"Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)
This passage resonates deeply within me. Like a tuning fork being tapped I twinge and reverberate and long to have my strings tightened to be in tune with the Truth.
The man in this story is asking for a miracle healing. His son is possessed with a demon. He's desperate and in his despair he cries out to Jesus, 'Have mercy and help us, if you can.' It's that last bit which gets Jesus' attention. I can picture His eyebrow raising along with the pitch of His voice. 'If I can?' He repeats. Picture the celestial arms being bared as Jesus pushes up His sleeves. 'Anything is possible if a person believes', He informs not only the man but the surrounding crowd. And the man immediately exclaims, 'I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"
I believe in you, Jesus, but there is still part of me that can't believe in the impossible. Too many disappointments stand in the way. I am this man. How many times have I approached Jesus not with the plea, 'if you are willing' but instead, 'if you can'? And how I desperately need Him to help me overcome that unbelief which paralyzes my faith and cripples my prayers.
“Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” (Luke 5:12-13)
Over and over Jesus was approached by people asking for a miracle, knowing that if He was willing, He would do it. That He could do it. Over and over Jesus was moved by their faith and healed them. Because Jesus is compassionate, He could feel the ache and longing of these people. Often the cast outs of society, He was healing them not only of their physical ailments but their emotional and spiritual ones as well. He forgave their sins, healing their souls, and then He healed their bodies. But He wanted very much to give good blessings to these people He loved so tenderly. He was and still is willing.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7:9-11)
To those who ask Him. I wonder how many people stood on the edges of the crowd, wanting to approach the Rabbi, needing to be healed, but too timid to ask for His blessings. I'll just hang back here and watch, they thought, their needs are more important than mine, He's too busy for me. I won't bother Him. They watched and they wished, but they never dared to ask.
I know about this wishing. I wish for that which I long for, that which my heart aches for. I wish and I hope and I want it so badly...but sometimes I find that I haven't truly asked in the midst of all my wishing. I don't believe that Jesus honors our 'I wish' statements. I believe those would fall under the 'If you can' category. I wish you could do this, Jesus. That doesn't acknowledge His power or His desire to give good things. It's a statement riddled with unbelief. I wish. Not I believe.
Another pattern I find in the Gospels is that of Jesus inviting people to ask Him for their miracles. As they draw near, Jesus asks what it is they want Him to do. And I don't imagine that His tone is laced with weariness or exasperation. It's not as if He's bothered by having to perform yet another miracle or grant yet another request. Rather the Scriptures reveal that He feels sorry for people, compassion, tenderness. I get the feeling that His heart surged every time one of His lost people came near needing to ask for healing. And that's why He wanted them to feel that they could ask--because He knew how desperately they needed to.
When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” they said, “we want to see!”
Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him. (Matthew 20:32-34)
As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:40-42)
Believe and ask. Two steps on our part. We must believe and then we must ask. Completely unlike asking for a miracle in order to believe. Instead, the believing must come first in order for the miracle to follow. He's not in the business of performing miracles so people will believe His claims. Rather, Jesus is in the business of rewarding those who already believe and have been saved with His blessings of goodness.
Help me to overcome my unbelief. Perhaps that is the first healing. Heal this unbelief which poisons me. Banish the doubts of your ready willingness to lavish good gifts. Silence the whispering that I am unworthy of receiving your blessings. Help me to believe that even I could receive a miracle. As messy and broken and going-in-circles as I am...that you would reach out in compassion and touch even me. Because the fact is, I need a miracle and only you can help me.
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”