Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and asked, “Why could we not drive [the demon] out?”
He said to them, “Because of your lack of faith. Amen I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Prayer and faith are two challenging areas in the life of a Christian, but they can be especially difficult during times of suffering. Verses like the one above say that if we have faith – even in an amount as small as the grain of a mustard seed – we can do seemingly impossible things.
So when we are in the midst of a trial, we turn to God in prayer, asking for help. Sometimes, a sobbed “help” is all we can muster, but we hope that God hears the desperation in our hearts and will come to our aid. Sometimes that mustard seed is all we have.
But there are times when we ask, we beg, we plead, and our circumstances do not change. In the midst of our suffering, it can feel like our prayers are going unheard, or it can leave us wondering if perhaps our faith is just not enough for God to answer us.
Four days after she was born, our premature daughter needed to be airlifted to a higher-level NICU because she was having breathing difficulties. The doctor came to my hospital room to explain to me that for some reason that he could not understand, her carbon dioxide levels were reaching dangerously high levels and weren’t coming down. He told me that a helicopter would be there within the hour.
I called my husband, made my way down to the NICU, and sat by her isolette bedside in my wheelchair, crying the wordless prayers for help that by this point on our journey with this pregnancy had become so commonplace. As the helicopter landed outside, my husband arrived and quickly baptized our tiny daughter with a bottle of sterile water as we cried together and asked God to help her. One of the members of the medical team came to talk to us and spoke soberly, explaining that they would do all that was within their power to take good care of our baby girl, but that he did not feel completely confident that she could survive the seven-minute flight. As we watched them wheel her out, we clung to each other, tried to keep each other from unraveling, and realized like never before that all of this was completely in God’s hands.
But at the time, that realization alone did not comfort my aching heart. I wanted more.
In the weeks that followed, my husband drove us back and forth to the farther NICU until I was able to drive by myself. It was springtime in Pennsylvania and the weather changed rapidly between downpours and sunshine all week, every day held the perfect conditions to see a rainbow.
Only I didn’t see a single one.
I would find myself making little deals in my head with God in the car. “Okay,” I’d think. “If I see a rainbow, that means that Brigid is going to be fine.” And then I’d crane my neck all over looking for one, all the while reasoning with myself that seeing a rainbow or not does not determine her outcome. I’d feel ashamed of my silliness and realize that I was testing God and looking for a sign. I didn’t feel confident entrusting our daughter to God’s will and wanted reassurances that He was with us in our suffering. But God didn’t owe me a sign; He had already told me enough about Himself in his Word, and through the work of Christ for me to have faith in this situation, regardless of the weather.
The reality is that it’s not faith that our situation will turn out the way we hope that we are called to have. It wasn’t faith that our Brigid would live in which He was calling me to pray. If that were the case, my faith would be shattered, because six weeks later I watched her die.
Instead, it’s faith in God’s goodness. It’s faith in the fact that His ways are not our ways. That all things work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s faith that God is sovereign and trustworthy. Faith that He knows us and loves us and sees us. Faith that we’re still in the palm of His hand.
God wants us to rest in Him.
When everything around us is crumbling and falling apart, when the storm of suffering comes and destroys everything that we have come to lean on, when the rug of our security is pulled out from under us, when we feel like we are barely hanging on, tossed to and fro by the waves of life, we can still rest in Him, our firm foundation.
This is the peace that passes understanding, constant even in the midst of the chaos. It’s an internal peace that anchors us to God’s goodness and love.
He knows that following Him involves taking up our crosses, but He has gone before us and shown us how to do it. He reminds us that there is more to the story than we can see in the midst of our pain, but that He sees beyond and all the way to the end.
So if you are in the middle of a trial, if it feels that your prayers are falling on deaf ears and your faith is lacking, if you are not seeing the mountains move and wondering if you must not even be able to muster the mustard seed, consider the prayer of our Lord when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane:
He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”
He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup of suffering and death did not pass from Jesus, though it would have been possible for God to have redeemed us in a different manner. But this was not because Jesus did not pray with enough faith. Rather, Jesus entrusted himself to God’s will.
Sometimes, people pray and God does work a miracle. Illness is healed, relationships are restored, a way made where there is no way. Sometimes this is the will of God, and it can be hard to accept that His will for us may be different.
Our situation may not be noticeably altered as a result of our prayer, but some of our suffering may be alleviated when the mountain that is thrown into the sea is the mountain of all of our fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt. When we pray with faith that God is in control, this is the mountain that is movable.
Our Savior reminds us that the cross of suffering, entrusted to the will of God, brings redemption. This is how we are called to pray during difficult times.
Not our will, but Yours be done.
Edited 2/18 because somehow I omitted an entire paragraph.