“I Believe, Help My Unbelief!”

I’ve often chuckled at this verse.  At first glance, and in a real true way, the saying reflects the weakness of our human condition.  We hold in suspension the ability to believe and at the same time unbelieve; we are convinced that we have faith but, deep down, there may be some reservations.  But I am sure now that there is more here than meets the eye of a first glance.  There is a struggle here between two opposing forces.  I need to put a name to those forces, define them, make them real.  I cannot understand something with my mind that is spiritual in nature unless I first give myself a framework to operate within.  That framework is wisdom and understanding; and I have to build that framework first.  If I seek wisdom, is that an easy path?  Does God ever promise us “easy” or speak of “quick-fixes”?  To seek something is not the same as stumbling across something.  God can use both stumbling and seeking, but Scripture tells us of paths, journeys, hidden treasures, and mysteries.  Our faith begins as a mustard seed; its ultimate goal is to be a tree…not to stay a mustard seed.  To be a static seed is to lend proof that that seed has not been watered, planted in good soil, or bathed in sunlight.  But just as the seed of faith is nurtured along, there can be another seed growing as well…the seed of unbelief.

Nothing can grow within us without our nurturing.  What and How am I nurturing that which interferes with my seed of faith to move my mountains?  I must define what unbelief really is and how to begin to weed it out of my life.  Unbelief is doubting in your heart.  Doubt is the fruit of fear and fear is the opposite of love.  Christ says many times, “Fear not, only believe…”  There is the fundamental framework right there.  Unbelief is the fruit of fear and fear is the opposing force to faith.  So to get to the core of the problem, I must address fear.  Most of us are surely afraid of the unknown, so it only makes sense to make the unknown, known!  The task and process of knowing the enemy of fear is absolutely critical.  For instance, a mountain looks impossible; you stand in the valley and look up at its awesomeness.  It seems crazy to even attempt ascending such a formidable summit.  But, if you get to know the mountain you can put together a plan of attack:  by exploring the mountain, and by exploring only, you find truths about it.  Which areas are accessible, which areas are dangerous, what time of the year should you attempt it, do I have the tools necessary to make the ascent, can I do it alone or do I need help, where is a source for water and food and shelter?  If I take the time to map out the mountain, I give myself a good chance of conquering the fear of that mountain.  When I can assess something by the means of close examination and familiarity, it becomes less daunting.  That is just the nature of things.  The first step in solving a problem is to admit there is a problem and the second step is figuring out with the mind God gave us, what exactly that problem is…get to the root of it, what makes it live and breathe, how I can cut it off.

Paramount to going any further is to understand this principle:  The opposing force of Unbelief can keep our faith from being effective.   I have thought in the past that if I just had enough faith, with God’s help, I could move life’s mountains.  That is not true! Faith and unbelief are at odds with each other.  If we only need the faith of a mustard seed, then why do we feel we need the faith of something larger?  Will any amount of faith win the tug-of-war with unbelief?  The answer:  No.  So I have lived with a faulty notion that if I just had enough faith…

You see, unbelief is not the absence of faith.  Unbelief can live right next door to faith!  Remember, unbelief is born of fear.  So we must address what we fear so as not to fear it any longer.  And we cannot wage war on an enemy we do not know.  Before any battle, a plan must be hatched.  That plan must take into consideration all aspects of the enemy:  when it eats, when it sleeps, what its weaknesses are, where it is vulnerable, and how to defeat it.  The same metaphor as the mountain:  one must know it.

In the times we live in today, it just isn’t appealing to have to work at something.  We want immediate gratification.  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work.  Anything worth having, takes a great deal of effort to achieve.  If we are unwilling to address the mountains in our lives, then we are choosing to live in the shadows of those mountains.  We are quick to complain about living in the shadows, but are unwilling to put forth the effort to move out of those shadows.  If I don’t take the time and effort to defeat my fears, then no amount of faith in the universe can overtake my unbelief.  You see, the circuit must be completed.  God can only work miracles if we help Him by believing.  Notice that Jesus could not perform many miracles where there was unbelief, He just moved into areas where there was belief.  Some people just won’t buy this premise; some think that God could or should move our mountains for us.  If that were the case then why does He tell us to “speak to the mountain” and “command it”?  He doesn’t say He’ll do it for us; He said you speak to the mountain.  He gives us the strength and the faith to do it, but we still have to do it on our own!  Paul tells us to “put on the full armor of God”; he doesn’t say that Christ will dress us!  An effort on our part is necessary to be effective.  We are not fumbling around down here at the whim of a careless God.  We walk by faith.  It is a faith walk, not a faith sit!  We want to have faith and do great things, but are we willing to put in the effort?  “We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us”…strengthens us for what?  Why do we need strength if God has it all covered?  We need the strength to conquer fear and its child…unbelief.  So God can take the next step with us.

A Good Example of Conquering Fear:

From my experience with playing and coaching baseball, a truth is revealed.  Learning how to hit a baseball is a time consuming process of standing at the plate and seeing what the ball looks like coming across the plate.  Ultimately, a hitter will become more comfortable and confident as he/she sees more and more balls pitched.  Experience at the plate is a good barometer as to a hitter’s ability to stand confidently at the plate.  Nothing takes the place of repetition, practice, and familiarity.  Many players are afraid of the ball at the plate until they have stood up there for hours and hours.  So the first truth is that nothing takes the place of experience and experience takes time.  You cannot become an effective hitter without standing in the batter’s box; you can’t get better sitting on the bench.  The same applies to understanding how to be a good fielder, or a good pitcher, or a good coach for that matter.  I remember one of my sons was terrified of the “short-hop”.  The fear of where that missile of a ground-ball was going to go (especially when it pertains to your face) was too much and his head would turn away.  When his head turned away, he had to take his eyes off of the ball which significantly affected his ability to field the ball.  This axiom is true:  if you are scared of the ball, then you will get hit!  If you aren’t scared of the ball, you still might get hit, but because you have your eyes on the ball you can react properly.  So what I did was take the child into the back yard and I began to throw the dreaded “short-hop” to him again and again.  At first, he was really mad at me and thought I was being cruel, but I explained to him that if he didn’t get over the fear of the ball, then he may as well take up golf!  My son’s desire to be a baseball player prevailed and it wasn’t long before he realized that if he kept his eye on the ball, he could master its trajectory, bounce, and react accordingly.  Today, he is an incredible baseball player and that lack of fear has been good to him.  So truth number two is that the resolve to achieve outweighs the fear of failure or pain.  We resolve to achieve by believing we can overcome with proper instruction and encouraging words.  However, no matter how much I coached and offered encouraging words for my son, he never would have become a great baseball player had he not chosen to stay the course and put his mind to it.  I couldn’t do it for him (and God can’t do it for us either).  Let’s face it, not everybody is comfortable standing in front of a solid object coming at you at over 100 miles per hour!  We all have our specific calling, but every calling comes with the same challenges.  By the way, my son is horrible at rock climbing, skiing, or anything else that requires defying the law of gravity.  That’s not his calling.  But his choice to face his fears was born from the desire to become better…

Another Good Example of Conquering Fear:

If you want to start a business, you must count the cost.  In any successful venture, the seed of an idea is brought to fruition by hard, smart work.  One has to study supply and demand, demographics, statistics, financial feasibility, market strategy, among many other variables.  We know it would be foolish to take a risk without first having a sound business plan.  The only way to give an idea traction, is to feed it with facts, numbers, and education.  Without such preparation, an idea is doomed before it even gets started.  All you have to do is look around to see the many failed ventures doomed by poor planning.  An investor should fear what is not clear.  Leave as little to chance as possible.  So the truth here is echoing the same point:  familiarize and educate yourself on the idea.  Know as much about your business as you possibly can before you start and stay educated in your business to stay current and effective.  Fear is born of the unknown, so it is your business to know…

The Best Example of Conquering Fear:

The best example of conquering fear that I have to offer is my personal experience.  I was afraid of myself.  I didn’t know myself.  But a time came in my life when I had to face who I really was…my largest mountain to date was alcoholism.  I had lived in denial for many years and was either unwilling or unable to face the truth.  But by the grace of God, He showed me a picture of myself.  The world became a much better place just by acknowledging the fact that I was an alcoholic.  I had identified the mountain.  When I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book, I felt like someone had spied on my life and written an unauthorized biography about me.  My desire to achieve a relationship with God and love the people around me, overpowered the fear of addiction.  What was really nice, is that someone had already given me a great model and game-plan; I had only to do a little research.  It is almost laughable, as most things in life, that the truth was right there the whole time!  All I had to do was access the game-plan, but I hadn’t realized what game was being played.  I hadn’t faced my fears; I had only complained about living in the shadows of fear.  By nature, alcoholism is steeped in fear, and it was time to face that fear.  From that point on, I have learned more than can be written.  The love of God is staggering to me and His grace is the most precious of all gifts.  But alas, the journey has only begun.  Once we can face those inward, spiritual mountains, then we can get down to the business of living in God’s plan.  The process of facing ourselves in the mirror is a daunting, difficult, and time consuming endeavor but is worth every bead of sweat, every tear shed, and every fear faced.  Living in the shadows was pure bondage, and I wanted to be free.  But in order to be free, I had to pay a price.  And that price was facing my fears boldly and kicking fear’s butt!  With the Spirit holding my hand, I got to know “me”, and I was the mountain to be removed.  The journey continues but now is so very sweet.  Now the mountains in my life are not as daunting, not as formidable, more like missions to be executed or challenges to be bravely faced.  “Fear not, only believe…”  Through Christ’s eyes, I saw that I was loved, that I was worth saving, and that there is more to this life than I had expected.

So wherever we are in life’s journey, we have to know that faith with unbelief is ineffective faith.  We conquer unbelief by conquering fear.  And fear is conquered by taking the time to get to know that fear, knowing how to approach that fear, knowing how to “talk to” our mountains instead of “talking about” those same mountains.  The mountains are brought low by exploring and declaring victory by each step we take deeper into the unknown to make it known.  And then, and only then, can we experience Christ’s miracles in our life.  The unbelief is quenched by hard work.  Then faith has no limit and hope does not disappoint.  Our tools for exploration and mastery are all around us:  the written Word, the living Word, the beauty of God’s creation and its processes, and yes science (God’s signature) coupled with faith.  We must use every resource available to us and we have to leave pride at the gateway to wisdom and understanding.  Many know of the verse that states, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  This is very important if not the most important aspect of conquering fear.  Here is another truth:  To know God is to love God.  So it only follows that if a person wants to know love, then they must get to know God, for God is love.  And let’s be honest here; if you don’t take the time to get to know God, then you will never be equipped to fight this battle to begin with.  Like all relationships, it takes time and effort to build.  The beautiful truth here is that conquering fear conquers unbelief, which in turn allows faith to do its job.  So we can move mountains, one step at a time, one shovel-full of dirt at a time, and one day at a time.  God give us the patience and resolve to follow His plan…