In 1 John 5, we find both a reminder of the gift of belief and a call to actively believe. It is a call that brings life eternal, and life now. But many of us struggle with this belief. For some, it is a struggle with saving faith. For some, it is a struggle with distractions that water down belief. So what are we to do? The father in Mark 9 shows us.
Wednesday, May 6th
Larger Portion of Scripture - Mark 9
Focused Passage for Reflection - Mark 9:14-29
Reflecting on the Text:
Are you surprised when you are spiritually unable to do something? Maybe you struggle to focus on prayer. Maybe you struggle to complete a quiet time without mentally wandering off to your grocery list. Maybe you struggle with how to tell a co-worker about Jesus. Maybe you struggle with how to tell your own child about Jesus. When you struggle in these ways, does it surprise you? And now for the better question…why does it surprise you? Do you have some notion that you should be independently sufficient? And do your failures at independence send you into a tailspin? If so, this passage has something to say.
In the opening scene, Jesus walked upon an argument. Now granted this is conjecture, but maybe the argument was fueled by spiritually frustrated disciples who felt the need to defend themselves against “I-told-you-so” scribes. Or maybe that’s just why I get into arguments. Regardless, Jesus asked the clarifying question and the father answered with the words the disciples most hated to hear… “they were not able.”
Upon hearing all of this, Jesus responded with words which we might not like to hear, or at least might not understand. He said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”
What do you think, or rather what do you feel when you hear those words? Do they confirm what you long suspected? Was Jesus gritting His teeth while He had to put up with those incapable disciples? Or could there have been something else going on? There is no doubt He was frustrated, but what was the source of His frustration? Was it their inability (as we most likely fear), or could it have been something else? Could it have been their unwillingness to depend upon Him?
So often, we read His words and judge His motivations according to the way we might have responded, but His actions give us a better picture. He asked the father to bring the boy and then questioned him about the situation. The father answered Jesus’ questions and then seemed to ask one himself. Hidden in his request of Jesus was a subtle question: “Are you able?” Jesus rebuked the father, and then, for the first time in the passage, we hear a humble display of faith.
“I believe; help my unbelief!” This was the father’s cry of humble dependence. It was an honest, faith-filled prayer, simultaneously proclaiming his faith and confessing his weakness. The father made it clear that even his belief was dependent upon Jesus. It was what Jesus seemed to be looking for most from the disciples (and from us). The focus of His discipleship was not on their ability to independently perform spiritual works, but on their willingness to humbly depend upon Him. And the father finally got it.
I don’t mean to minimize the healing, but was it ever really in doubt? In this healing account, I don’t believe the healing is the main point. Yet in Jesus’ compassion, He didn’t neglect to care for the boy and his father. But in the end, he brought the lesson home to the disciples.
They tipped their hand. In private, they let Jesus know where their focus was. “Why could we not cast it out?” Again… “Why were we spiritually unable?” Jesus’ response was simple but profound. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
I’ve always read this passage wondering if Jesus was clarifying their technique. You know…you do it this way with this kind and that way with that kind. But upon further reflection, I think Jesus was engaging with their struggle over ability and redirecting. In prayer, we are humbly acknowledging our inability while depending on the One who is able. The disciples asked, “Why can’t we?” Jesus answered, “I can.”
So we go back to the original question. Are you surprised when you are spiritually unable? If so, why? Jesus didn’t/doesn’t rebuke for inability. He rebukes for unwillingness. Let us humble ourselves and depend upon Him in prayer.
Questions for personal reflection:
Are you surprised when you are spiritually unable? Why?
What might it look like for you to adopt the father’s prayer and pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!”