“Fear knocked – faith answered – there was no one there!”
Corrie Ten Boom: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
As I said last week, there is still so much we don’t know about the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know when cases in the US will peak or how long they will last afterward. We don’t know if surviving a COVID-19 infection means we gain long-lasting immunity or if we can become re-infected. We don’t know if the virus will be affected by warmer temperatures in the spring and summer – or, if it is – whether we will see a second onslaught of infections in the fall. We don’t know if measures to keep us from infecting each other will work. We don’t know if vaccine and therapy trials now underway will work.
But – what we do know is this: God loves us – Jesus Christ redeems us – and the Holy Spirit sustains us. That is all we should care about – that and praying.
II. Do Our Prayers Do Much Good?
At a time like this – it’s easy to wonder if prayer does much good. We pray for our leaders – for our healthcare providers – for our friends and families and ourselves. But if you’re like most of us – there’s an unstated – perhaps unadmitted doubt in the back of your mind – – “will my prayers really make any difference?”
They can fall into the “why not” category – something that doesn’t cost us anything but a little time and might make a difference. But here is another question that can haunt us: “But who really knows?”
In my series of sermons since Christmas – we have been following Jesus to Easter and watching him change lives along the way. We saw him save Peter from drowning on the stormy Sea of Galilee in response to the fisherman’s prayer, “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30). Note that in The Greek it is actually just two words: “Lord, save!” and it’s the shortest prayer in the Bible, and one we can pray any time in any storm.
Today we’ll shift from the shortest prayer in Scripture to a favorite prayer in Scripture to many believers. It’s one that I’ve prayed many times over the years. It’s one that you may need to learn to pray in these hard days.
III. What Most Concerns You?
Before we learn it, let me ask you: “What questions or doubts or struggles are most on your heart today?” “What weighs heaviest on your heart right now?”
They may be about the coronavirus pandemic – but they may be about something else. One tragedy
about disease epidemics is that other diseases don’t stop being diseases – people don’t stop having heart attacks
and cancer and strokes. People don’t stop having car accidents and financial fears and marital problems (that could go without saying due to any self-quarantine with your spouse).
So – name your fear – your doubt – your worry – then, let’s learn how to pray that favorite prayer in response and us begin with the plight of a desperate father.
A. The Plight of a Desperate Father.
Our story follows Jesus’ transfiguration, when he, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain to the people gathered below. Here, “when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them,
and the teachers of the law scribes arguing with them” (Mark 9:14). Remember these “scribes” were religious leaders – the authorities of the day.
When the crowd saw Jesus, they “were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him” (v. 15).
With his usual compassion, he asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” (v. 16). A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.
Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (vv. 17–18).
Imagine this man in our context – with a son with coronavirus. He has brought him to the doctors – but they cannot help him. His son is getting sicker, and he is getting more desperate.
Jesus said to this grieving father, “Bring the boy to me” (v. 19). The spirit then convulsed the boy so that he fell on the ground, foaming at the mouth (v. 20). Jesus asked his father how long this had been happening; the father said, “From childhood” (v. 21). And He added, “It has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him” (v. 22a).
Now comes the part we will focus upon today. The father added, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22b). Jesus replied, “If you can? All things are possible for one who believes” (v. 23).
Notice that he did not say, “All things are guaranteed,” but “all things are possible.” It’s important to remember that Our faith does not obligate God – as we will see shortly.
Now – here is the prayer I am recommending to us today: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (v. 24).
B. Why Doubts are Normal.
Doubts are a normal and expected part of the human experience. It is natural to doubt anything we cannot know with certainty. And the more urgently we need to know what we do not – the more deeply we will feel our doubts.
I can doubt can doubt anything – but my doubts don’t affect my life unless I’m an authority on the subject I’m doubting.
I can doubt that Brexit will move forward as planned in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – but my doubts don’t affect me unless I live in the UK or Europe or work in a field directly affected by them.
But if I doubt that God can protect me and my family from coronavirus or heal us if we are infected – my doubts become very real and very personal.
Faith in God is like faith in anyone else in that it is a relationship rather than a scientific experiment. All relationships require a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating.
I cannot prove to you that I love my wife or that she loves me. You would have to experience our relationship to know and understand its reality. You cannot prove you should take a job before you take it. You examine the evidence – of course – but then you step beyond the evidence into a commitment that validates itself.
It is the same with our Lord. There will always be dimensions of our relationship with him that transcend certainty and require faith. At such times – doubts are natural and normal.
IV. What Should We Do with Our Doubts Today?
What should we do with such doubts today?
A. First – Remember What We Know About God.
First of all – remember what we know about God. This father said to Jesus, “I believe” (v. 24a). The Greek word is pisteuo – meaning to trust in – to have confidence in, to rely upon. His faith was not merely intellectual – but personal. He had enough faith to bring his suffering son to Jesus’ disciples in the hope that they could help. Even though they had been unable to heal his son – he had enough faith to turn to their master now.
When we face what we don’t know – let’s remember what we do. Nothing about this boy’s suffering or this viral pandemic changes anything about the nature of God. He is as powerful today as when he created the universe. He is as omniscient today as when he led his people into the Promised Land. He hears our prayers as fully today as when he heard the Christians praying for Peter in prison and freed the apostle from Herod. He loves us as much today as when he sent his Son to die for us at Calvary.
What have you experienced about God in the past that is relevant today? What prayers has he answered? What needs has he met? What sins has he forgiven? In what way can you say, “I believe”?
B. Second: Trust God with What We Don’t Know.
We must trust God with what we do not know. The second part of the father’s prayer is one that may surprise many believers: “Help my unbelief!” (v. 24b). “Unbelief” translates apistia – the opposite of pisteuo.
Just as an “atheist” is one who denies theism – so this man’s “unbelief” contradicted his “belief”. When we have such doubts – we may think God won’t hear us or help us. But I assure you of this – – the opposite is true.
Remember Thomas – the disciple who did not meet the risen Christ along with the other apostles and said – “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). When the risen Christ met with them again the next week – Thomas was in their midst. Did Jesus criticize Thomas for his doubts? Did he condemn or judge him? “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (v. 27). And Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). And according to early tradition – he took the gospel as far east as India.
Thomas was not the only apostle to harbor doubts about the resurrection. In Matthew 28, we read that “the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (vv. 16–17).
Did Jesus reject them? Did he expel them from his movement? To the contrary, he commissioned them to “therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (v. 19). And they sure did.
The preeminent example of doubting faith is that of our Lord who cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Psalm 22:1). Of course, we know that Jesus was “without sin” in every dimension of his life (Hebrews 4:15). And we know that his Father met him in his doubts – so that Jesus would soon say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Like Thomas and the other apostles and our Savior – we can bring our doubts to God. We can tell him here we are struggling and ask for his help.
If our faith is weak – we can ask for a stronger faith. Or, if we don’t have faith – we can ask for faith. Either way – We can pray, “Lord, give me the faith to have faith.” And we can know that he hears us in grace.
In our text – Jesus then cast out the demon and healed the boy (Mark 8:25–27). He answered his father’s doubts with a demonstration of his power and love – and – He will do the same for us in whatever way is best for us.
This text does not promise that when we bring God our doubts – he will always meet them as we want him to. Our Lord healed this boy on this day – but he did not heal Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as the apostle prayed he would (2 Cor. 12:7–8). To the contrary, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9a).
And Paul could say as a result, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me” (v. 9b). And he could add, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
It’s been said that God sometimes calms the storm – but he sometimes lets the storm rage and – instead – calms his child.
What’s important today is that we know we can bring God our doubts in these days and know that he hears us and loves us. We can trust that he will give us what we ask or whatever is best. We may not understand his answer on this side of heaven – but we will one day (1 Cor. 13:12). And we can know that we are loved.
One of my favorite movie lines is in The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantes has been unfairly imprisoned. He meets a priest who is suffering the same. At one point the priest says to him, “Here is your final lesson – do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.’” Edmond responds, “I don’t believe in God.” The priest replies, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
For those who do not believe right this moment: “Lord, give me the faith to have faith.”
And for those who do believe: ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
How can we be assured of all this? As the knight templars believed, so should we all.
“Christus – Vincit / Christus – Regnat / Christus Rex”
“Christ is Victorious / Christ Reigns / Christ is King”
Let us pray – O Lord our God, we pray for guidance day by day – step by step – not asking nor desiring to see the distant scene. Help us to live one day at a time – knowing that the secret things – the issues of the future – belong unto God alone – but the things that are revealed – the unfolded issues of the day – are with us and must be met. Give us courage to face them bravely – and wisdom to handle them wisely. Our hope is in you, Father God. May we never turn aside from you to seek help from the weak and beggarly elements of the world.