From the September/October 2022 issue of Discern Magazine

“Help My Unbelief”

Faced with trials—from poor health to financial worries—many Christians find their faith can falter. Are there ways you can build your faith?

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One of the most poignant stories in the Gospels involves a father stretched to the point of despair because his son was possessed by an evil spirit. He had asked the disciples of Jesus to heal his son, but they couldn’t.

When Jesus appeared on the scene, the father turned to Him, saying, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus then told the father that “all things are possible to him who believes” (verse 23).

In response, the father blurted out that he believed.

And then he added a plea to Jesus Christ: “Help my unbelief!”

This story and its seeming contradictions resonate with many Christians.

That’s because we believe in the power and love of God, but when faced with trial, we sometimes find that our faith is not as strong as we had initially thought.

This article will look at five specific ways you can build your faith.

1. Ask God to increase your faith

When the father in Mark 9 said, “I believe; help my unbelief,” he was not contradicting himself. He was merely acknowledging the limits of his faith. Note that Jesus did not rebuke this distraught father when he asked for help to believe at a deeper level. Instead, He cast the demon out of the man’s son.

Christians may be hesitant to ask for faith because the New Testament so often condemns a lack of faith. In fact, in Matthew’s account of the same incident, Jesus twice rebuked the disciples: when He first learned they had failed to cast out the demon, and again when they asked why they had failed (Matthew 17:16-17, 19-20).

The difference between the disciples and this father is that the disciples had been with Jesus, and they had even been given the power to cast out demons. They should have had the faith to perform the task.

The father, on the other hand, had not had access to Jesus in the same way. His belief was strong enough that he took his son to the disciples. Later, when they failed, he had the courage to ask Jesus for greater faith.

In what is often called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged those who listened to Him by comparing our Heavenly Father to human fathers: “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 7:11).

There is no doubt that faith in God is a good thing! So the first way to build your faith is to ask for more.

2. Understand that God loves you

Ultimately, our faith rests on the love of God. A failure to appreciate God’s love for us can be one of the biggest obstacles to our faith.

We become Christians when we truly see who God is and who we are. We see our sins, and we repent. We understand that Christ’s blood paid for our sins. But could God actually love us—as individuals?

The apostle Paul grappled with this issue in his letter to the Romans. He recognized sin in his own life and how difficult it is to live a godly life: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:18-19).

Anyone who has lived long as a Christian, struggling against the ways of this world, can relate. The trouble is, the more we see how wretched we really are, the more we may secretly wonder how God could love such a sinner.

Fortunately, some of Paul’s most encouraging words come at the end of the very next chapter: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

When we come to understand that God loves us—not because of who we are, but because of who He is—then we come to a deeper trust. Seeing God’s love builds our faith.

3. Establish a deeper relationship with God

After Jesus had cast the demon out, and after they had left the crowd, His disciples asked Him why they had failed. After all, He had granted them authority to cast out demons (Mark 6:7, 13). Jesus explained that “this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Looking back through Jesus’ encounter with the distraught father, we can see that there is no mention of Jesus praying immediately before casting out the demon. He merely rebuked the spirit, commanding it to depart (verse 25).

So why did Jesus tell His disciples that “this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting”?

The inclusion of fasting in His statement indicates that He was probably not speaking of prayer immediately beforehand. He was speaking of a life characterized by prayer and fasting. He was speaking of having a strong relationship with God.

One of the core teachings of the Bible is that having a genuine relationship with God is critical. God is not a genie, granting wishes on command. He is our Father, and we have been called to be His children. That means we should be spending time in prayer on a regular basis, not only when there is an emergency in our lives!

As we come to know God through Bible study, humble ourselves through fasting, and speak our hearts through prayer, we develop our relationship with God. And the closer we draw to God, the greater our faith will be.

4. Focus on God, not on your trials

If you want to defeat unbelief and increase your faith, shift your focus from the problems of life to the God of all power!A fourth way to defeat unbelief involves a matter of perspective. When we face some difficult trial in life, it’s easy for us to be overwhelmed. All we can see before us is an enormous problem. We become convinced that there is no solution because we, personally, have no way to overcome the challenge.

We must consciously shift our focus from the problem to our God. When the Egyptian army pursued the tribes of Israel, trapping them at the Red Sea, the people cried out in alarm and despair. Moses told them to shift their focus: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13).

One of the best examples of the role that focus plays in our faith is of Peter and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33). The disciples, who were crossing the Sea of Galilee ahead of Christ, were startled and frightened when they saw Him walking on the water toward them.

After Jesus reassured them, Peter boldly asked Jesus to command him to walk on the water as well. Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter, focused on Christ, actually walked on water. Peter is the only human besides Jesus who walked on water!

Then, Peter shifted his focus away from Jesus to the storm itself. The Gospel account clearly tells us the reason: “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (verse 30).

If you want to defeat unbelief and increase your faith, shift your focus from the problems of life to the God of all power!

5. Remember why you are called

A final point to consider is our purpose in life. As Christians, we have a mission, and that may require sacrifice at times. All God’s servants, though blessed in many ways, must endure hard times.

In fact, the apostle Paul makes a sobering statement in one of his letters to Timothy: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). If you are a true Christian, you can expect troubles. Understanding what the Christian calling means can help us prepare for these times.

So many of God’s servants have endured great trials, and many have given their lives. At times, this sacrifice may be for the benefit of others. That may well have been the case with Stephen, who was brutally stoned (Acts 7).

Saul, who later took the name Paul, consented to that stoning (Acts 8:1). Ultimately, Paul became a zealous tool in God’s hands, taking the gospel to the gentile world. The role he had played in the deaths of early Christians (1 Corinthians 15:9) undoubtedly drove this apostle as he himself was beaten, stoned and shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:25).

Understanding God’s greater purpose and our purpose in life can help us build faith. Paul reassures us that we will never face trials greater than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). And, like Paul, we can confidently state, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

To study this further, see our online article “How to Grow in Faith.”

About the Author

Bill Palmer

Bill Palmer attends the Birmingham, Alabama, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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