And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes. ~Mark 9:21-23 (ESV)
You should really read the whole story. It’s a good one. Pay attention to how the father speaks to Jesus. Maybe it is his attempt at humility, but it sure sounds like a lack of faith when he says, “if you can do anything…”. That is the kind of language you use when you bring a lost cause to an expert hoping they can fix it, but not expecting too much. Do what you can, but I’m not expecting much. This is a real mess and I’m not sure anyone can do anything at this point. In this story, the big problem was the man’s son, who had been demon-possessed for years. Even the disciples of Jesus couldn’t do anything. The man was desperate and hopeful, but he’d long ago tempered his expectations for real change.
Jesus’s response to his plea amounts to, “Are you serious?” There isn’t any limit to Jesus’s power and authority, much less his compassion. Jesus states that all things are possible to him who believes. The problem, as the father readily admits, is a lack of belief (v. 24). He underestimates the power of Jesus to handle a problem of such magnitude.
Let’s be honest, we are more like this man than we would like to admit. Our prayers sound a lot like his sometimes, when we are praying for healing, the salvation of a wayward loved one, or freedom from a deeply entrenched addiction, years of anxiety, or healing to a broken marriage: Do what you can, God, but I’m not expecting much. I mean, this is a real mess and I’m not sure anyone can do anything at this point. Even you.
Sometimes we even end with, “Your will be done,” not born of worshipful submission to his will, but as foregone consolation because we don’t really think God is going to answer anyway.
Fact is, we are always underestimating God. We continually sell God short. God could do more than we will ever ask in this life. He could answer more prayers than we will ever pray. Our underestimating of God is evidenced by our weak and infrequent prayers, as well as our prayerlessness.
The story in Mark 9 reminds us that God is superior to the task, whatever it may be. His power is more than sufficient. He has set his love and compassion on us with a seal that cannot be broken. His secret will (what he has sovereignly ordained, along with how and when) is secret for a reason. He hasn’t revealed it to us. His revealed will (what he commands and expects of you) is clear:
Don’t assume you’ve figured out what God will and will not answer. Don’t assume after five or ten years you’ve received God’s answer and it’s ‘No.’ Some of our prayers will not be resolved until the resurrection. A great many, I imagine. Until that day comes, keep praying. Pray with faith. Trust God with the really big problems.
And yes, keep praying even for that one.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~Ephesians 3:20-21
Listen to a sermon related to this blog: Help My Unbelief