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.
No, no, no! It often triumphs despite our desperate doing. Or seems to.
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.