Praying Unbelief


So, I hate to begin with bad news but Jesus knows that we don’t always believe. I don’t know if Jesus uses measuring spoons or cups but he knows the quantity of our faith. Maybe he eyeballs it. Whatever the case, he knows how much we have and I can prove it.

In Matthew 8:26, Jesus yawns and stretches. He rubs his eyes and says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Jesus said this to his disciples, which means he chose people who had little faith. And it had to be a really small amount because Jesus only asks that we have faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20).

But, I have come bearing good news as well. First, Jesus doesn’t require a lot of faith when there are literal or metaphorical storms in our lives. Jesus is not looking for tablespoons or even gallons of faith when we are drenched in sweat and tears, battening down the hatches and holding on for dear life.

Secondly, we are in good company. The disciples woke Jesus up when the storm came and questioned whether Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith,” even cared about them (Hebrews 12:2). Our amount of faith does not determine whether or not we are considered disciples. Instead, it is the decision to find Jesus when the boat is filling with water or the winds are high and the sail is breaking that makes us believers and makes the difference.

Thirdly, you can talk to God without much faith. God is not insecure or self-conscious. “Does their little faith make My hand look small?”

No, God can handle your doubts and you and I can pray in unbelief. It’s actually a prayer and a prayer request, which brings me to my last point.

You can have faith and unbelief at the same time. In Mark 9:24, the father says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” It’s half and half. Still, it counts and it counts as faith.

This story reminds us that we can and do believe in God and God’s power. But, at the same exact time, there are occasions for which we cannot believe. We cannot believe that this is happening, that this condition will change, that God can make something good out of this.

It hurts too much. It looks too bad. It’s been too long. It’s unbelievable.

If measured, our faith would be half-full. And we need God’s help. We believe that God is able but we do not believe that God is able to help us. We believe that God is good but we cannot believe that God would be this good to us. Lord, help our unbelief.

For so many of us, we don’t know what to say when we don’t believe. We want to tell God but the conversation doesn’t seem to make sense. We say to ourselves, “We shouldn’t be talking to God about this?” So, when doubt comes, we stop talking to God.

Doubt seemingly makes the conversation awkward. Our words might sound less loving, truthful, or intimate. The presence of doubt appears to get in the way, creating distance, and becomes a kind of third wheel in a relationship rooted in faith. But, it doesn’t have to.

Instead, keep talking until God changes the conversation, until our prayer of unbelief becomes one of disbelief because we are amazed at what God can do with just a little bit of faith.

smcneillReverend Starlette McNeill* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. A graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, she writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at She is also a wife, mother, and columnist with Baptist News Global, Baptist Women in Ministry, and Ethics Daily. She is a contributing author to the book Faith Forward: Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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