By Heather Adams, Crosswalk.com
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24
This cry came from a man who was heartbroken over the state of his son. He was desperately hoping that Jesus’ disciples could help, and when they couldn’t, he began to feel doubt. Jesus’ words that prompted this cry for help were both the gentle reprimand and the reminder that he needed in that moment.
...Everything is possible for one who believes.’ (Mark 9:23)
I have needed to hear that on my Christian journey as well. For, as much as I love the Lord, there have been times when I’ve veered into doubt. Whether my attitude came out of fear, upset, or even impatience, it’s revealed a weak area in me. But within the conversations and the healing in this account, I’ve found great reassurance and hope that my faith can always keep growing.
Becoming stronger in our faith is a lifelong process. The great news is that we are not expected to mature on our own—God will do the work in our hearts. We do have an important part to play in His plan, though.
The Meaning of ‘Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief’ in Mark 9:24
What the man says here can sound contradictory. He claims to believe, yet confesses to unbelief. It took me a while to appreciate the wisdom in his words. Now I see that this father understood that faith in God is not a one-and-done choice or just a switch that God turns on at our moment of salvation.
Early on as a believer, I heard the idea that God changes us gradually, as the layers of an onion are peeled off. This can apply to faith. How much we grow in our belief over time depends on how willing we are to:
- Let go of trying to control
- Submit to God's will
- Trust in God's ability
The father quickly realized he needed to admit his inability to heal his son. Then he declared that Jesus could do the healing. The result was joyous—his child's health was renewed, and his faith increased.
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What Is Happening in Mark 9 Regarding Unbelief
This verse is part of a narrative that starts Mark 9:14. Jesus (along with Peter, James, and John) is returning from a trip up a nearby mountain (Mark 9:2-10). There, the three disciples had seen what is called the Transfiguration of Jesus, a visual glimpse of His divine nature.
They arrived back to what must have been a jolting scene after the beauty of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:14-18). The other disciples were surrounded by a crowd, and arguing with some teachers of the law. A man had brought his son, who was possessed by an evil spirit. The boy had been tormented by it for years. The disciples had been unsuccessful in healing him, and now were in a heated discussion with the teachers.
When the father saw Jesus, he turned to him and explained the situation, and added that the disciples couldn't drive the spirit out. Jesus' rebuke is the first mention of unbelief in this passage.
‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’ (Mark 9:19)
When asked more about the boy's condition, the man answered, then gave an entreaty: 'But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.'
Within this one sentence is a mix of discouragement and a weak kind of hope. Jesus perceives this, asking ‘If you can?' He then offers the long-suffering father a better perspective. The well-known response puts the man's heart on display and shows steps we can take to grow in our own faith:
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
1. He states his love for God (a worship life)
2. He admits that his faith is not as strong as it could be (a weakness in his spirit)
3. He asks Jesus to change him (a willingness to be made stronger)
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The Connection between Prayer and Belief
Interestingly, Jesus makes a connection here between a successful healing and prayer. The disciples asked Him, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?' And Jesus stated, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’
The disciples had harnessed the power Jesus bestowed on them to perform many miracles. But some situations called not for aggressive commands but humble prayer. They needed to be both reliant on and confident in God. As the disciples sought God's healing hand and saw answers to prayer, their faith grew.
Spending regular time in prayer will have that same effect on us.
The closer our connection to God, the more we'll see Him working. As we become more aware of our need for Him and how He provides, our faith will strengthen, too.
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Other Biblical Translations of Mark 9:24
It's always interesting to look at the way different Bible translations present a passage. This sampling shows how careful word choices can bring more insight to a verse, while staying aligned with the original meaning.
The Amplified Bible
Immediately the father of the boy cried out [with a desperate, piercing cry], saying, “I do believe; help [me overcome] my unbelief.”
The descriptors in this version add to the emotional impact of the verse. Are we fully engaged in the process of growing our faith?
The Complete Jewish Bible
Instantly the father of the child exclaimed, “I do trust — help my lack of trust!”
This translation uses the word "trust." Are we asking God to grow our trust in Him so that our faith can be firmer?
The Good News Translation
The father at once cried out, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!”
Here, the version highlights the father's humility and self-awareness. Are we willing to honestly look at our doubts or questions about faith?
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, 'Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!'
The wording of this translation evokes the sense of urgency the father felt. Are we ready to quickly respond to God's invitation into a deeper kind of faith?
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4 Ways and Prayers to Ask God to Help Our Unbelief
This account describes a parent that has been engaged in a long-term struggle for his son's life. Most situations we find ourselves dealing with are not quite so dramatic. But we can take the principles in Mark 9 and apply them to prevent doubt from creeping in during all sorts of momentary or ongoing challenges in our lives.
1. Help My Unbelief About Reconciliation
Relationships are an integral part of God's design for us. But as imperfect humans, we can find ourselves estranged from Him, and others who are important to us. In some cases the problems get resolved right away. But on occasion, for whatever reason, we stay separated longer. While a personal connection is "on hold," we can choose to let pessimism set in, or we can keep pursuing God.
Lord, I admit my doubt that this relationship (with You, with another person) can be reconciled. It has been damaged, and has stayed broken for a long time. Your Word says that Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to You, and calls us to be reconciled to each other. I ask that You help me do my part, and then to rest in expectation that You are working for good here. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
2. Help My Unbelief When I Struggle to Forgive
The command to forgive is woven all through the Bible. But when we are hurt or betrayed by someone, our tendency is to turn away from that person rather than toward them. In those difficult moments, we can let our feelings lead us, or we can choose to faithfully obey God's call to seek peace.
Heavenly Father, I am struggling to forgive, and wonder if I'll ever be able to. The pain I feel is real, and I don't know when it will ease. But Jesus taught that we are to forgive others so that we may be forgiven ourselves. So, even as I'm still feeling anger and hurt, Lord, help me to decide to have grace for this person. Please make me willing to release my feelings, trusting that You will take care of both of us in this situation and bring peace. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.
3. Help My Unbelief About Healing
When we see God's promises about healing, our natural response to physical or mental health conditions is to lift them up. Sometimes an answer to our prayer comes right away. But other times, healing is very slow in coming. We can let the waiting lead us to despair, or to draw closer to God.
Father God, I confess that I am battling doubt that You will heal me (my family member, friend, etc.). Health conditions are always worrisome, and this one has gone on for a while. I know You promise in Your Word to "heal all our diseases" and make us whole. But as I wait, Lord, let me not fall into despair, but to become more confident that I will see Your goodness. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
4. Help My Unbelief About Provision
Scripture gives us so many examples of how God cares for His people. But if our needs don't get met as quickly as we'd like, it can be challenging to remain calm in our spirit. We can navigate this season impatiently, or in expectation of how God will work.
Gracious Lord, I come to You and confess my doubt that You will provide for me. All through history, You have watched over Your people, knowing what we need before we ever pray about it. So, Father, help me to believe those truths, and to know in my heart that You are already working. Replace my fear with hope. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
Mark 9:14-27 is a stirring description of one of Jesus' miraculous healings. With His words, He saved a boy from a tormenting spirit. With other words, Jesus brought the father to a new level of faith.
I relate to the father's plea about his weakness, because if I'm honest, it echoes my own. I'm so grateful that God invites us to grow, then walks with us through the process. Each step we agree to take, from confession to proclaiming our confidence, pleases Him. So let's start the next part of the journey.
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