One of my favourite gospel stories can be found in Mark 9:14-29 Jesus returning from his transfiguration encounters a desperate father and some even more exasperated disciples. In Jesus absence, and possibly the absence of the senior apostles?, a man brings his traumatised son to the disciples for healing. This poor child has suffered from demon induced seizures all his life and his parent have had to watch their son self harm for years. Finally they come to the disciples of Jesus to see if the healing stories that are accelerating around the region are true. More importantly might they be true for their child. By the time Jesus enters the scene the devastated Dad is coping with yet more disappointment as his son remains in pain and the disciples are at a loss. As ever Jesus looks straight into the situation with disarming honesty. His open question draws honesty out of the mans heart. “i do believe, help me in my unbelief”. How often i live in that place, knowing that faith is required, believing with all my heart and yet holding unbelief at arms length. The reality of our faith goes head to head with the reality of our past experience or our cultural present.
In so many situations we are helped by this mans honest response. It does not seem to worry Jesus that this man is a mix of belief and unbelief, where in other situations Jesus commends peoples faith, here his compassion is stirred by honesty.
This reality of the battle between belief and unbelief is often exposed when it comes to giving. We know God loves a cheerful giver and we know that he is our provision, but what do we do when there is no money to give? When the end of the money precedes the end of the month? How does this story help us when it comes to giving? We are given three principles:
Be honest with God – Jesus is not looking for false faith from the man, he is looking for honest faith. Be honest with God.
Ask for help – this desperate Dad doesn’t just reveal his unbelief, he asks Jesus to meet him in his unbelief. He is happy to be honest about his unbelief, but he doesn’t want to stay in it, he asks Jesus to help him in his unbelief.
If God offers advice – follow it. Later in the narrative, once the man has returned home rejoicing with his whole again son, the disciples inquire of Jesus why they were unsuccessful? Jesus’ answer is revealing. These ones come out with prayer.The fact that the disciples did not respond with “what do yo think we were doing?” implies that they understood that Jesus was talking about a deeper level of intercession. A fact that drawn out with the addition in some manuscripts of the words “and fasting”. Jesus advice is clear, power from God comes at one level from the depth of our relationship with God. Spiritual authority comes from a spiritual relationship, and that takes preparation.
So too with giving, if I wait until the moment the basket goes by I will rarely have a contribution. If I give what is left at the end of the month, I will often have nothing to give. In the same way that power in the moment is drawn from time in the presence of power, so budgeting releases something to give in to God’s storehouse. I may have to start small, but if I can put a small amount away at the start of the week or month I will discover the joy of giving and believing for giving despite the pressures around my money.
Simon Elliott, Lead Elder