Why do we blow the Christian life? Why does sin sometimes get a seemingly unbreakable hold of us and our loved ones?
The answer is twofold. First, we overestimate ourselves. We think we can dig deep down into our own hearts and into our tiny wealth of experience and discover life saving truth. But as we saw earlier, we do not find truth, peace, and love when we trust ourselves to ourselves. We find error, discord, and hate.
So how do we fix our lack of faithfulness? We trust God. Specifically, we meditate on the character and power of God. And as we do and as our reflections lead us to call out to God for help, we find relief from our problems. If we get things in perspective (we value God above ourselves) we will find relief, hope, and peace. Let’s go back to Mark 9.
After Jesus rebukes the disciples and the crowd for their lack of faith and for their misplaced ideas of personal sufficiency, Jesus asks the father about his demon possessed son. Then, Jesus listens to the father explain his son’s condition (Mark 9:21). Jesus is a caring and compassionate God. He cares about our sorrows and pains. He cares about our daily suffering. And he listens to us. He hears our prayers. The God who created the stars, stops and listens to our problems. Instead of bypassing Jesus, we should wait for him. We should express our concerns to him. We should trust Jesus.
Now admittedly our trust at times will be incomplete, fickle, and lacking. We see that in verse 22-23. The father straight up doubts whether or not the God who created the sun is powerful enough to heal his son. And like so many of us, the father has credible reasons to doubt Jesus and the teachers network of faith. The father has suffered with his son’s demon for years. He has had to frantically save his son from drowning and from been burned alive time and time again. The man was worn out and tired. And when he came to the disciples for help, he found none. He found only hopelessness.
Many in our churches can empathize with this man. They have struggled with the early onset of arthritic pain, with their son’s drug addiction, and with a horrible marriage day after day and year after year. And when they went to their church for help, they were told to read their Bible and to stop complaining. They were told to follow this five step plan and to do this purge. They tried those things but life did not get better. God still seemed far away and distant. They know God can work, but they have so much pain, brokenness and sadness. Their emotions at time seem to suck the very joy from their lives. They know things are not supposed to be this way. But here they are like the father in this narrative, wandering, “Can God do anything?”
Oh he can! Notice what Jesus says in verse 23. “If you can! All thing are possible for the one who believes.” Jesus powerfully reminds the father that the problem is not with Jesus. He has enough power. The question is this: “Do we trust God?”
And I do not think when Jesus discusses faith here, he is saying that our faith determines God’s actions. God is not up in heaven saying, “Peter, if you would get your belief meter up to 98%, then I can final work. C’mon buddy, you just need to believe.” This is not the biblical ideal of faith. Belief does not consist of our ability to will what we want into reality.
I once heard of a pastor’s wife who saw a really nice house. She told her husband that they would buy a house like that one day. He protested, explaining the limits of their budgets and that pastors are always poor. She didn’t care. She believed they would have that house. Two years later, they got the house. And she boasted in her faith! Often when we think of having enough faith, we think of this pastor’s wife.
But this is not the correct view of faith. Faith equals obedience. Faith is obedience. Faith is the ability to respond to death, sorrow, and despair with hope. Faith says, I can live in our poor house for the rest of my life, because God is good. I trust that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. I trust that God is true. I believe. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is the ability to say that I can suffer in our broken marriage, with terminal illness, and with a son hooked on drugs because this life is not all there is. I am a son of God, and I am going to him. I have faith in the justice, goodness, and mercy of God. I have faith. And I have faith enough to trust that God will and always does work.
Now admittedly, we all struggle to stay on this mountain top. We get discouraged. Our churches, our friends, our families, and our hearts will fail us and our faith can be tempted to wain. And when we are in such a moment, we cry out to Christ like the father did. “I believe; help my unbelief” (v24).
And here is the greatest news of all: God works. Though God may seem distant and far away. He hears the cries of his children. And he responds. In verse 26-27, we read that Jesus casts out the demon. He does what the disciples and what we cannot do. He liberates the son from the power of darkness. Jesus casts out the demon.
Friends, God is at work. He will deliver us. For some of us, this means that God will answer our petitions. He will heal our sickness, he will deliver our daughter from drugs, and he will rescue our marriage. Do not grow weary.
But for some us, they answer may be no. But it is not the no of despair. Rather it is the no of love. God gives you the wayward child, the besetting sickness, and the troubled home so that he can draw you closer to him. He lets us suffer so that everything that would keep us from the beauty of Christ is removed. He gives us that which nothing can destroy or harm or take away. He gives us Jesus. And this is the promise, this is the hope that all of us have regardless of what is going on in our personal world today. Jesus saves. All who believe in him we find deliverance. Make much of God.
Now the disciples like you and me cannot help but wonder what went wrong in their case. They cannot help but wonder why Jesus quickly and powerfully did what they could not do over several hours. Once everyone else is gone, the disciples ask Jesus. They ask him, “Why could we not cast it out’ (28). And Jesus tells them and us! The suspense is over, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (29).
When life seems hopeless, the solution is to trust God more. When we cannot make head or tails of a marriage or of our illness or of someone’s addiction, the solution is prayer. The solution is to pick up the walkie-talkie and to call out to God. As John Piper said,
Prayer is the walkie-talkie on the battlefield of the world. It calls in for the accurate location of the target of the Word. It calls in to ask for the protection of air cover. It calls in to ask for fire power to blast open a way for the tanks of the Word of God. It calls in the miracle of healing for the wounded soldiers. It calls in supplies for the forces. And it calls in the needed reinforcements.
God is our commander and our defender. To succeed at the Christian life especially when we are pinned down in the toughest firefights of our spiritual lives, we must call out to him. We must call out to him in faith, knowing that he will work all things together for our good. This is the hope of the Christian.
But for us to have this hope and for us to excel at the Christian life, we must avoid the mistake that the disciples made. We must avoid the temptation to make much of ourselves and to make little of God. Rather, we must replace our self-confidence with confidence in the savior who can rescue us from this world.