In the first chapter of James, we are offered wisdom from God. However, there is an important caveat:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8 NASB
It can be tough to believe without doubting, though. I remember reading a biography of C.S. Lewis some years ago, where – after the passing of his mother – he struggled with how to pray” correctly”. I couldn’t find that book again in my basement, but this website summarizes the passage that I recall:
“Lewis had gotten the idea that when you prayed you needed to mean what you said. When he said his evening prayers, he was always analyzing whether they were said rightly. Inevitably, they were not sincere enough, so he would start again and again and again. He would, he says, have gone crazy, had he not stopped.”
Lewis thought that his prayers weren’t being answered because he wasn’t sincere enough, so he got stuck in a loop, trying to pray “just right”. (He later went through other challenges, leading to his turn to atheism, before the message of Christianity compelled him to become a powerful Christian speaker and author.)
Whether we feel individually responsible for being sincere enough, being good enough, having enough faith, or believing enough, we can take a depressing slide into self-condemnation if we think that God’s love for us is based on our own actions. (How do I know? I’ve been there – stuck in believing that I was making too many mistakes to retain my salvation.) Indeed, on our own, we are given to failures, sins, and shortcomings. However, there is hope, if we will ask for it and accept it.
In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, an event is recorded of a man who is in great distress. His son is afflicted by an evil spirit (Matthew uses the term, “moonstruck” – see footnote on Matthew 17:15). As a typical parent would do, this man is looking for a way to help his son. Who knows what other failed solutions he may have tried, but eventually, he came to Jesus and asked for help.
And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it. ”
Mark 9:17-18 NASB
(Note that it seems this man is actually coming to Jesus a second time, having first asked Jesus’ disciples to help…albeit unsuccessfully.)
This request is not unlike those that others made of Jesus (on behalf of loved ones), but this time, Jesus asks a question in return.
And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
Mark 9:23-24 NASB
Here, the father doesn’t try to make excuses or hide from the truth. I think that he must have had some belief, in order to bring his son for healing. After all, regardless of his level of faith, a loving father wouldn’t try something that he thought had no chance of curing his son.
However, the father realizes that his level of belief may be insufficient. He doesn’t try to act tough, or get all huffy because Jesus seems to be questioning his level of faith. He knows that more may be required to save his son, so he humbles himself and asks for help.
In the successive verses, Jesus heals the man’s son. Whether this was the limited faith that the man brought to Jesus, increased faith that the man received upon asking for help with his unbelief, or simply Jesus’ power to work miracles, this father’s heartbroken desire for his son’s healing was fulfilled.
Regardless of what we bring to Jesus, He has already provided the salvation and the restoration we need. He does not lack for the power that we are missing.
Later, Jesus’ disciples ask Him a question about their own dearth of success in this situation.
When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
Mark 9:28-29 NASB
Here’s what I wonder: When the disciples tried to help the father in this story, did they rely on their own strength? Did they believe that they had been invested in the ability to perform miracles on their own, forgetting that they were just conduits of God’s power? Did they forget to ask the Source of power for help? Did they forget to ask for help to bolster their own faith?
If you struggle with whether your faith – your belief – is “good enough”, I encourage you to do three things:
- Trust that God accepts us where we are.
- Ask God to help your faith grow.
- Cultivate what faith you have.
After all, with just a little faith, we can do great things. Going back to Matthew’s account:
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.
Matthew 17:19-20 NASB
Although we may only need faith as big as a tiny mustard seed for the challenges that we face, sometimes we all may have to ask for a little help, even with that.
For more encouragement, see also: