Often soothing the pain and questions in life is as far beyond us as the stars.
This paralyzing self-doubt usually surfaces for me after I’ve been called on to help someone in a stormy night of pain and need.
Officiating at the bleak graveside for a young couple who lost their precious newborn. Holding the feathery hand of an elderly loved one and praying as he gasps and slips from this world. Sitting over a cup of coffee with a man who lost his job. A woman whose husband strayed and never came home. A teen who failed a big test. A young woman whose prayer for a child returns barren.
I can name a myriad times in my life when I’ve settled my forehead in my palm and my heart in the cellar and doubted my ability to serve God and his people. To help anyone.
Your perceived failures probably describe different scenes.
- Why couldn’t you ease your spouse’s depression?
- Did you work hard enough to keep the job?
- Did you say the right words (or any words) before your mother/brother/sister/father/child/friend passed?
- Did you pray hard enough?
- Did you believe enough when you prayed?
These are the ghosts that haunt our lives.
[box] Someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
No, no, no! It often triumphs despite our desperate doing. Or seems to. [/box]
Doing More Is Not Always the Answer
In Matthew 17 Jesus’ disciples have done everything they know to help a poor demon possessed boy. The evil remains until Jesus shows up.
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” they ask.
I ask Jesus the same question. Why couldn’t I do more! More than pray. More than speak the words of scripture. More than hold their hands. More than shed tears along with them.
Why weren’t we enough. We wanted to do more. Why didn’t big things happen? These questions are as much about being seen as important as they are about helping.
Jesus’ answer must have surprised them.
“Because you have so little faith.” Jesus focuses on the word “little” not big or more. Literally he said, because you have a “poverty of faith.”
This is one of our Lord’s most common critiques of his followers. Not that they did not do enough, or dream enough, or care enough. But that we do not even trust him a little.
This is a twist of words only Jesus can pull off, he tells us we have little faith while also stating all we need is trust the size of a mustard seed. Which is it, Jesus?
I find this both cutting and comforting. According to Jesus we are puttering around the slums of trust situated in a lavish world of God’s provision. After all we have seen of Jesus and the kingdom, we have mustered only anemic trust in him and his kingdom. Not even a mustard seed worth.
I know after my long life in the kingdom, this describes me. I live in a poverty of faith, peaking out of the tattered curtains of my shack into a glorious world filled with gifts. But there is hope. I don’t need to wait for my ship of faith to come in.
I heard someone once talk about walking on the massively thick ice on a northern lake. Despite the depth of ice, he was nervous it would break. Then it sunk in. No matter how much he believed or disbelieved in that ice it would hold him.
Jesus tells us it is not the size of our faith (or actions) but the size of our God. God has dropped a mustard seed of faith in our hands and said, “Take it, plant it; I am enough!”
Did you or I do enough to comfort a friend? To ward off evil? No, probably not. Notice the story in Matthew 17. Jesus only comes after his friends realize they are not enough and cannot do enough.
This is the heart of the good news of Jesus. I/we can never do enough. If we could Jesus would not have had to come—and die.
So let’s not beat ourselves up but rather take our little seeds of faith, place them in the crease of the palm of our hands, and do what we little can. Let the Spirit animate and empower our meager acts.
Then Jesus says, big things will happen, including bearing up under the heavy burden of the pain and need of those God has called us to serve in these difficult days.
7 thoughts on “Is There More You Can Do When You Can’t Do Enough?”
What are we trusting in when we have so little faith? Is our self sufficiency our god? Or do we think God doesn’t know what he’s doing? I agree trusting is hard, and it’s not acceptable to say all things work for good. Difficult situations like you describe sometimes it is enough to pray, shed a tear, hold a hand and just be.
True and insightful, Harvey. It is enough!
first of all, let me remember to compliment your beautiful photographs! ~ stunning!
I am reminded of how Jesus, in human form, had a noted “policy” of retreating from life’s “ordinary” hustles and bustles, apparently very regularly, seeking quiet and a closer and more intimate personal presence and connection with God the Father, and who knows how many other heavenly beings,… (they do say “He could have called a thousand angels!”),…
how many of us do this?,… regularly?,… for all the awesomeness and beauty one can find in “life” and “Creation”, “flesh on Earth” is still a flawed and vulnerable situation, across the board, and not an end-point in and of itself,… in my early days as a Christian, I would often notice things like, “well, even Jesus, in His time here on Earth, didn’t fix and solve ALL our problems”,… so, if and when we can’t “fix and solve” everything, this is not necessarily failure,… (and there are many “invisible forces” at work, ALL the time, as well),…
I also tend to “see” a kind of continuum that, on one end, is “regular earthly life, as we know it and live it (full of endless challenges and roads to pursue, and even including roadblocks!), then moving along toward (and developing) that “other” realm of awareness that one might seek to know and grow in “spiritual retreats”, prayer, Scripture studies, meditation, etc,… in other words, we can be enveloped in “natural life”, with all its excitements, flaws, frustrations, egoistic motivations and concerns (which after a while, may tend to weigh us down), or we can tire of this seemingly endless struggle and begin to move toward discovering the “new interior spiritual frontier”, which seems to promise more wholeness, deeper focus, connection with God, peace, profound love, and on and on, as this is an “endless realm”,…
certainly the inner “spiritual focus” will put everything else “in perspective”,… once we climb a beautiful mountain, and are lifted up and away, out of the endless, circular and perpetual/inevitable climate of hustle-bustle, do we really want to carry those “cares” along with us, or do we prefer to simplify and gently breathe in the peace of an atmosphere that is very special by comparison? ~ like “finding the pearl of great price?”,…
I think most of us find ourselves somewhere on this continuum,… if Jesus didn’t “fix everything” while He was here, I don’t think that we need to bemoan our seeming lack of “faith ability”,… Jesus said that He only did what He saw His Father doing,… perhaps the more we seek the Father and truly wish to “be in His will”, we’ll find some of those special moments that will be “gifts of faith” to us,… in other words, I am not, and cannot be, the source of my own “faith”,…
John 5:19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.
I also like a phrase that was popular “back in the day” ~ “Let go and let God”,… (-:
We said, GA! Thanks. Keep learning.
“I find this both cutting and comforting. According to Jesus we are puttering around the slums of trust situated in a lavish world of God’s provision. After all we have seen of Jesus and the kingdom, we have mustered only anemic trust in him and his kingdom. Not even a mustard seed worth.”
These sentences spoke volumes to me. May I begin to see the lavish provision in God’s world rather than focusing on the emptiness the world has to offer.
Our view of the world is often so different from God’s. May he keep our eyes open.
The most impactful sentence for me was: “Jesus said it is not the size of our faith (or actions), but the size of God. ”
It depends not on me (what a relief) but on God. I need to keep remembering that the size of God is the key point. I know my God is huge, but sometimes I get tripped up by the lumps and bumps of my earth walk.
Thanks for the analogy of walking on the ice. It is not my belief in the ice that makes it safe, but the thickness of the ice itself.