Hebrews 6:13-20; Mark 9:17-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

One of my absolute favorite lines from the Bible we heard this morning in the Gospel – when a man prays to Christ, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief” (v 24). I use this phrase a lot in preaching, and in talking with and counseling people. So since we all hear it a good deal, I thought it would be a good idea to take a good look at the scene from the Gospel of St. Mark where we hear the phrase, and then be reminded of exactly what it means to believe and to not believe at the same time.

At the beginning of the reading we find out that there is a father with a possessed son. And the father has brought the child to Jesus to be healed; he took the child to the disciples first, but they weren’t able to heal the boy. Jesus’ first words when he hears about the disciples failure to heal this boy are important for us to hear – “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring the child to Me” (v 19). He already recognizes that the people are without faith – Blessed Theophylact comments if the father had believed, then the disciples could have worked the miracle; and if the disciples had believed, they could have worked the miracle. The great multitudes that flocked to Jesus – if their faith was real then they wouldn’t have needed to travel for their healings. Christ recognizes and points out the general lack of faith of everyone. But instead of getting angry or frustrated, our Lord (yet again) uses this miracle as an opportunity to build up the faith of the faithless – everyone’s faith is strengthened when Christ heals the boy (father’s, boy’s, disciples’, and the multitudes’). We see the father’s lack of faith demonstrated when he says to Christ, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v 22). Our Lord replies to the father of this demon-possessed boy, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (v 23). If you can bring yourself to some amount of faith, then anything is possible. St. Matthew’s Gospel records this same scene, and we have an additional thing said to the Apostles, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; [if you have faith] nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). After Christ tells the father that all things are possible with faith, the father cries out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!” (v 24). With this prayer offered by a grieving father, our Lord rebukes the unclean spirit and it leaves the child. The father confessed his belief, and he prayed for Christ to heal, to make whole, his lack of belief. And with this simple prayer, his son is healed.

To help us understand this prayer, I’d like to mention a distinction that I heard Metropolitan JONAH make one time between faith and belief. Belief is an act of our will, of our reasoning mind. We believe something that we know scientifically; we formulate our beliefs by gathering data, processing it, and then coming to a conclusion. Faith is knowledge we have of things unseen. It’s a knowledge that’s different from scientific knowledge, deeper. We have faith in God because we’ve experienced God, we’ve felt His presence in our heart, we’ve seen His activity. We know that God is real and that His Word is true on a level that’s deeper than the knowledge we gather from our senses. Belief will fail at times; what we believe about all sorts of things comes into question as we gather other data through our senses and draw new and different conclusions. But our faith can remain strong in Christ because we know Him, we’ve met with Him, we’ve known His presence, we’ve heard His voice. And when times or situations make belief difficult, Metropolitan JONAH said that’s okay, belief comes and goes and rises and falls and is firm and then shaken the next moment. But we rely on something deeper than belief, we live by faith.

So with this distinction between faith and belief, we could easily reword the father’s prayer, “Lord, I have faith; help Thou my unbelief!” This is a very important prayer for us to use in our spiritual lives. As two brief examples…We’re faced constantly with struggle against passions that we don’t believe we can overcome, but we do know all things are possible with Christ (we don’t believe, but we do have faith), so we can pray, “Lord, I have faith; help Thou my unbelief!” When we think of our loved ones, and everything we see leads us to despair for them (happens often to parents), again when we pray for our children and for God’s intervention and action in their lives, we can use the father’s prayer, “Lord, I have faith [I know that you love this person and you can do all things]; help Thou my unbelief [help my doubt that things can work out]!” The examples we could use could be endless. There are countless situations where our belief will fail, when our rational mind will tell us the worse, and that God doesn’t care, or look how terrible or unmanageable things are. Our belief will fail, but belief is the product of a fallen, rational mind. We often think, when we struggle with belief, that our faith is weak or failing. And perhaps our faith is weak, at times. But the product of our rational minds (what we believe) is not the same thing as the knowledge of God we carry in our hearts (faith); the knowledge of God is far deeper than any worldly learning or understanding. So the Metropolitan recommended that we not get too worked up over struggling with our beliefs – we know what is true on a level deeper than rational thought and human understanding. And if we don’t yet know God on this deeper level, if we don’t yet possess this true deeper faith in Christ, then seeking to know God should be the number one priority in our lives. This is the purpose of engaging Lent, this is the reason that St. John Climacus (commemorated today) wrote his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent – the purpose of our life is to know / to meet / to be with Christ.

So this morning we really get 3 prayers to use constantly. The prayer from the Gospel – “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” We can pray this prayer so often in our day-to-day lives. A prayer for the strengthening of our faith – “Lord, I have faith; help Thou my faithlessness.” And finally, the prayer that distinguishes between our beliefs and our faith – “Lord, I have faith; help Thou my unbelief.” Another prayer that situations in our lives will lead us to frequently if we have it within us. My desire for you is that these prayers be part of who you are constantly. Any time there’s a doubt, or a struggle, we cry out to God immediately for His help, and if we have any question remaining, we accompany our petitions with the prayer of the demon-possessed child’s father – “Lord I believe; help Thou my unbelief!”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!