Why do some people seem to have more faith than others? Are there special keys for spiritual success? Do some believers generate more spiritual determination than others?
The question reminds us of the despairing father in Mark 9:23-24 who asked Jesus to rescue his demonized son. When he asked, “If you can do anything…” Jesus challenged the hesitation, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The desperate father instantly pressed ahead. “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus then healed the boy.
How did faith work here? And how does faith function in other healings? As in blind men gaining sight, lepers being cleansed, or in Lazarus being raised from the dead? Is there a pattern? Anything beyond the obvious three steps of need, request, and reception?
As a starter, requests aren’t always involved. Jesus regularly performed miracles without being asked to do anything. Instead, he acted when he saw needs. As in his feeding the thousands. And with the man born blind in John chapter nine. Again, in John eleven, Mary and Martha knew Jesus could heal Lazarus while he was still alive, but they saw death as an absolute boundary. So, when Jesus arrived after Lazarus died, they were in despair. Yet Jesus, we discover, delayed his coming to stretch their limited view of his powers. Death was no obstacle to him.
Let’s return to the father in Mark nine. Was special potency promised to “one who believes.” As if an effort to “believe” was crucial? It wasn’t. The man only displayed a desperate need and was left to watch Jesus solve the problem. Belief was his response to Christ’s known power rather than an act-of-will. His faith didn’t stir Jesus out of the latter’s reluctance. Instead, the father expressed his need in the context of knowing Jesus could heal his son if he chose to act.
Why press the point? Because it confronts our instinct to treat faith as a human task to stir a slumbering God. And such a “faith” undermines our view of God’s compassion. His care is what elicits faith, so that faith is not a human “act-of-the-will” but a new confidence. And if healing doesn’t come, a faithful believer knows God’s mercies are fully in play. Everyone faces disease and death in a fallen world, and the perfect world we all long for is a future promise, not a present gift to those with secret powers to stir God! We are always invited to bring needs to him, but he works in his own wise ways.
Faith, ultimately, is our awakening—having the “eyes of our heart” opened—rather than a task. God meets needs, and our role is to express needs. Whenever we offer heartfelt cries to God, the needs these cries represent are invitations from God to look to him. He uses pain—the pain Adam unleashed in Eden—to catch the attention of Adam’s proud offspring. Jesus made it clear in John 15:5 that apart from him we “can do nothing.” This includes all the functions of faith.
Consider what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). This recognition of God as king is what humans properly offer him. But the problem is greater than many realize. The Bible treats humanity as “dead” towards God. Not “dead” in the sense of being interred in the ground, but dead in the sense of being separate from the Spirit who “is life.” So, there is no engagement between the human “spirit” and God’s Spirit until regeneration occurs. And our return to God comes whenever hearts finally respond to the wooing Spirit who “pours out” God’s love in our hearts (Romans 5:5). God isn’t reluctant in his giving. We are in our responding.
The ultimate soul-response is the miracle of regeneration. Just as the desperate father saw the divine power Jesus represented to him, our own desperation in a fallen world offers the same recognition. And some people have “greater” faith simply because they grasp this reality by what Jesus shares about himself in the scriptures, with the Spirit’s reassuring witness.
The end of this insight is that any version or “event” of faith is something stirred in us by the Spirit who awakens us to see Jesus as central to life. Faith is all about him and not about us. And that, alone, brings about a true rest in our souls.