It’s a heart-wrenching and poignant moment in the Bible that underscores the most important element of salvation and our life as Christians: faith.
In the Gospel of Mark, a man has brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples for help, but they cannot heal him. A crowd has formed with everyone arguing about why this cannot be done. Then Jesus arrives, and the father begs Jesus to heal his son “if you can.”
“‘If you can’? said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24).
Jesus then drives out the demon, demonstrating once more the almighty power of God in the face of all things.
The father’s acknowledgment of his own weak faith and desperate plea for help is an important lesson for us today, for many of us struggle with faulty belief and trust in the only One who can possibly save us. And we can gain much from this lesson by turning to the Lord with prayers that God help us in our own faith struggles.
Here, let’s take a look at nine ways “help my unbelief” is a powerful prayer.
What Is the Context of This Verse?
First, though, let’s explore the context of the verse to understand it better. We know the words “help my unbelief” are spoken by the desperate father of a boy seemingly doomed. Just before this, the Bible indicates that Jesus, along with Peter, John, and James, has just been on a mountaintop, where God bathed him in a pure, dazzling white light (the transfiguration). Then, God revealed him to the disciples as “my Son, whom I love. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
However, immediately after they descend from this mountain, the foursome are confronted with a new situation that seems to fly in the face of what has just been revealed in the divinity of Jesus. They discovered a heated argument has ensued as teachers and a crowd question the disciples about why they cannot drive out a demon from a boy.
Jesus criticizes them all, deeming them “an unbelieving generation” (v. 19), then talks with the father about this. And when the father reveals his own doubt as to whether Jesus has the ability to drive out the demon, Jesus chides all of them, the father included. For this is the crux of the matter for them: Is Jesus more powerful than this demon? Can he do this?
That’s when God, there among them in human form, speaks the truth, essentially telling them the problem is not with Him or anything He can do, but with them and their lack of faith.
In response, the father immediately recognizes his doubt and surrenders before the Lord Almighty, acknowledging his weakness and begging for help.
We see this is indeed the appropriate response. Jesus then drives out the spirit, demonstrating his supreme authority over all creation. The man — and all present — believe.
What Does This Prayer Mean?
The father, in asking Jesus to help his unbelief, is acknowledging his weakness. His prayer that Jesus “help my unbelief” is a request for supernatural assistance in increasing what he lacks, which in this case is faith. Before, he doubted the sovereignty of the Lord, but Jesus’ rebuke sets him on the right course. He realizes the truth, that Jesus can indeed do anything, and that the problem is a faith struggle, not the demon itself.
The father — and the crowd, the teachers, and the disciples themselves — are doubters. The father’s request that Jesus triumph over his own faulty human nature acknowledges the core issue.
Can We Believe, but Also Struggle with Doubts?
Yes, we certainly can believe but also struggle with doubts. The point here is that God is bigger than we are. He’s bigger than our doubts, bigger than a demon, and has the perfect strength, power, and authority to conquer all.
We do right when we acknowledge our weakness, for that is when we put ourselves in a position to ask for help.
Driving out demons or any other spiritual battle is never about our ability. God wins every time. But we get in the way of God’s triumph when we interfere with our doubts or think there’s anything we can do to “win” the situation. We are a part of the winning team only by joining with God and acknowledging that, through Him and His power, all other forces bow down.
9 Ways This Powerful Prayer Can Encourage Us
1. God Is Mightier Than the World
God is El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), the All-Sufficient One, Lord God Almighty. He created the earth and the entire universe, including everything in it. He’s mightier than the world, mightier than demons, mightier than us, and has all authority to put all things at His feet.
This is a great comfort to us to know we serve the Master of All.
2. God Is Mightier Than Our Doubts
God’s power is not dependent on us. God has always existed, and certainly existed before us. As beings created by Him, His power doesn’t depend on us or whether we believe — His power simply is, forever, period. Our doubts have no impact on whether or not God “can” do something. God chooses to do what God wants. There is great comfort in knowing we serve a God who is worthy of all praise. He’s not some wooden idol or esoteric notion we created in our own minds to make sense of life’s mysteries.
3. God Loves Us in Spite of Our Weakness
Because God is supreme, and because God created us, He knows us intimately. He knows our hearts and our desires, our strengths and our failures. He fights our battles with or without us. Sometimes He chooses not to do so, but that is a matter of choice, not ability. And even though we can be so weak and selfish, still He loves us – even to the point of executing His own Son. Scripture reminds us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
4. God Will Help Us When We Repent
Because He loves us, God also told us what we need to do to be called His own: repent and believe. We know that when we surrender, when we bow down, acknowledge our weakness and wrongdoing, and give ourselves and our will over to His sovereignty, He will take care of us. He offers us salvation. He often chooses to answer our prayers. Certainly, He chose to show this with this unbelieving father, for after the father modeled the correct behavior (repentance) when confronted with his sin (weak faith), God chose to drive out the demon and restore the boy to life once more. We can trust that God can and will do the same for us today when we, too, repent.
5. God Hears Our Prayers
We also know that God isn’t some distant, uncaring deity up among the clouds, merely letting us exist on this planet. God hears our prayers and often chooses to grant our desires. In 1 John 5:14 we’re reminded, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” As well, 1 Peter 3:12 reminds us, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Jesus Himself said in John 16:24, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
When we ask in the name of the Lord, we can trust the Lord hears us.
6. Aggressive Faith Is a Good Thing
Therefore, we know that being aggressive in our faith is good. Aggressive faith moves mountains (Matthew 17:20-21). God wants us to be persistent in our prayers and our belief. He urges us to ask, seek, and knock, for if we do, the “door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-11).
7. We Have a Job to Do
When we understand we are the problem, we know what we are to do: repent. We are given a job, and that is to ask for what we don’t have. When it is faith we lack, we can ask for that and trust that God will hear and provide. That’s our job and our expectation.
8. Discipleship Is a Lifelong Process
Even the disciples — Jesus’s inner circle — fell short. We’re not perfect, and that is OK. We don’t have to worry God won’t love us or care for us when we reveal this. Faith can be a struggle, and when we struggle, we know we can go to God and ask for His help.
9. We’re Not in Control
Even though we often wish we were, it’s an encouragement to know we — imperfect human beings who rely on oxygen, water, and more just to survive on this planet — are not in control of all things. It’s a comfort to know we serve a God who is bigger than us and bigger than all things.
Humans are not perfect, and neither is our faith. But God loves us anyway. Take heart that when we reveal our weak faith, we can pray for help, and God will provide.
He always does.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ismael Paramo
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.