“I believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-29)

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Today’s story from Mark chapter 9 is about the healing of a demon-possessed boy. The story focuses on faith, or rather, a lack of faith. Let’s pray before we read the passage.

[Read Mark 9:14-29]

The importance of faith

When the father reported that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t heal he boy, Jesus responds in verse 19, “You unbelieving generation… how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus’ words sound a bit harsh. It reminded me of Mark chapter 6, where Jesus wasn’t able to perform many miracles in his own hometown, because many people simply couldn’t believe he was the Messiah. Mark 6:6 says, “[Jesus] was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Jesus’ reaction is so different compared to chapter 5, when he healed the woman with a bleeding problem. In Mark 5:34, he praised her by saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

These different reactions show us the significance of faith in Jesus—faith in his identity and power.

We can ask for help to believe

Going back to today’s story in Mark 9: maybe we shouldn’t be quick to criticize the father for lack of faith. Perhaps he didn’t know much about Jesus, except hearing about his healing powers. It’s a very human reaction to be skeptical.

What is wonderful about this father is that he cries out, in verse 24, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v24). He wants to believe and honestly admits that his faith is not enough.

This is so relevant to us because, Christian or not, we doubt God. Our faith in God is not perfect. Yet, Jesus invites us to come to him in our current stage of faith or lack of faith. He wants us to ask him for help! And, he also wants to help us grow in knowing him—which will lead to more faith.

Eventually, it was not the father’s faith that healed the son. It was Jesus who freed the son from the power of evil. But it did take a little bit of faith on the father’s part for the miracle to take place. The man’s faith was little, but a little faith is better than no faith at all. Jesus himself says, in Matthew 17:20, that “faith a size of a [tiny] mustard seed can move mountains.”

God is capable of doing amazing things with or without our belief. But, because he wants a relationship with us, he involves us in the process of healing and changing the world. He uses us, even when we are feeble and weak.

Jesus came to defeat Satan

The boy had been under Satan’s power since very young. But Jesus is greater than Satan. And it is his mission to restore what Satan has ruined. 1 John 3:8 says, “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

This battle against Satan and death itself reached its climax on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if Satan had won. But, as we believe, Jesus did not remain in the grave. He rose again, defeating both Satan and death. Although the effects of Satan’s work, illness, and death still linger in our world today, they do not control our future.

Thoughts from three Christian friends

Recently I read this passage together with a group of Christian friends. I would like to share with you their reflections on this story.

But before that, let me explain how we read this story. We were using a method of Bible reading called “lectio divina.” It’s a very old Christian practice that involves reading a passage slowly, prayerfully, and contemplatively. In our case, we read the story 4 times, paying attention to the words or verses that jumped out at us. In between reading, we asked the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the story and spent a short time in silence.

So, now let me share what three of my friends thought about the story of this demon-possessed boy.

One lady said, “I feel so pained at what the boy and father have gone through. I see myself in this child because I recognize how the devil paralyzed me in the past—not physically, but in ways that made me less effective as a Christian and missionary in Japan. I also see how the devil has paralyzed churches in Japan, causing God’s people to be ineffective in reaching out to others. So, we as Christians are engaged in a real spiritual warfare against spiritual forces that don’t want us follow Jesus. I need to pray for myself and for churches in Japan.”

Another lady wondered, “Why couldn’t the disciples perform this healing? Didn’t Jesus give them the authority to heal and to cast out demons in chapter 6? I suspect that they got overconfident in their ability to perform miracles. Their sudden inability to heal this boy helped them to see that they needed to depend on Jesus’ strength. Although they were given the authority to heal and cast out demons, they are still weak human beings who need to rely on the power of Jesus. This is a good reminder for me I am to rely on my own abilities and talents rather than on Jesus’ strength. And, as a mother who easily feels so overwhelmed with many tasks, I confess that prayer is not the first thing I do. Unless I depend on him, I can’t be effective for him.”

Lastly, one man shared this reflection: “The verse that struck me was verse 19 in which Jesus tells the father, ‘Bring the boy to me.’ Although Jesus could perform miracles, he still wants the involvement of ordinary people like you and me. This challenges me to bring people to Jesus, through the act of praying for them. I can’t do the miracle by my own power, but our Lord Jesus can. What is impossible for me is not impossible for him. But at the same time, not everything I ask for is necessarily aligned with God’s will. So I need to trust in God when he doesn’t answer my prayers according to the way or timing I want.”

After hearing the thoughts of my three friends, I hope you notice how we all read the same story but left with different reflections. The Bible speaks to each of us differently. So, sharing our unique perspectives can help us to appreciate the Bible even more. I would like to encourage you to try something like lectio divina as a way to read the Bible. Though you can do it alone, if you have a chance try doing it with a Christian friend. You don’t even have to meet in person necessarily; you can just share your thoughts over LINE, and maybe have a short phone call to pray for each other.

If you would like to learn more about lectio divina, I printed out a 1-page guide on how to start doing it. Feel free to take a copy from the front entrance of the church. It has both Japanese and English.


Let me end by saying: Jesus invites us to place our faith in who he is and what he has come to do. He is the Son of God who came to destroy the devil’s work. However, our faith is often weak. Yet, like the father in today’s story, we can cry out to God, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” We can ask God to renew our perspective of his character and his power. Let’s pray.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Lord, come to us, that you might cleanse us. Lord, come to us, that you might heal us. Lord, come to us, that you might strengthen us. And grant that having received you, we may never be separated from you by our sins, but may continue in loving you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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