success breeds confidence, but ministry in Jesus’ name requires the constant renewal of humility that acknowledges that disciples can do nothing of their own accord.

In the polar-opposite standards of the kingdom, therefore, success can lead to the kind of self-confidence that renders one ineffective, while failure can throw one back on God’s power, thereby creating the conditions for future successes. The disciples were open to learning from their failure: “Why could we not cast it out?” (9:28). Are we?

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 321.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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