Now we started off this morning with that clip from Star Wars where Luke is learning to become a Jedi and learning about the Force. (view clip here) He tries and fails to lift his space ship out of the swamp. "It is too big. It is impossible", he said.
I didn't show you that clip so that we could talk about the Force this morning. I did show it to you to get us all thinking about belief and unbelief. In order to fulfill his destiny, Luke had to, as Yoda told him, "unlearn what he had learned". There were things that he would encounter that he could not overcome by conventional means.
And you know what? There are times when we do exactly what Luke did.
First we admit defeat before we even attempt the task. Second, we grumble and complain. Third, we are sometimes riddled with unbelief.
There are things in our walk with the Lord that He asks us and expects us to do. And to accomplish and fulfill our vision, purpose and destiny we have to operate, not in the realm of doubt, but in faith.
So this morning I want us to look at the effects of unbelief, and how we can overcome it.
I have chosen the passage intentionally because it is one of the passages Pastor Gregory recommended that we read and pray about in preparation for tonight.
So let's read together Mark 9: 14-29
1. The Effect of Unbelief
This story begins with some of Jesus' disciples arguing with the religious leaders and things were probably not going very well.
Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John who were with him, came on the scene and he asked, "What are you arguing with them about?" This is when the story really begins to unfold.
The father explains that he had brought his boy to Jesus' disciples for them to release and heal him from an unclean spirit or demon. But they were unable to.
It must have been very embarrassing for the disciples to be so powerless in the face of their critics. They were unable to free this boy from the demonic grip in his life.
They believed they could and had done it before with others but now they couldn't. Maybe this was a new and different situation which seemed too big for them.
Maybe doubt had crept in and it was like a fire hose, distinguishing their faith. You certainly get that impression based on what Jesus says next.
In some translations, we see Jesus saying "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." (Mark 9:19, NIV)
We talked last week about how in the Greek language, the word for belief and faith are exactly the same word. It is the word "pistis".
Unbelief or a lack of faith robs us of power like it did for the disciples.
Unbelief does not and cannot please God. Heb 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (NIV)
We don't know why these disciples came up short. Maybe they had gotten too busy with ministering to others.
Maybe they had grown confident in their own abilities to heal. Maybe they thought because they were with Jesus so much that they didn't need to pray.
Later when the disciples got Jesus off by themselves and ask Him why they had trouble, Jesus said, "This kind can come out only by prayer." Some versions say "prayer and fasting."
Notice Jesus didn't say:
• I'm the only one who can handle this kind of situation.
• If only you had said the right words.
• Only seminary trained people can handle things like this.
He said that their power failure was a direct result of their prayer failure.
Notice too that this power failure didn't just affect their own spiritual lives, it affected their ability to minister to those around them.
So that's one aspect of the power of faith or belief in this story. But let's look at another equally important one. Overcoming it.
2. Overcoming unbelief
This father this boy is desperate. It's an awful feeling to be a parent and watch your child goes through any kind of sickness.
I don't think there is any feeling so desperately intense as a parent who cannot help their child. Out of that desperation, we hear the father saying "Have mercy on us and help us if you can."
That word "if" doesn't go unnoticed by Jesus, does it? He calls out the doubt. He names it.
And he really doesn't do it in a way that is overly harsh on the man. He uses the man's honesty in lacking faith to teach him.
"What do you mean 'if I can'? Anything is possible if a person believes"
This father was honest. He was as honest and sincere as he possibly could. You can criticize him if you want for a lack of faith, but at least he was honest.
I think that before growth can take place or faith can be increased, we've got to be honest with ourselves and with God. We have to admit our own need.
Which is the greater sin? Faltering in our faith, or faking our faith? If the doubts are there, we're not fooling anybody but ourselves.
Honesty with our doubts can lead us to discovery and greater faith. I love this father's response, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
He is again being honest. He's saying, I am struggling to believe. I want to believe. But I need your help, God.
And I believe that this is a prayer that God always answers. When we ask God to give us faith, he always does.
If we are to overcome unbelief, we need to start by asking God for help. God loves to increase the faith of His children.
George Mueller, an evangelist and minster in England in the 1800's, said "trials, difficulties and sometimes defeat are the very food of faith."
It is those times of difficulty and even of doubt that help us to grow in our faith, if we invite God into them.
They move us to seek God more and to pray more. At times they force us to trust when we can't see the answer or it doesn't make sense.
And the result is that we come away with an even greater faith.
How do you grow faith when everything is fine? It's easy to say, "Oh Lord, I have great faith in You!"
It is only when difficulty or heartaches or trials come that we find what our faith is really made of and like steel being tempered when placed in the fire, it becomes stronger.
The good news is that when we face up to our struggle with unbelief, that is when we give God room to do only what He can do.
As we get back to the story here, notice what Jesus did not do:
• He didn't say, "Sorry, you don't have enough faith."
• He didn't say, "Muster up some more faith and come back later."
• He didn't say, "A miracle can only happen if you have a certain quota or level of faith."
No, Jesus answered the man's prayer. The man said "help me to overcome my unbelief" and that is exactly what Jesus did and then went ahead and healed the boy.
So to sum up here, there are some important things we can learn from this account.
1. Be honest with your doubts.
It is only when we stop faking and start facing them that we can grow in deeper faith.
God is not threatened by your doubts. The church or others may feel threatened, but God is not. He openly embraces those with honest doubts that are seeking answers.
2. Come to Jesus and keep your eyes on Him.
If we want to do anything significant for God, we are going to have to be willing to spend time with Him and sacrifice some things for Him.
Prayer is the power grid of faith. Put your eyes on Jesus and not the problem.
It's a sad reality that too often those who do not believe do not pray. Come to Jesus and keep your eyes on Him.
Thinking back to that movie clip at the beginning, think about how different the story would have been if Luke had believed.
Actually, we don't have to imagine because with some creative editing, someone has been able to show us what that might have been like. (view clip here)
How would our story change if we believed instead of doubted? What are the things that we need to "unlearn"? What are the things that are too big or impossible?
Can you think of some time when your faith didn't rise to the occasion? Have you discovered some "chinks in the armor" of your faith?
And are you willing to be honest with Jesus and ask him to help you overcome your unbelief?
Are you and I willing to let Jesus take over and grow us to a deeper level. God loves to increase the faith of His children.
Maybe what you need to do today is just turn the burdens you are carrying over to God and ask Him to help in the areas you are weak. When you turn it all over, that gives God room to work.
It is not God's intention for us to have doubts and unbelief. It is certainly not His intention for us to stay there.
However, He can use it for good and make us stronger through it.
Let's not live in our doubt or unbelief. Let's be honest with God and ask Him to help us and to help us push through to greater faith.