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Help My Unbelief

September 6, 2021

’Everything is possible for him who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9: 23-24).

Frances (“Fanny”) Crosby, was perhaps the most prolific American hymn writer.  She was blind her entire life.  She was inspired to write Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior after speaking at a Manhattan prison in 1868 where she heard some prisoners plead for the Lord not to pass them by.  The fragments of lyrics that generally come to my mind in the middle of the night are: “Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry . . . help my unbelief . . . Do not pass me by . . .”

 I thought of this hymn as I meditated on the Scripture texts for next Sunday.[1]  The texts emphasize that we are helpless without God.  We must rely on God throughout our entire lives.  After we receive the gift of faith, we’re not done.  The necessity to rely on God every day is a theme throughout Scripture and throughout Sunday’s texts.

Ole Hallesby, a 20th century Norwegian theologian, posited that prayer and helplessness go hand in hand. The most heartfelt prayers are from those who realize that they are helpless without God: “Listen my friend! Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of your helplessness.”[2]

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man whose son is possessed, the disciples are not able to heal him.  The father appealed to Jesus, who told him “’Everything is possible for him who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9: 23-24).  The father instinctively understood that even though he believed, there was a residue of unbelief in his soul that he was helpless in overcoming without Jesus.  He appealed to Jesus in desperation.  Like this man, we need to rely constantly on the Savior to overcome any amount of unbelief that undermines our faith.  

This was a lesson that the disciples had not yet learned.  After Jesus healed the boy, the disciples privately asked Jesus “’Why couldn’t we drive it [the demon] out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9: 28-29).  He was telling them two things: first, that this was a difficult case, and second, that complete reliance and dependence on God through prayer is the key that opens the door for miracles to occur.

James echoes this theme in his discourse on taming the tongue when he writes “No man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  Every day we must rely completely on God to move us closer to him in the faith.  Only with God’s help can we begin to exercise control over our tendency to speak gossipy, unkind, and angry words. 

Isaiah confirms the necessity of turning to God daily for sustenance and help: “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning . . . The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.   Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced” (Excerpts, Isaiah 50: 4-7).

Finally, the psalmist sings that we must turn to God throughout our lives: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live . . . The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.  The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me” (Psalm 116: 1-2; 5-6).

Contemporary musician-songwriter, Michael W. Smith describes our dependence on God this way in his song, “Breathe”: “This is the air I breathe. This is the air I breathe.  Your holy presence living in me . . . And I, I’m desperate for you.  And I, I’m lost without you.”

Ask Jesus to help your unbelief.  Turn your helplessness over to God.  Turn those things that wrench your heart over to God. Our God is a compassionate God who hears the prayers of the broken-hearted.  Look to God daily; he will not ignore you.  He will not pass you by.  Ask him to help you with doubts, fears, stubbornness, pride, anger, arrogance, greed, addictions, and anything else that separates you from God.  Turn to him daily to help your unbelief and with all of the concerns of your heart. When you do, you will grow in faith and reliance on God.  He will not pass you by.

Prayer: Merciful Father, we are lost without you.  We are helpless without you, and we are desperate for you. We thank and praise you for who you are–the compassionate God of the broken-hearted, the lost, and the helpless.  We ask you to lift us up, keep us in the faith, and comfort us as we navigate life’s difficulties and heartaches.  We ask these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost are: Isaiah 50: 4-10; Psalm 116: 1-9; James 3: 1-12; Mark 9: 14-29.   Another version of this blog was published in September 2018.

[2] Ole Hallesby, Prayer (1931), Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, pp. 18-19.

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