When Your Faith Falls Short

Today we are going to continue in the series for the month, called Encounters with Jesus. This message begins with the transfiguration, one of the more spectacular events in the life of Jesus, and involves three of his closest men. Then, what follows the transfiguration story is of particular interest because hopefully we will identify with this man who had a son with an unclean spirit. So turn to Mark chapter 9 where we can find a little background to our encounter with Jesus.

The Preliminaries– Mark 9:14-16

  1. The Disciples – Mark 9:14-15 – The disciples were not allowed to stay on the mountain, holding on to that experience. In the valley below was hurting and suffering mankind. A world of need lay at their feet. When Jesus and the three disciples reached the base of the mountain, an animated discussion was going on among the scribes, the crowd, and the other nine disciples.
  2. The Discussion – Mark 9:16 – Perhaps they were debating the reason WHY this boy had a demon.  Maybe the scribes were taunting the disciples about their failure, calling into question the authenticity of their conversion, or their commitment to Jesus. As always, Jesus is the one who steps in to solve a problem. As soon as Jesus appeared, the conversation broke up and the crowd rushed to HIM. Jesus then inquires, “What are you discussing with My disciples?” Then the crowd starts telling him what has been going on.

The Particulars– Mark 9:17-29

  1. The Victim– Mark 9:17-22
    1. The Helpless Father – Mark 9:17a – A distraught father excitedly told Jesus about his son, who is possessed with an unclean spirit.
    2. The Hopeless Son– Mark 9:17b-18a, 20-22
      1. The Source of his Problem – Mark 9:17b – he is demon-possessed, which makes him mute.
      2. The Symptoms of his Problem – Mark 9:18a, 20 – the evil spirit cause fits and convulsions, seizing him, throwing him to the ground, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth and he stiffens out. This must have been a pretty horrible sight.
      3. The Span of his Problem – Mark 9:21-22 – he has been possessed since childhood. This was a father searching for relief, for his son and for himself. He says, “IF YOU can do anything, take pity on US and help US.” We find TWO people in need in this story..
      4. The summary of his problem – The disciples had failed and this man was NOT SURE that Jesus could do anything for them. I like the honesty of this father, admitting that he had doubts and unbelief. How often have you allowed doubts keep you from totally trusting Jesus, for your salvation, but also for your future? We often are not convinced that Jesus actually has our best interest at heart. We believe that WE know better and don’t have the confidence that following God will lead to fulfillment, joy, peace, healing, restoration or contentment.
    3. The Hapless Disciples – Mark 9:18b-19 – the disciples are miserable and unfortunate, they are unable to help this father and his son, and Jesus appears to be frustrated with them, “How long shall I put up with you?” It’s like, “My time is short and you’re not catching on. I’m not going to be with you for much longer.” Jesus had given the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 6:7, 13) so no wonder Jesus was grieved with them. So what about YOU? How often do we grieve God by not using the spiritual resources that he has already given to us? We try to do things in our way and in our own timing, with self-effort rather than Spirit-led power. No wonder we epic fail in our walk with God, because we don’t really have the power of God working for us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us today. We are not second class followers of Jesus; he is not holding back on us… but we often hold back from HIM.
  2. The Victor– Mark 9:23-29
    1. Jesus Reassures the Father– Mark 9:23-24
      1. The Strength of Faith – Mark 9:23 – “If you CAN!? All things are possible to him who believes.”
      2. The Struggle for Faith – Mark 9:24 – the father declares, “I DO believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  He is basically telling Jesus to help him when his faith falls short. We all want to believe, yet we find ourselves filled with doubt. We hate this inward, unreasonable contradiction, yet seem to fight it in vain. How often is the statement of the father what we cry out to God? The positive part is that when we cry out to God, he does not scold, but reassures the father.
    2. Jesus Rebukes the Spirit – Mark 9:25-26 – As the crowd was gathering, he wanted to take care of this quickly and commanded the spirit to come out of him and not return. In dramatic fashion, the demon causes a scene and then the boy was still as a corpse, and the people thought he is dead.
    3. Jesus Restores the Son – Mark 9:27 – Jesus takes the boy’s hand AND RAISED HIM.
    4. Jesus Reveals the Secret – Mark 9:28-29 – Later when Jesus was alone with His disciples in the house, they asked Him privately why they hadn’t been able to help the father and his son. Jesus said that certain miracles require prayer and fasting.

The main lesson for this miracle is the power of faith to overcome the enemy (Mark 9:19, 23-24, Matthew 17:20). Why had the nine disciples failed? Perhaps they had been careless in their personal spiritual walk and neglected prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29)? The authority that Jesus had given them was ONLY effective if exercised by faith, and cultivated through spiritual discipline and devotion.

It could be that the absence of Jesus, who had gone up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and the fact that they were left behind, had dampened their spiritual passion and had diminished their faith. THAT too is a danger for us today. When we neglect gathering for worship and small group interaction, our spiritual passion WILL diminish, and we will lack faith to make a difference in the lives around us. The sad fact is that these disciples had no clue why they were so powerless. When people slip away from the church and from God’s presence during worship, they wonder why their lives lack power and passion for God’s kingdom.

Not only had this failure embarrassed the disciples, it robbed Jesus of the glory he deserved and gave the enemy an opportunity to criticize God, (his ability and his willingness), and the people of God (who are Ambassadors for Christ). Remember that it is our faith in him that glorifies God (Romans 4:20).

Which of us is not faced at times in our Christian service with a sense of defeat and frustration? We have labored tirelessly and conscientiously, yet there has been no evidence of the Spirit of God working in power.

Perhaps these disciples had been arguing about ministry styles or the proper way to help this boy and his father, all the while helpless to do anything that brought relief. Maybe this is a challenge for each of us to focus on strengthening our faith. Is it your desire to ask that God help you when your faith falls short?

I believe that our faith will be strong in the valley ONLY after we have experienced God’s glory on the mountaintop. Oswald Chambers says that,

We are not built for the mountains; those are for moments of inspiration. We are built for the valley, for ordinary life. When you think about it, it is spiritual selfishness that wants repeated moments on the mountaintop. God calls to us to make a difference in the lives of people, down in the valley. It is in the valley where we grow and learn. The mountaintop is not meant to TEACH us anything, it is meant to MAKE us something (like becoming holy, grateful, and dependent). We LEARN only in the valley.

As we participate in the life of the church, we hope to SEE God’s glory, here on the mountaintop, but we are never supposed to LIVE for His glory there. We are to make a difference in the valley.

As we close for today, now is the time to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life, don’t put it off another week.

Let’s pray: This is the time that we confess to you that our faith often falls short, but right now, today, we declare and submit to you our request for you to help our unbelief, help us when our faith falls short. I pray that no one will leave this place with unfinished business with God. All things are possible with God, and we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. As people are making decision to make a difference in the valley, Father, we ask for your power to experience a life well lived for your glory and kingdom. AMEN

NEXT STEPS: You’ll notice two questions at the bottom of your outline, which are designed to make this lesson practical. How are you going to respond?

  1. How will you evaluate the connection between your mountaintop experiences and life down in the valley?
  2. How will you exercise and increase spiritual disciplines in your life?
    1. Prayer
    2. Fasting
    3. Bible reading
    4. Solitude
    5. Scripture memory


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