Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2013
Dear Friend in Christ:
If you are struggling with unresolved issues or a seeming lack of faith, then I hope that this letter will be for you as we enter into the new year. Most of us fall into one of those categories.
The story I want to share is recorded both in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. Jesus had taken three of His disciples up to the top of a mountain where He was transfigured in their presence. He became radiant and met with Moses and Elijah. It was a high moment in their lives. But the other disciples, nine in all, were left at the foot of the mountain. While Jesus had taken three into the heavenly realm, the others were left very much in a struggle in the earthly realm. Finally the three came down with Jesus and that is where our story begins (see Matthew 17:14-21).
While three disciples were in the “heavenlies” with Jesus, nine were being confronted with a need that they could not meet. Jesus was not there when a father came to the disciples, kneeling and begging them to cure his epileptic son. He was desperate and so was his son; it was a heartrending case. Normally he would have expected Jesus to be there, but Jesus was not.
I can imagine that the disciples tried all that they knew, praying, rebuking, calling out loudly, but without results. Soon a multitude gathered (see Mark 9:14) including “theological experts” who were arguing about the situation. That is when Jesus showed up.
The father then goes to Jesus and explains the desperation and danger to his son, who often fell into fire or water. He then says, “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Ever feel like one of the nine disciples?
TOILING WITHOUT JESUS
I will return to this story but first let me mention other occasions when the disciples worked hard with no results. Mark 6:45-52 records the story of the disciples in a storm rowing their boat against the winds and seas, before Jesus got in the boat. Again, Jesus was in the mountain praying but they were very much in physical reality. The New King James Bible says that they were “straining”.
Then there was the time in Luke 5 before Jesus called Peter when they had fished all night and caught nothing. John 21 records a time after the resurrection when the disciples went fishing, worked all night and caught nothing. Again, Jesus was not in the boat.
The situation that the father and son at the foot of the mountain faced tells us several truths and describes the reality that many of God’s people face. They are working hard with little to show for it. They labor with diligence, effort, knowledge, and all they can do, but there are no results. It would be easy to say that they lacked faith. But they had faith to try; they believed in God and what they were doing, but lacked one essential thing; Jesus was not there. They had not His faith.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, the father left the “experts” and the disciples and ran to Jesus. The father explained the problem to Jesus. Jesus’ response, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” They lacked faith. So, what to do?
In the presence of Jesus, the evil spirit began to manifest in the boy with convulsions, wallowing, and foaming at the mouth. If you have even seen a convulsion you know that it is horrible and uncontrollable. This had been going on since the boy’s childhood.
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately, the father cried out, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:24).
There are two kinds of faith here: the father’s faith that got him to seek Jesus and then Jesus’ faith that got the boy healed.
There are varieties of human faith: mental assent, positive thinking, confession of faith, and faith that puts forth an effort. While these may have their benefits, they are not the divine, spiritual faith that Jesus wants to give us. The father did two things that were right: He brought his son to Jesus and then he made an honest confession: “I believe, help my unbelief.” There is a great gap between our faith and His faith. We can confess that the mountain is removed but He made the mountain, and He can move it!
Most of us are at the foot of the mountain trying with the disciples to believe, doing all that we know how to do, toiling in the darkness. Meanwhile, the problem is not removed. We can preach about it, sing about it, and do all in our power, but the issues are not resolved. Meanwhile, the world asks, “Where is your God?” (see Psalm 42:10).
The father prayed the right prayer, “Help my unbelief.” He acknowledged that his faith was insufficient and that Jesus could give him divine faith and assurance. Jesus can give the same to us if we acknowledge our lack and His ability. First Corinthians 12:9 says that faith is a gift of the Spirit. It is grace. It is by that grace that we are saved and enjoy every other blessing from God.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (see Hebrews 11:1). Faith tells us that God made the visible from the invisible. Faith is invisible but brings what we hope for into the visible realm. It transmits the invisible to the visible. God’s own faith created it all and by His faith we can create on earth what He shows us in the heavenlies. No, we don’t control God by our faith; but as the custodian of faith, He controls us.
My favorite book on faith is The Real Faith by Charles Price (1887-1947). Dr. Price was called to a ministry of healing. In his book he describes the differences between “faith in God” and “the faith of God”. He saw dramatic results and prayed for many thousands of people. He tells many stories of those at “the foot of the mountain” struggling to believe and what happened when they received faith from God.
My purpose here is not to criticize those who try to have faith, but to encourage us to do as that father did: get to Jesus, confess our lack, and ask for His faith. It will likely take some serious seeking of Jesus Himself, not just seeking the gift.
When Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, there were immediate results; the boy was set free. When the Lord gives us His faith, things can happen fast; no more thrashing around. And even if it takes a while, we have confidence.
THE DISCIPLES’ QUESTION
“Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples wondered (see Matthew 17:19). Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief.” He went on to say that faith the size of a grain of mustard seed could move mountains. Apparently a grain of divine faith is more powerful than a barn full of our faith. Jesus goes on to talk about prayer and fasting. Perhaps that is relevant to receiving the faith that we need from God.
It is amazing that He told the disciples that they had “unbelief”. Other translations say “little faith.” Apparently their human faith was mixed with doubt (see Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23). God’s faith leaves no room for doubt; it is full assurance.
So how do we get there? We cannot, but we can get to Jesus “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (see Hebrews 12:12). Too many of us want more faith for some purpose and not enough of us want Jesus for His purpose–whatever He wants.
We are like the disciples who wanted faith to accomplish a miracle, but lacked total confidence in the name of Jesus. The good news is that they finally got there after Jesus ascended and after the Holy Spirit came in power. So, we can too, and we must if we are to succeed with our struggles at the foot of the mountain.
I must confess that, like the disciples I have often lacked God’s faith. And like them, I desire a greater measure of divine faith. In addition, I desire it for the Church in our day. Charles Price’s ministry was not that long ago, and he came to understand the difference between his faith and God’s faith. Smith Wigglesworth was another great apostle of faith who found divine faith and saw miracles.
Those of us who are believers have been given a measure of faith in some area. In Romans 12:3, the apostle Paul said that God had dealt to each one a measure of faith. That was a measure of His faith, since He dealt it. We will not all labor in the same area of ministry, but faith moves us to do things with it. Faith is a substance, but not a status.
WHAT TO DO
I am not writing to say seek more faith; I am writing to say we must seriously seek the Lord; faith is a gift that comes down, not an exercise that it works up. As we find Him in heartfelt prayer, honest confession, and complete forgiveness, we will receive a substance, perhaps a “grain”, that will move the mountains before us.
You can name your mountain; it may be money, a relationship, a sickness, an evil spirit or some other issue. But take your eyes off of it for awhile and place them on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. Seek and see Him high and lifted up.
There are many “mountains’ in our world as well as in our lives. If we are true believers, people will bring their hard cases to us or we should go to them. But before we go “thrashing about” in 2013, let us look up at Him as that father did and say, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” If we do, this will be a great year! Happy New Year.
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Scripture Reference: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Psalms, Hebrews, Romans