“How much faith is enough faith?” .…. That’s a question that I grapple with regularly. Its in my mind for several reasons, in a sense its been my constant companion for a few years now. Some of you know that Ann, my wife and the better looking half of the Petticrews (she still has all her hair), has a chronic illness that causes her long periods of really dehabilitating fatigue and problems with her eyes. I pray for her all the time, for healing specifically, and yet the truth is that up to now the illness keeps returning and hanging around with depressing regularity. My experience as a pastor also provokes me to ask this question because I have lost count of the number of people I have prayed for and then watched die. Its particularly in my mind right now because I know some people who are struggling with serious illness and I have been praying for them.
The persistence of Ann’s illness and the apparent futility of my prayers have often caused me to question myself. In many contemplative moments I have wondered if I have had a deficiency in faith which has prevented healing. There are of course many in the “wider” church that claim that a lack of healing is a direct result of either a lack of faith or secret sin. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have experienced a certain amount of anguish and angst as I have blamed myself and my spiritual wimpishness (that’s maybe a new word) for the continuing illness of people I care deeply for. However in my more lucid times I can’t buy into the “faith movement” and their simplistic teaching that lack of healing is caused by a lack of faith. My mind goes not to a great hero of the faith who had the faith to move mountains but to a dad whose faith frankly would have a struggled to move a pebble. The Father in question is found in Mark 9 and has a son who is demon possessed and has thus been harming himself. Reading between the lines it seems that this loving Father has had a long series of disappointments when it had come to people praying for his son’s healing and Jesus disciples had been just the latest failures. Yet when he comes into contact with Jesus the encounter ends in healing. What I find fascinating about this encounter is that it seems to cast some light on what Jesus expects when it comes to faith.
Take a look at this encounter:
Mark 9:21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, How long has he been like this? From childhood, he answered. 22 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. 23 ‘If you can’? said Jesus. Everything is possible for him who believes. 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
As I said this dad after so many disappointments doesn’t have the Olympic gold medal winning version of faith, he seems to harbour some doubts about Jesus, “If you can?” Yet Jesus doesn’t appear to feel slighted and reminds him that faith in him can achieve the apparently impossible. The father’s response again seems to suggest he still is struggling with some major doubts,” I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Yet Jesus in response to this hardly ringing endorsement of his power does in fact heal the boy. Reflecting on all of this I think this helps me in a couple of ways when it comes to thinking about healing.
This incident helps me get the right perspective on Jesus. John Ortberg says that this encounter teaches us that Jesus values authenticity over certainty. This father was totally honest with Jesus about his struggles and doubts and yet Jesus didn’t turn his back on him and walk away because he had failed some faith test. He reminds me that Jesus’ shoulders are wide enough to handle my struggles and doubts at times and that Jesus doesn’t withhold healing from those we love because of their is some deficient in the level of our faith.
The Father here inspires me too. What amazes me is that this man has managed to keep some sort of faith and expectation of healing alive despite all the disappointments he had experienced in the past. He at least approached the disciples, he had persistence when it came to seeking healing for his son. There are times when I feel there is no point in praying for those I love and then I remember this dad and wonder what would have happened if he had said, “oh there is no point on asking this group to pray for my son or if his disciples couldn’t do anything what’s the point of asking Jesus.” I don’t understand why thus far God hasn’t answered many of my prayers for many people but I do know there is one prayer he cannot answer, the one I don’t pray. So like this Father, despite my at times weak faith, struggles and feelings of disappointment I will continue to persistently ask the Lord to heal those I love and care for.
What do you think?
Do you think I am deficient in the faith stakes?
What have been your experience with praying for healing for those you love?