One story that is strangely encouraging to me about life and ministry comes from an interaction Jesus had with a dad whose son was overtaken by an evil spirit. (Mark 9:14-29)
The father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples hoping that they could cure him. After many attempts the disciples resigned to the fact that they couldn’t do it.
At this point the father turned to Jesus and asked, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus said, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” To which the father responded, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
I find this story encouraging for two reasons.
1. The disciples failed. I hate failing. Who doesn’t? There is nothing worse than being confronted with your own limitations and inadequacies. Whether in your job, relationships or in personal goals, failure always hurts. Especially after having had some success, failure can leave us deflated and questioning whether or not we should continue.
At this point in their ministry the disciples have a reputation for healing people. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus gave them authority and power to drive evil spirits (Mark 6:7). And they’ve proven they can do it. But in this situation, they can’t and they’re confused by their failure.
As a pastor, sometimes I find myself believing I am not allowed to fail. I’m supposed to have all the answers and always know what to do. Sometimes I find myself believing I’m supposed to lead with decisive courage and strength and never second guess a decision. But the truth is, if these guys who walked and talked with the living Christ didn’t always get it right, why should I think any different for myself?
The truth is, when I live and lead with the mentality that I can’t fail, I assume the belief that ministry success is about me and relies on me. In a strange way, failure brings a measure of freedom when it causes us to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus knowing that He can do the things we can’t.
2. The father doesn’t believe. The word that comes to mind when thinking about the father in this story is hopeless. After having cared for his needy son for years on end, I can imagine the father is worn out and overwhelmed. Knowing that Jesus’ disciple have a reputation and ability to heal, he probably experienced a measure of hope thinking things for he and his son could be different.
After living in a difficult situation for an extended period of time, having hope that things might change can be dangerous. Each time you believe things could change, only to discover they don’t, further cements the belief that your situation is beyond repair. You start to believe you are destined for this reality for the rest of your life. The more this happens, the more you grow guarded and skeptical.
On the heels of another failed attempt for change, the father comes to Jesus wondering if he also is unable to do anything for him and his son. Hence his statement, “…if you can do anything.”
When I desire for situations in my life to change, I find that I look other places before I come to Jesus. I seek out advice from friends. I do research and weigh my options. Often, only after I’ve exhausted all other avenues do I come to Jesus for help. Typically by that point I’m half-hearted in my belief that Jesus can and will help.
But what I find most encouraging about both of these interactions is, even though Jesus is a bit harsh in his response, He still says yes. Jesus’ help isn’t dependent on how successful we are or how strong our belief is. Jesus helps and heals because he loves. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
No one sets out to fail or have weak faith, but even still, Jesus is willing even when we fall flat on our face or give up and throw in the towel.
Where have you seen Jesus meet you in your failure and unbelief?