"He will die," medical personnel told the baby's mother. "It's best if you don't get attached."

Born 15 years ago to an unwed teenager, the child had a brainstem but no brain and lacked the instinct to suckle or cry. He was moved to an isolated nursery where he was to be denied food and water until the inevitable took place.

Despite the hopelessness of her situation, the young mother called a local church and asked for someone to come pray that God would heal her baby. Church deacons met with the mother in the hospital nursery, anointed the baby with oil, and remarkably — though some would say foolishly — prayed for the baby's healing.

I'm not sure what they thought would happen, but shortly after the deacons' prayer, a nurse noted on the baby's chart that he was following her with his eyes. Later that day, the impossible happened: the baby cried. Cried! X-rays that followed showed the baby did have a brain — now. Former x-rays showing no brain were compared with the new x-rays showing a brain. The doctors had no explanation.

The young mother did.

At the time I wondered what would have happened if I had answered that young mother's telephone call. Would I have discouraged her from praying for healing for her baby? Would I have had the faith to even ask God to heal a baby deformed from the womb?

My faith needed help.

Sick Faith

What do we believe God will do? What do we believe God CAN do?

Mark 9 relates a story that has all the makings of a hopeless state of affairs with a tragic end. In short:

  • A desperate father has a violently demonized child who exhibits suicidal behavior.
  • News of a healing prophet who may be the Messiah prompts the father to hopefully seek Him to beg His help.
  • Upon arrival, the father finds Jesus absent and His second-string disciples in charge of healings.
  • The disciples attempt an exorcism and fail.
  • Hope fades for the father and afflicted son.

It is at this point that Jesus appears. Under the circumstances, with a desperately ill child and the failure of the disciples, we rather understand the father's hesitancy to stir his flagging hopes again (Mark 9:22-24). He says to Jesus: "If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."

Jesus says to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."

Immediately the father of the child cried out with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

Jesus did. He healed the child.

Faith Helped

Like the father in Mark 9, to receive an answer to our prayers, sometimes our faith needs help — especially if we've been disappointed in the past. Maybe our faith in God has been damaged because His people have failed us in our time of need, just as the disciples failed the boy's father. Or maybe we've asked for something that seemed good to us but God said "no." Or perhaps you've prayed for someone for a long time, seen no results, and become discouraged. Or maybe you are like I was with the baby born with no brain: asking God to heal seems like a major stretch.

It is at these times we need to pray for a restoration of faith in the power of God. Our faith pleases Him. He acts to answer our prayers on the basis of faith.

Some pervert Jesus' statement "all things are possible to him who believes" into a "name it and claim it" gospel. Like Wendy Darling in Peter Pan who flies with "faith, trust, and a sprinkling of pixie dust," some sprinkle Jesus on their hopes and heartbreak, thinking Jesus can be blackmailed by their confidence in Him into doing their bidding because they "believe." To them, faith is magical thinking.

Some carry this to the extreme, spawning tragic stories of people who refused medical care or were denied it based on someone's version of "faith."