You had faith. You held the promises. And yet you failed to receive the miracle. What went wrong?
Do you just chalk it up to “God works in mysterious ways”?
You shouldn’t. His ways have been revealed to us through His Word. Someone will point out that His ways are higher than ours, but when the Bible speaks like that it’s referring to His desire to show mercy to the wicked and unrighteous (see Isaiah 55:6-9). It means He gives grace when we wouldn’t! The “mysterious way” about God is that He blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.
“So why didn’t my prayer get answered?”
There may be a number of reasons. One reason could be because of unbelief. In our day and age, there’s lots of it around.
What is Unbelief?
Unbelief doesn’t mean lack of faith. Even the most spiritual Christians can have unbelief at times. It doesn’t mean you’ve stopped trusting in God, it just means there are doubts having some say in the matter. Unbelief exists as a counter force to faith.
When the disciples failed to heal a demon possessed boy, Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry guys. It wasn’t God’s will to heal this particular fellow.” Instead, He rebuked them. When they asked Him why they couldn’t cast the demon out, He answered, “Because of your unbelief” (Matthew 17:20).
Now they certainly tried. It takes faith to attempt to cast out demons. But there was a counter force working against their faith.
Help My Unbelief!
When the father pleaded with Jesus to deliver his son, he realized the counter force was there. He cried, “I believe, help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24). He had faith in Jesus to heal, but at the same time he realized that all of his senses were shouting, “impossible!” His son had been thrown into fits, foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth. The father had seen this horrible display since the boy’s childhood. That’s a long time to get settled in a “this is the way it’s always going to be” mindset.
Then perhaps the father caught a glimmer of hope, hearing about Jesus and the disciples, who had recently cast out many demons in the area. In a sense, the father called “for the elders of the church” (James 5:14) and in turn the prayer of faith should have saved his son. But it didn’t happen. In this instance, the disciples failed!
Not a good encouragement to have faith.
Then Jesus came, and upon bringing the boy to Him, the situation got even worse! The boy flopped to the ground convulsing. The poor father! Imagine what must have been going on in his head- It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse! It’s too severe! They healed others, but maybe it’s just not meant for me!
Perhaps it was the end of his faith when he appealed to Jesus, “if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (vs.22). Faith has sunk pretty low when it comes to “if You can do anything.” Even most Christians believe that Jesus is able to do all things! Lack of faith usually doesn’t question His ability, but whether or not He will actually do it.
Oh but take heart, faithless and unbelieving Christian! Jesus didn’t rebuke this man, but gave him a lifeline: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (vs.23).
I’ve often heard preachers say that “Jesus threw the ball back in the father’s court” as if He were one-upping the father’s faithless “if you can do anything.” I think that explanation misses something precious. Jesus gave the man a lifeline- a tremendous promise. It was as if he was saying, “I see that you’ve come to the end of your rope and that your faith has run out. But, tell you what, if you can believe, all things are possible to you. There’s still hope.”
The Scripture says the man grabbed on to this and cried out with tears, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Or in other words, “if you say there is still hope, that’s good enough for me! I believe! But please help- I’ve taken hold of your word, but I still have trouble with what I’m seeing.” Honesty with the Lord is the best policy. And the Lord honored the father’s faith in His word, in spite of the admission of unbelief.
The reason why, I believe, is because the father took hold of the promise. We have to be careful not to miss this, if tempted to use his prayer for a model. It won’t work to pray for something big and just attach a “help my unbelief” insurance to it. There has to be faith in God’s ability and willingness. There should be a deliberate hold of a promise. What does the Scripture say about your situation? Find a specific word that you can cling to and believe it! Jesus promised the man, “if you can believe, all things are possible.”
The man believed all things could be possible just when the matter seemed its worse. How’s your situation today? Has it only gotten worse? Not a problem for Jesus.
But the man recognized the danger of giving into the way things seemed. Unbelief is giving into the way things seem. Faith clings to the promises, in spite of what’s seen. Yet faith and unbelief can simultaneously exist in a believer. The believer’s work is to resist the unbelieving reasoning and impulses, and to build up and encourage himself in the promises. This is not a passive, mental assent.
Think of the extraordinary word that Jesus gave here! If He had only said,“nothing is impossible with God,” that would have been encouraging. What a wonderful verse to take hold of in pressing circumstances: “with men it is impossible but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). But here Jesus said “all things are possible TO HIM WHO BELIEVES.” It was as if He was giving a free voucher of God’s omnipotence into the hands of man. See how much God loves us and wants to use us as His body on earth! Look what He has entrusted us with!
The Good Fight of Faith
Yet as soon as circumstances seem to suggest otherwise, we easily lose our grip on the promises and allow the thief to steal it all. It only takes a little faith to move a mountain, but it may take a lot of work to resist the devil so that he will flee from you (James 4:7). It takes some diligence to “hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev.3:11).
The truth is that there’s no situation that we’re in that God has not thrown us a lifeline through some promise in the Bible. Our job is to lay hold of it and then fight the good fight of faith to keep our ground.
It’s because of unbelief that Jesus was not able to do many mighty works in his hometown (Matt.13:58; Mark 6:6). It’s because of unbelief that the disciples could not cast out the boy’s demon (Matt.17:20). And it’s because of unbelief that many of our prayers do not get answered (Matt.21:22). The truth of the matter is that God is quite willing to do so much and more for His people, but His people limit him by unbelief (see Psalm 78:41).
God is still God, and God will accomplish His purposes, but we actually have a say in the outcomes along the way. God has ordained it to be that way. It is a great mistake to throw up our hands and say we have nothing to do with it. Jesus gave the “nothing will be impossible” to the one who believes.
Getting rid of unbelief may mean spending more time sharpening your spiritual senses. Get alone with God more. Guard your heart from the rampant unbelief of the world. Don’t be attached to the news. Turn off the TV more. Choose your entertainment wisely, and reject whatever is loaded with ungodliness. Practice what the Word preaches, and preach it to yourself. Make the good confession and don’t give voice to your doubts.
When all is said and done, rejoice that God loves you, and He will be good to you even when you miss it. If you’re looking for something that hasn’t happened yet, or perhaps it’s failed, trust that God can yet work wonders for you. You’re destined for blessings. He will see you through. Even with unbelief, Jesus wouldn’t allow Peter to sink.