There is this story about Jesus in the book of Mark where He shows up on the scene of a dad who is desperate on behalf of his child. And wouldn’t you believe it, when Jesus shows up his disciples are arguing! Here they are arguing while this man is suffering. This sounds so familiar, I can barely handle it. Some things never change and yet how long do we need to learn our lessons?
Jesus asks them why they are arguing and this dad answers for them, which is hilarious! He explains that his son is possessed by a spirit that has “robbed” him of his speech. His son falls to the ground, foams at the mouth and, well, acts like a monster. The dad looks at Jesus and says, “Your disciples tried to heal him but they couldn’t do it.” So, yeah that is why they are arguing.
I can just imagine this scene. Jesus seems irritated and says “You unbelieving generation. How long shall I put up with you?” He is talking to his followers. He is not talking to unbelievers! Of all people, Jesus has talked to them about faith, about mustard seeds, about moving mountains and about the authority they have been given to do big things. And here their mustard seeds are being thrown into each others eyes, the mountains are ashamed and the biggest thing going is an argument.
And we are still arguing. We are arguing over the right way to pray, the right way to heal, what Jesus really meant when he said X, Y and Z. And in all our arguing, people lay writhing in pain right next to us, but our desire to be right blinds our eyes and our hearts.
I remember after a service when I was on staff at a college ministry and a student tried to to strike up what he probably thought would be an interesting conversation that we could banter back and forth about. You know, a typical hot button Christian issue to argue over. The entire time he and his friend were trying to peak my interest in the aisle, there was a girl to my right sitting in the middle of a pew crying. I was trying not to be rude and just cut these guys off from their deeply passionate opinions and yet, this girl was obviously hurting. She had long blond hair and beautiful eyes and she wept there all alone. As they were asking me what my opinion was, I noticed no one in this entire church was stopping to check in with this girl who was clearly not ok. It struck me in that moment, that this perhaps is why the church appears to be dying. Just like the disciples who were battling over words while the boy was writhing in pain, so too, are Jesus’ disciples today.
While we argue about baptism, there are people who need the hope Jesus has to offer in the life everlasting that beckons one in and out of that water. While we argue about once saved always saved, there are people who just need to be rescued. While we argue over what is the worst sin ever, there are people who are waking up everyday bent over by their sin and they believe God and His people would have nothing to do with them because of it. And they believe that because they are writhing in pain and we are sitting around arguing with each other.
How long, oh unbelieving generation will we argue while people are hurting? Oh, how long?
Jesus didn’t get involved in their arguments. Notice what He does. He says “Bring the boy to me.” He wants to stand face to face with the one who is hurting. The Bible says in Mark 9:20 “When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground, rolling around, foaming at the mouth.” I think that’s fascinating. As soon as a spirit that bends people over is in the presence of Jesus, it convulses. In the same way, when people see Jesus in His people, they too will respond like this. And yet we think a good argument will cure them.
Like a doctor, Jesus asks how long the boy has been like this. Apparently this guy’s condition has been so bad since childhood that he has fallen in water and fire and almost died because of this oppressive spirit. And then the dad says this: “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
If you can do anything? I wonder how many people want to say this to Jesus but don’t think they can. If you can do anything. If you can turn my life around Jesus. If you can help my marriage. If you can break the chains of addiction. If you can clean up my messy life.
Jesus is funny in how He responds. He asks sarcastically “‘If you can’?” almost as if to point out who this guy is dealing with. This man is dealing with the One who made the ocean in His sleep and then bossed the wind and the waves around and they obeyed him. This man is talking to the One who made his kid and so He can make what ails his kid go away. Jesus says to the dad: “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
And then the most beautiful prayer perhaps ever uttered, out the mouth of this desperate dad, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” This is what should have been coming out of the disciples mouths rather than arguing. I do believe and where I don’t, Oh Lord help me overcome my unbelief. Maybe this should be the prayer of the Church, of this unbelieving generation, of those who want nothing to do with Church but hope Jesus “can” and the prayer for those that are writhing in pain and so want to believe there is a way out. Help me overcome my unbelief.
Jesus didn’t give a theological, expositional sermon on what this man needs to believe. Jesus commanded the spirit out of the boy and out it came as easy as uttering a goodbye. Jesus honored this prayer. I have been pondering what is faith and I love that Jesus honored this man’s doubt, his unbelief and his humility to come to Jesus with what little, little faith he had. And when he did he asked for the faith he lacked.
If you lack faith today to believe God can do anything, ask Him to overcome your disbelief. If you are letting go of faith faster than you can grasp it, ask God to overcome your grasp. If you lack faith to be obedient to the things in which you know He has called you to, ask God to be bigger than the belief within you that feels so small. If you want to believe, but you struggle to believe, ask Jesus to turn your faithlessness into faith.
After Jesus drove the spirit out of the boy, the boy looked like a corpse and many thought he was dead. But did Jesus leave him there? No, Jesus “took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.” Now this boy could truly live!
In privacy, Jesus disciples asked Him why they couldn’t drive it out and Jesus says “This kind can come out only by prayer.” I think what He meant is that it can only come out by the kind of prayer the dad who struggled with unbelief prayed. Jesus, once again insinuating that this man’s faith was bigger than theirs. A man who they would have described as less faithful than themselves. A man they would have rated as less spiritual. While they argue, a man of wee faith prays for more. And more is what he receives. More faith. More life. More health. More of his son. More “can”.
I wonder what more we could experience if we, His people, stop using our words to argue, but instead use them to pray, “Lord help me overcome my unbelief for You can do anything.” Then perhaps, there might be less people writhing in pain to our right.
I broke conversation with the two young men wanting to argue the theologic points of some controversial subject. I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I went and sat next to her. I put my left arm around her as she look up at the front of the sanctuary. I noticed she stayed almost 30 minutes after the service just sitting in that pew, so I said, “What keeps you sitting here?” She said almost surprised by her own words, “This place feels like home. And when I leave here, I lose this feeling. Everything out there is hurting me, but here I have experienced home, safety, refuge. I am afraid to go.” This was the beginning of a conversation with a young woman who had been severely wounded and would not have considered herself close to God, high on a belief scale or very faithful, yet she had an encounter with Jesus and din’t want to leave. We had a beautiful conversation that led to Jesus and His great love and healing offer for her life that she now knows goes with her wherever she does.
I realized that night- that conversation so easily could have been missed by being tempted and distracted by the disciples arguing. I will never forget that moment and from here on out I have made a promise that I will not sit around and argue and debate while people are writhing in pain. I will leave that to other people. I will not stand by and try to be right while people’s circumstances are wrong.