All in the Family – When Believing Seems So Very Hard

Picture this. The hot dog or burger’s in front of you. Steaming. Aromatic. All’s ready, except for the catsup or mustard, your call. You’ve got the bottle, upside down, hopin’ against hope for some action. Nothin’s happenin’. What are you thinkin’; what are you feelin’? What do you do? (Cong.) … If you remember your earliest encounters with a computer, picture this. You’re all set up. You turn the critter on. The screen comes up. You press a couple of buttons waitin’ for the magic to start. You wait some more. Bupkiss!! Diddly. Zilch. What are you thinkin’; what are you feelin’? What do you do next?… (Cong.) … Both of these are innocent, easy, shared examples of hope deferred, faith (in little things, granted) unrewarded, frustration… maybe even a tiny tinge of despair. Now all this is child’s play compared to Moses. He’s in the wilderness tryin’ to get water from a rock for a parched people literally dying of thirst. And like us, he’s hopin’ against hope, trustin’ in God… with the Lord’s own word for it… that he’s about to hit a gusher. Nothin’ happens at first. Like us, he shakes the bottle as it were, bops it on the bottom; he hits a few more buttons on the computer… actually, he just strikes the rock a second time with the rod of God… before anything happens. His reward is: water for his people. BUT… his fate is… even after all he’s done and been through… he doesn’t get to lead the way and cross over into the Promised Land. Why? Because he did not believe God’s promise of water on the first whack. That second bonk was an act of unfaithfulness, says Heaven. This is hard. Very hard. And it raises the question one of our own put to me some time ago. “Ken, could you talk to us about believing when believing seems so very hard? ‘When things don’t come out as expected. ‘When you wanna believe, but it doesn’t seem to be workin’. ‘When it seems life’s like tryin’ to get water from a rock.”

Well, first off, let me say this is hard. And if you’ve ever struggled with this or are struggling with it now, you’re not alone. Jesus struggled with this, and struggled in the face of it. Two quick images. And maybe a couple of lessons that might help us cope. You remember this familiar story of the dad who comes to Jesus with a sick child. He’s tried everything, everywhere, everybody. No help. So now he’s come to Jesus. He’s hopin’ against hope like Moses tryin’ to get water from a rock. He trusts Jesus, just like us. He believes Jesus can help, just like us. But in spite of this, just like us, he has this part of him that’s been so put down, so disappointed and denied, so put upon by his burden, he’s got this unconverted corner of soul. Jesus reminds him (and reminds us), “All things are possible to those who believe.” And right then the fella blurts out the one need even bigger than his son’s. “Lord, I believe; help me with my unbelief!” What a picture. Can’t you see yourself in it? If you can, it’s OK. It’s OK to say. That’s the first lesson. You can trust God with the unbelieving part of your soul. This papa brought not one but two troubling troubles to Jesus that day. His demon-possessed son, yes. But his own demon, too, his doubt.

Don’t miss the contrast here between Moses, whom we know, and this father, whose name is lost forever. For all Moses has and will do (more of him later) he brings his doubt to that rock. It’s just that it’s unspoken. Despite all the miracles he’s seen and felt, like that dad with Jesus, and like us, even towering, tremendous Moses has this unconverted corner of his soul. And in that moment when he strikes the rock as commanded… to no effect… he hears from his doubt. What can he do? He can lift up his eyes and his voice and admit to God and all the gathered, “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief," or Moses can take matters into his own hands. He can lift up that rod, and strike that stone again, hard enough to crack the water out. Well, you know the rest of the story. But it was different in the company of Jesus. (Maybe in his eye or in his voice. I pray for it for you; I pray it for me.) Something in Jesus permissioned that father to let loose the doubting-demon and give it to God. To actually admit it. Name it by name. Risk the rightly expected righteous anger of God at the sound of it, only to find out that God by Jesus Christ can take it, break it, and overcome it. You’ve asked, “Ken, could you talk to us about believing when believing seems so very hard?” I can. I can begin by saying you and I have seen our share of miracles like Moses (think of yours), and felt our share woe like that NT dad (think of yours). We too have our unconverted corners. We too have a choice: take matters into our own hands, or place them in God’s. God’s are better. Beginning with our doubts themselves. Jesus shows and tells us so.

Sometimes, it’s hard to hold onto believing when the thing we want to let go of the most is the pain. The uncertainty. The trial. Can you imagine Moses sense of relief, triumph, at the sight of that water flowing from that rock? Have you ever had a time like that? How about a time like that, followed by a moment that says, “Not so fast. Things aren’t as they seem. Sorry… you need to stay tuned for the rest of the story!” Sadly, I’ve shared this moment a lot. Especially in the hospital. You have, too. Personally or through a friend or loved one. The doc comes out and says, “The thing we were worried about was not so bad. We’ve been able to take care of it.” Hallelujah! The doc goes on, “But, I’m sorry to say, we’ve found something else we didn’t expect.” Uh oh. Now we’re right there with Moses at that watery rock. The water’s nice but there’s more comin.’ “Sorry, but you aren’t gonna make it to the Promised Land as you planned.” Can’t you just see Moses wanting to let loose of that rod like a hot iron burning into seared hands? Haven’t you heard a word like that one time or other? Don’t you fear that you might? A time when all you want to do is let go and get loose of the pain? Now this is when believing seems so very hard, indeed. Have we anything to say about times like this?

We do. I think it comes to this. When we can’t let go, God latches on. That changes everything. Granted, the outcome may look the same on the outside, but not on our inside. Humanly speaking, Moses may be devastated at the thought, “I won’t get to the Promised land.” He can not let go of the journey. 16 tumultuous chapters of the Book of Numbers follow! From the loss of his dear brother Aaron to the skirmishes and conflicts with those around and among them, Moses and his own trudge on though the wilderness. The entire Book of Deuteronomy details the delivery of Israel and the Words of God he left them. Moses couldn’t let go. But God latched on. It will become clear Moses walks with God and God with him. Moses will be asked to cover his face! Why? Because God’s glory shines so bright in it, it’s too much for the rest to look and see. For Moses, the outcome doesn’t change. He will not cross over Jordan. But with God’s hand on his, the ending is completely made over. He’s not devastated. At 120 his eye is undimmed, his vigor still vital. He dies, not in loss, but in gain!
When we can’t let go, God latches on. That changes everything. We talked about this in our Women’s Bible Study the other day. We pictured what this means in our own experience. 3 illnesses. 3 deaths. One patient, suffering, bitter, unable to let go. ‘Holding onto life with his own two hands accepting help from neither heaven nor earth. ‘Skin and bones in a bathtub on life’s last day saying only one thing over and over. (I’ll clean this up) “Gosh darn, Gosh darn, Gosh darn.” A true story! By contrast, two beloved ill members here, ‘til their final hours saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” They knew and accepted, you see, God in Christ latches on. God takes on the pain and the passing. The outcome may look the same. But the journey is profoundly different and the ending utterly transformed. At least one meaning of the cross is that our crossings are crucified, emptied of their loneliness, drained of their pain on the cross of Christ, and fitted for a very different ending in the resurrection garden.

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A helpful postscript here. After Jesus heals the child in our story, he’s alone with the twelve. They ask, “Why couldn’t we cast those demons?” Curiously Christ responds, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Are we to believe even the disciples were such lunkheads they had not prayed? Probably not. So what are we to make of Jesus’ saying? Maybe this. Maybe Jesus is saying, “Some demons are so difficult they can only be driven out by my prayers!” (Jesus’ prayers.) Wow. …Now it may help to know this same Jesus makes a promise to his own, approaching the cross. He says, “I won’t leave you defenseless. I will send another. The Spirit. The Holy Spirit. And when you don’t know how to pray, or do not have the prayers you need, the Spirit will pray for you, with sighs too deep for words.” If perchance, today or on some other day, yours are the kind of demons that only the prayers of Jesus can remove, you just may wanna remember, by the Spirit, Jesus has already promised to be praying for you!

When it’s hard to believe, friends, you may want to remember: trust God with the unbelieving corner of your soul. Take heart. When we can’t let go, God latches on. And when the demons seem too much for us, the prayers of Jesus will be near at hand!

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