“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he answered. “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Everyone struggles with doubt and some level of unbelief. No matter how strong our faith may seem, there will always be moments when we have our faith challenged and we seem a little shaky in believing for the best. Sometimes it feels like we are believing for the impossible. Don’t despair though, this is exactly where God excels.
The context of this story here in Mark 9 is that there was a father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that caused the boy to throw himself into fire or into water to injure himself. The disciples of Jesus had not been able to heal the boy, and so the father turned to Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus could heal the boy.
The man had faith and believed that healing was possible for his son. But his faith had been shaken when the disciples could not heal the boy. Jesus’ challenge was that we who believe must hold strong on to this belief. Even when we do not see the immediate results of our prayer and faith, we are still challenged to stand strong and believe.
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I can identify with this story considering what has happened to me this past month. Exactly four weeks ago, I was boarding the first of four flights that would take me from Madang, Papua New Guinea all the way back to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. One day I was still serving the Lord doing my Bible translation work, and the next moment I was flying to Canada to get laser surgery to fix a retinal tear in my right eye.
Now my faith has always been there believing that God is with me no matter what the circumstances are, that He will take care of me, and that He will bring good out of every situation for those who love Him. (see Romans 8:28) And so I trusted God that He would work things out as I left PNG on this medical emergency.
And God did take care of me. In an amazing 52 hour journey from PNG to Canada, I was given such good treatment all the way, made all the connections, and had an incredible amount of energy that sustained me through the trip. That alone was like a miracle to me, since for the past five years that I have battled with a muscle disease I have not had the stamina to travel far without needing to get rest.
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The next incredible part of this journey was this: after I landed in Calgary, my family picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to the hospital with the eye clinic and within four hours I was seen and scheduled for laser surgery by the city’s top retinal doctor for the following morning.
Then came the hard moments, both physically and spiritually for me. The first laser surgery was blinding, painful (when the laser burnt some nerve endings), and not conclusive. This led to a second surgery. This time the doctor opted to go in the other direction and used the freezing method, not the laser surgery to seal the tear.
This second procedure is called cryopexy. The doctor had a hand device that was connected by a tube to a tank of nitric oxide. On the other end of the hand tool was a long metal probe. The procedure was to insert the metal probe around the side of the eyeball and get to the retina from the backside and use the freezing gas to seal up the retinal tear from behind.
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Needless to say, this second procedure was extremely painful. (Imagine getting a fat needle poked around behind your eyeball, then afterwards the gas gives you a “slurpie brain-freeze”.) I was sure that this would take care of everything. The doctor told us to visit in a week for a follow-up, and we began thinking, “Maybe I can go back right away to PNG and continue my ministry work there.” But to our surprise, the doctor said it still wasn’t complete and I immediately got a third surgery, this one being again a laser surgery.
When the doctor said he hoped this would take care of it all, but he was worried about an artery that was crossing the tear which might mean an invasive surgery to remove the artery, we didn’t know what to think. And for two weeks, we wrestled with this question, “Do I believe that the surgeries are finished, or will the situation continue to get worse.”
We were just like this father who had said so long ago, “I believe. But God, help my unbelief!” We prayed and prayed and asked many others to pray too. And then we left it in God’s hands. We went in yesterday to see the doctor. He carefully examined the retina. And then with a broad smile he said, “I got that pinned down really good, didn’t I!” Oh what a relief to hear those words.
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As I reflect on the mental and spiritual battle I went through, I knew that my mind was playing all kinds of mental tricks on me which fought against my faith. But my heart believed, ultimately, that God would see me through this positively. And even if it had meant a fourth surgery, my God had never changed from being my God who loves me.
I know He would have brought me through and restored my eye no matter how many surgeries it would take. And I believed that God would allow me to return again to PNG (in His timing of course). And so this is now our prayer and belief that by the end of September I will be in PNG continuing to do my ministry for God there. I invite you to stand in faith with us and also believe.