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When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him. “What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked. One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. - Mark 9:14-17 (NLT)
When I moved to Lexington in September, all the furniture I bought had to either be repainted or assembled, and being a Pinterest veteran and a feisty, independent 22-year-old, I single-handedly did it all. This was in addition to hanging paintings, mounting curtain rods, and rearranging all furniture. All in all, it went decently well. I had my pride, but I was tired and I was alone.
Clearly, I’m not the best at asking for help. And even in the situations when my natural desire to handle things has succeeded, there is always something more beautiful, more valuable in the times when it hasn’t--when I have no option but to ask for help, or I fail, or I simply cannot do it. Those are the moments when I have learned the hardest lessons, developed the best friendships, and healed the most. Surrender always seems to be my last resort, but it always brings me back to who I’m supposed to be.
In this Scripture, despite the pressure of legalistic teachers and a roaring crowd, this man knows what he needs and he’s willing to ask for it. It may be simple, but it requires a lot of humility and sometimes a little desperation. Truly, this is where faith starts - with surrender, with a beautiful, bold helplessness that sits before the Father and says, “I can’t do it.” Despite all our striving, we cannot walk in authentic, personal relationship until we stop trying to do it all ourselves.
- Read through Mark 9:14-17 and pray about where it is in your own life that you might need help. Ask God, talk with a friend, or reach out to our Care Team.
As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. - Luke 9:42-43 (NLT)
I used to find myself saying, “I’m working on it,” a lot, and particularly in faith. I violently fought my weaknesses - they were flaws, they were wrong, and I needed to fix them so that I could be the best, most perfect Christian. But I listened to a sermon podcast a few years ago that challenged my thinking. It posed the question, what if our weaknesses and our limits are just as much a gift as our talents? What if we could embrace our limits as gifts?
Until this point, I was suffocating in my own expectation to be good at everything. I had never considered that my identity - the way God created me, and who I was created to be - was beautiful not just in my strengths, but also in my weaknesses. It’s in fully receiving my humanity - weakness included - that I am able to come most honestly, most freely before the Lord. Even better, when we can seek the Lord in our weakness, He becomes our strength and He gets all the glory.
This is what’s exemplified in Luke’s perspective on the passage we’ve been reading; we get to see the crowd’s reaction when this father asks for help. Jesus casts out the demon, and “awe gripped the people.” They got to see “this majestic display of God’s power.” It was because this man asked for Jesus’s help that a crowd of people were able to witness the power of God. God can be most glorified when we accept our weaknesses and His help rather than fighting them.
“The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. 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 9:22-24 (NLT)
I didn’t realize how much of my security and worth relied on my makeup until I decided to do a “No Makeup November” a few years ago. I quickly discovered how much I avoided confronting my insecurities and brokenness - it’s easier to cover it up, put some lipstick on it, and pretend everything is fine.
It’s the same reasoning that may keep us from asking for help - acknowledging the ugly areas of our lives, and letting people into them, requires a level of trust and vulnerability that is uncomfortable, or even painful. But it’s in those moments that we can find the most healing and the most freedom.
The desperate father in this passage is such a beautiful example. He shows that we can cry out to the Father in complete vulnerability, and without shame. And here’s the best part - we know, with all assurance, that the Lord loves us in this brokenness. Over and over again in Scripture we read of the unfailing love of a Father who knows us intimately - Psalm 139:1 reads, "O Lord, you have examined my heart, and know everything about me." Everything. Is that not the most terrifying and freeing thought? Pastor and theologian Timothy Keller put it best in saying, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” This is why we have the freedom to be vulnerable in our brokenness, and the freedom to honestly ask for help - both from our God and from others.
"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 (NLT)
This exchange is my favorite part of this passage, because I’ve done this a lot of times. My anxiety and insecurity bleeds into my faith, and riddles my prayer with a lot of “if you can,” or “if you want to’s. I am constantly challenged by Hebrews 4:16, which says, "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." When I pray, I’m not sure it always looks like coming boldly to the throne of God; I’m not even sure I expect Him to answer my prayer, or listen.
Even the disciples faced these struggles with their faith; in this passage we also see Jesus’ frustration as they couldn’t cast out this demon. In Matthew’s retelling of this passage, Jesus tells the disciples, "You don’t have enough faith… I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to here,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Matt. 17:20
Throughout this narrative and all of Scripture, Jesus is gracious to those wrestling with faith, but He makes powerful examples of those with big faith, with boldness. Many times He says, “your faith has healed you” or “your faith has made you well” (just two examples: Luke 8:43 - 48; Luke 17:11-18). This should challenge the way we come to God, the way we ask for help - not that we have to jump through hoops to get His response or attention, but that the Father simply wants us close. He wants us to understand that we can ask Him for help; that we, as His children, have power, and He’s for us.
"But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up." - Mark 9:27 (NLT)
I’m bad at being dependent on people - I would rather stick to my, “No, I got it,” mantra. But you know what makes you really dependent really quickly? Car trouble. So when my faithful vehicle began to fail me, it didn’t take me long to realize that being single and living hours from family put me at the mercy of my close friends or coworkers. And it was incredible, because I got to see the Lord provide so clearly; people were overwhelmingly kind and willing, and I was helplessly grateful. The Lord taught me about dependency and trust - both in Him and in other people.
You probably can’t directly relate to the circumstances in this passage; most of us haven’t been demon-possessed. However, I would argue that maybe our demons just look different - maybe it’s depression, addiction, pride or sin, but there’s a long list of things that hold power over us. But the Lord’s heart is for healing and freedom that He could do a redemptive work in us for the world to see.
This passage, and the people who came to Jesus asking for help, exemplify that well. Dependency, as much as we fear it and run from it, grows humility and trust in us; and, it’s where the Lord can do His best work. Jesus modeled this better than anyone - in John 5:19, He says, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing." Christian singer and speaker Melissa Helser commented on this, saying within our faith, we aren’t working toward self-sufficiency; “True maturity looks like total and utter dependency on the Spirit.” So wherever you need help, and whatever you need freedom from, God is willing and ready to meet you there if you are willing to depend on Him.
- Read through the passage (Mark 9:14-27) again and see where you find yourself in the story - where can you be dependent on God, and ask for His healing?