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A most unusual prayer

A New Testament prayer demonstrates both a confession of faith and an urgent cry for help.

It is undoubtedly one of the most unusual prayers spoken in all the Bible, yet I find myself repeating it often.

The prayer is brief: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”—only eight words, yet both a confession of faith and an urgent cry for help. Jesus answered this request with great patience and mighty power.

A prayer of desperation and faith

The father who first prayed this had come to the end of his rope. An evil spirit robbed his son of his speech and threw him into horrible convulsions. No parent should ever have to stand by helplessly and witness their child go through such an ordeal! So, he approached Jesus’ disciples, but they could not help.

A man in the crowd told Jesus what was happening. Jesus summoned the father and son before him. “How long has he been like this?” Jesus asked. “From childhood,” the father answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:21,22).

Jesus’ response to this desperate request led to this most unusual prayer. “‘If you can?’” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).

Our Savior’s answer left no room for if in the father’s prayer. It was a call to repentance for this man’s lack of faith. And so, he answered with a beautiful confession and urgent cry for help, first for himself, then for his son, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Too often the word if enters my prayers as well. “Father, if you loved me, you would do this.” “If you can, free me from this challenge.” “If you are really in control, bring our nation peace and end this pandemic.” Jesus has every right to respond, “What do you mean ‘if’? Don’t you believe?” Then I need to confess my doubts and cry out for help with that most unusual prayer, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

An answer of patience and power

Our merciful Lord answers our cries for help with great patience. He will never throw up his hands in disgust and reply, “Why are you doubting again? Will you never learn?” Instead he restores and forgives us. He turns us to his Word to witness his love and to find his gracious invitation: “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). Our patient Savior gave his life to pay for all our doubts. He will never turn his back on us when we seek his help to overcome our lack of faith.

When we add Jesus’ divine power to his patient love for us, we see a Savior who will never let us down. The evil spirit didn’t stand a chance against the almighty Son of God. The father’s prayer was answered; his son was healed. That father also received an answer to his other prayer. Jesus patiently and powerfully strengthened his faith and overcame his unbelief. He gave the man exactly what he needed!

God calls us to remember this when worry and doubt cloud our minds and prayers. When we are tempted to add the word if to our prayers, then it is time to join a desperate father in his most unusual prayer, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” God will answer this prayer with a resounding “Yes!” as he strengthens our faith through his powerful Word.

Author: Paul Tessmer
Volume 108, Number 5
Issue: May 2021

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