And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:23-24 (ESV)
The life of the Christian is one of prayer, prayer to Him who alone hears, answers, and gives according to His good and gracious will. This One who hears is none other than the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All other so called ‘gods’ are false gods, and not the true God. And false gods are only idols, the work of men’s hands. And as the Psalmist says, They have ears, but they do not hear and those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them (Psalm 115:6, 8). They cannot nor do they deliver in times of trouble. But the true God, the God who graciously saves, abundantly delivers, and readily hears, this One does, as our Lord declares through the Psalmist, Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me (Psalm 50:15).
To this One do we pray. And our prayers He hears, for the sake of His Son. The God who delivers in the day of trouble, this is our God, He who sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This is He who says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). To He alone do we offer our petitions, ‘praise, and give thanks’ (Small Catechism, Explanation to 3rd Commandment), for by His grace, we have come to know Him for who He is – our Savior who delivers from sin and gives unto us eternal life. We have come to know that even though He seems to be silent to our prayers and our requests, He yet hears every word. With confidence does the Christian pray, confidence in the Lord’s promise that He will hear, and that He will answer, in His own time and in His own way. Thus does the Christian pray to the Lord, Thy will be done, Thy will and not mine.
According to God’s Holy Word, the prayer which is prayed in faith will be heard. Jesus says, Ask and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7). In another place, He says, What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11).
Yes indeed! How much more does our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him. Much more does He give, because of who He is. He promises to hear His people because He promises to do so. And in His promise, His people place their confidence, hope, and trust, and not in their own righteousness, goodness, or piety.
In pride and self-glory we do not come before God. Those in their arrogance who come before God He does not hear. They come in their own righteousness. God’s help they do not truly seek, for if they truly sought help from the Lord, they would not demand from God, but humbly ask of Him, leaving the outcome and the answer to Him.
They who ask of God, dependent on God’s reply and answer, trusting not in themselves or the worthiness of their prayer, but entrusting themselves into God’s care, believing His Holy Word and in Christ His Son, these He certainly does and will hear. But this kind of faith and commendation into the Lord’s hands and will is not inborn within us or natural to us. It is God given, not according to our nature, but according to His gift. By the hearing of His Holy Word, God gives this kind of faith (Romans 10:17). And by the hearing of His Holy Word do we battle within ourselves against doubt and unbelief in God’s promises, that we not demand of God according to our will, but that He answer according to His.
Concerning wisdom, St. James writes, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).
This word certainly applies for asking in prayer for wisdom. But also does it apply concerning prayer in general. The prayer of doubt is not really prayer at all. Thus do we not pray in such a way that we say, ‘Lord, if you hear’ or ‘Lord, if you help’ or ‘Lord, if you answer.’ This is not prayer. It’s a wish, a wish that demonstrates little confidence and assurance in God and His Word at all, but is really a sign of unbelief.
God’ Word is not uncertain. His promises are not a possibility, probability, or accidental. God’s promises are certain and true because it is God who gives them. Adding an ‘if’ to what God promises is to disbelieve God. But the confidence God gives unto us that He hears the prayer of faith is His Holy Word. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, example after example abounds of God answering prayer, that we believe and have confidence in God, who for Christ’s sake, hears our prayers.
The man in today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark is such an example. So is the woman who asked the Lord to cast the demon out of her daughter, even when Jesus had replied, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (Mark 7:27). But to Him the woman replied, Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28). In agreement with the Lord, she confessed the same and was willing to take what the Lord would give. She trusted in His kindness and believed His Word, and her daughter was delivered.
So also did blind men receive their sight; the lame walked, lepers were cleansed (Luke 7:22). These had asked our Lord in faith for help, to have mercy upon them, and to hear them, and He did. And so also does our Lord help us in our needs, giving faith to trust in Him and confidence in His Holy Word, leaving the outcome to Him and waiting on Him for answer.
The Bible says that The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). This is true. And one is a righteous man who believes in Christ, in Christ whose righteousness covers his own unrighteousness. It is this way with us. Christ’s righteousness covers our own unrighteousness. His sinless life covers our sinful life. Through Christ, therefore, does the Christian pray. And that prayer is heard.
Therefore are our prayers not in vain. Nor are they useless. Prayer is not a worthless activity. It is the diligent and continual exercise of God’s people, God’s people who live by faith in God’s Son. Prayer is spoken with the mouth, but is also prayed within the heart that trusts in Christ for help and deliverance and gives Him the glory.
It is on account of Christ that our prayers are heard. This is because our boldness and confidence to ask of God is not founded on the one who asks, but on Him who is prayed to; on Him who commands us to pray and who promises to hear. According to His Word do we pray and according to His Word do we believe He hears and answers.
Note how the writer to the Hebrews prefaces these words, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Just before he speaks of Jesus when he writes, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).
Jesus, though tempted as we are, was without sin. He sympathizes with our weakness and is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). He is our High Priest who offered Himself once and for all on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10). And because He has, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. And in Christ is where God’s mercy is found.
In yet another place, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of having a boldness by the blood of Jesus, our High Priest, saying, Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:22-23).
This is how we know that God hears and answers our prayer – on account of Christ. Believing in Him for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is faith, a faith not born of man, but the faith born of water and Word, God’s Word, the faith which trusts not in one’s own piety, strength, or worthiness to come to God in prayer for help in time of need, but trusts in Him who, by His grace, for Christ’s sake, promises to hear and answer.
Thus do we see the father in the Gospel text this morning, praying in such a way that even in his own faith he does not trust, but in Him to whom He asks for His son’s deliverance. Therefore, did the father pray, I believe; help my unbelief!
Oh for such a faith as this, that takes no confidence and assurance in the strength of one’s faith, but even acknowledges its disbelief and doubt before God who alone can help. This is true despair of oneself, that one throw himself fully upon God’s mercy, resting upon nothing within, but hoping on everything from without, upon Christ.
And to this one, Christ and God hears and answers. Thus, do we also pray, with Christ’s disciples elsewhere, Increase our faith (Luke 17:5). And He does. Forgiveness into our ears does He proclaim. Christ’s body and blood does the Lord give in bread and wine. And to our Baptism does our Lord direct us, For as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
This newness of life is one born of water and the spirit (John 3:5-6). It is the life of faith, faith in God’s Word and trust in His promises. For Christ’s sake does God our Father hear us. And increase our faith He does. Ourselves we do not trust, neither the strength of our faith or the greatness of our prayer
Filed under: Devotions, Justification & Sanctification-The Christian Faith & Good Works, Law & Gospel-Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, Prayer & The Lord's Prayer, Sermons | Tagged: Belief, Christian, Faith, prayer, Unbelief |