As we journey through the Witness of Mark, we want to encourage you to first begin with the Daily Reading that will take you through the entire book of Mark. Then, read the First 15 Scripture and Reflection to dive a little deeper into verses from the Daily Reading.
Today's daily reading is: Mark 9:14-37
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
One of the things we do not often address in the community of faith is doubt. We encourage people to believe, to have faith, to express confidence in God. And that is good. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are times when we enter a dark hour. There are people in our midst, maybe ourselves, who are suffering. God can feel distant to our experience, though we have reason to believe that God is never far. Our prayers can seem feeble and ineffective, even when we are perfectly sincere. We can wonder what went wrong, or where God went, or how we got off track.
There are two primary reasons we do not speak about our doubts: shame and fear. The shame we feel comes from believing we haven’t lived up to standard. Fear most often stems from worry because we believe we have failed God or, if we admit our doubts, we believe we will have failed those around us. Shame and fear lead to the same place: hiding and concealment, which yields separation from God and distance within the fellowship.
However, when doubts arise, or unbelief takes hold, we do not have to respond with shame nor fear. Instead, we can be vulnerable, teachable, honest, and prayerful. And God, along with our brothers and sisters in the congregation, might surprise us with presence, listening, compassion, love, and help in our time of need.
In Mark 9:14-29 we find a story that helps us put aside shame, overcome fear, and face our unbelief. I’ll warn you: Jesus is prophetically bold. But he is also responsive, caring, compassionate, and helpful.
When the story begins, the disciples are surrounded by a large crowd. Some of the scribes are there, opposing the disciples and arguing with them. The argument centers on a young boy. Jesus arrives on the scene and the crowd responds in awe. Jesus wants to know what has divided the crowd, and a man says he brought his son to the disciples for healing, and yet they could not do it. The father tells Jesus that his son is afflicted by a spirit who causes him to foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and fall rigid.
When Jesus responds to the father and to the crowds, he does so with prophetic boldness. Jesus says, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I put up with you?” Jesus is willing to name unbelief when he sees it. Perhaps he is rebuking his disciples, who were unable to put into practice what he taught them. Maybe he is challenging the crowds, who seem to be more interested in what Jesus can do for them than they are in him and his kingdom. That’s prophetic. That’s bold. If I’m coming to Jesus either unbelieving or from false motives, I want to know. I want a God who will call me to deeper trust, a deeper faith.
Jesus voices his frustration, his disappointment. But then the boy is brought to Jesus. He responds. He asks the father, “How long has this been happening?” This a question of concern, care, and love. The father tells Jesus about his son’s condition, which has plagued the boy since childhood: “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus listens to the response. He shows compassion for the father, and for the boy. But Jesus also challenges, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
The father responds with sincerity, vulnerability, and transparency. It can also be said that he responds in prayer. “I do believe,” he says, “help my unbelief!”
Jesus rebukes the impure spirit, and the boy is healed. It was such an intense experience that some thought the boy had died. But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up. The disciples asked why they could not do it, and Jesus told him that the spirit was of a kind that could only come out through prayer.
Some scholars and commentators believe that Jesus must have prayed, where the disciples did not. But I would contend that it was the father who prayed, and his words changed everything. Jesus pushed and challenged the father, for Jesus knew what was in his heart. The father’s unbelief did not keep Jesus from coming to him, and even from acting on his behalf. Instead, the father’s unbelief was in need of acknowledgment so that when God did act, the father’s faith could grow deeper and more secure.
When you have your doubts, when you are burdened by unbelief, pray. Let Jesus challenge you. Carry your concerns to him. Let him act on your behalf. Let him teach you, lead you, and guide you into a deeper faith, a fuller knowledge of God. Don’t hide, don’t retreat. Be open to the fact that God may answer your prayer through others in the family of faith, those with wisdom and knowledge you do not yet possess.
Be transparent and thoughtful about your hesitancies, doubts, and unbelief. But most of all, be teachable, prayerful, and receptive to what God might do. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed. Go to Jesus, and pray, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
Holy God, help me to always come to you in faith and in doubt, in belief and in unbelief, and to always offer my prayers and concerns to you. You are compassionate, faithful, merciful, and good. Send your Holy Spirit, help me, and lead me into all truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.