The Valleys of Faith, When Faith Feels Hard

September 5 - Anxiety, Words, and Freedom

In the Isaiah reading, God wants a message to go out to those with fearful or anxious hearts, a promise that He will come and set things right. It reads that God will unravel his people’s enemies and, when he comes, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the wild wastelands will fill with new life made possible only by God’s presence. Then, in our Mark reading, we see two people represented and both experience freedom in relationship to words or speaking. For the Gentile, Syro-Phoenecian woman, who’s heritage could make her a perceived enemy of God’s people, she speaks a bold word of faith inspired by the life that flows through Jesus. Then, for the man who could not speak or hear, Jesus liberates him and he’s set free to speak. Though he’s told not to say anything about his healing, he can’t help but exclaim, “Everything he does is wonderful!”

Sometimes we also feel imprisoned in regards to our words. Perhaps through an inability to speak or proclaim the wonders of Jesus. Or, perhaps we lack the boldness of the Gentile woman. Maybe we feel oppressed by whomever an enemy might be and our hearts swell with anxiety when we think of them or think of it, if our enemy is impersonal. Whatever it may be, it’s likely that witnessing and coming into contact with the life that flows through Jesus will loosen our words and set us free.

Readings: Is. 35:4–7a; Mark 7:24–37

September 12 - The Struggle to Believe, to Have Faith

There’s a well-known phrase in today’s Gospel reading, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” We also find ourselves volleying between the timbres of our OT and NT readings. In Isaiah, we see a stone-faced boldness. In Mark, we see Jesus enduring, though with love, the faithless and the thin-in-faith. Yet, in great compassion, Jesus brings new life through a vivid casting out of evil. He still does this work among us today, this casting away of evil and dispelling unbelief.

What sorts of evil plague us today, or make it hard for us to believe. There’s the persistent problem of evil. We individually experience that in ten-thousand unique ways and continue to wonder what God is up to in such times. What other agents, forces, or darknesses create disbelief or the unraveling of faith? Through whatever lies ahead of us, it’s quite likely we, Jesus’ people, will continue to have moments where we say, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

The last verse in the Mark reading deposits a cryptic-sounding mystery, “This kind [of demon] can only be cast out through prayer.” Is this verse one of those words of Jesus that was recorded as something he historically said, but we don’t really know what he means, or, does this verse relate to everything above, especially whatever might be causing unbelief or disbelief? Which demon or kind of demon is Jesus even referencing here?

Readings: Is. 50:4–10; Mark 9:14–29

September 19 - The Illusion of What is Great

Right after Jesus shares a prediction about his death and resurrection, his disciples argue about who’s the greatest. What do they have in mind? What is “great” to them? It’s certainly not what Jesus has in mind, not yet anyway. For here, Jesus is a lot like Jeremiah in the OT reading, determined to stay the course, regardless who who comes along, for he knows what God has prepared for him to accomplish.

Their inability to grasp what Jesus is doing influences their inability to grasp true, Christ-like greatness. We can amplify this phrase theologically and say, God-like greatness, for in Christ we see the fullness of God. Some have said we have to let go of our Zeus-like beliefs of what God is like and see everything we need to see in the face of Jesus. And, what does Jesus say about greatness? He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

We have done fairly well these days articulating this greatness Jesus talks about. The phrase “servant leader” has gained more appreciation. But, we may still need to do some soul work and let Jesus clash with our god-images of Zeus or Mars or Mammon, or Aphrodite, or whatever we sometimes think greatness is. Jesus seeks to liberate his disciples from their false view of “greatness” and he desires the same for us. The cross is the only way to come to terms with this. Can we see the greatness of God on the cross (not above the cross watching, but pinned to it with nails)? Then we must ask, “What does this mean?” And, “What does this mean for what I pursue in life?”

Readings: Jer. 11:18–20; Mark 9:30–37

September 26 - To See with Opened Eyes

The OT and NT reading reference sight being restored. The Isaiah reading shares a promise of justice as well as awakening, where people who used to be wayward in spirit return to the Lord, which is something the Lord causes to come about. There are many who long for this to happen today for people they love, for people they want to see walk with Jesus and be filled with everlasting faith.

The Mark reading is the fascinating double-take miracle where Jesus has to keep working on the man for the miracle to fully take place. This likely is intended to have double, maybe triple meaning in its placement in Mark’s Gospel. One, that it records a historical event. Two, that it’s also metaphoric for the disciples and us today, where Jesus has to keep working on us, that perhaps coming to faith and staying in the faith isn’t as simple as a divine snap of the fingers. And three, the placement of this story in the middle of the text creates a question and shares a revelation. The question: “Are your eyes opened? Do you see trees or people? Are you a little but confused about all this or can you see it all clearly?” And the revelation is that those who we think should be getting it don’t, while other people show up in the story and seem to fill with a deep faith that baffles the rest of us.

What clouds our vision today? Are there times where we think we see things clearly but are actually seeing trees that walk? Is there continued work Jesus needs to do among and within us so we might see what we need to see? Wherever we are, we can trust this: Jesus intends to grant sight, and he intends to keep working until we see what we need to see.

Readings: Is. 29:17-24; Mark 8:22-26