Though I played many sports in high school and college, volleyball was by far my favorite (and best). I spent thousands of hours in the gym and on the courts honing my skills. I was good at it.
Fast forward a few years, and I joined a team in a recreational league in Southern California. We were all very skilled players and we dominated the league from the very start. We went undefeated for two years in a row.
Other teams began to join our league, too. They heard about our team, and they came gunning for us.
We didn’t think it was a problem. We were good, polished after all. We would repeat the success we enjoyed the previous two years.
The first time we faced one of these new teams, we were focused, intent on victory. We had this match, and we knew it.
Then it happened.
One-by-one, we all failed. We couldn’t pass the ball to save our lives. Forget about bump-set-spike. We were lucky to just get the ball back over the net. It seemed the harder we tried to refocus, the worse things got. We were horrible!
The other team began to taunt us. “I thought you guys were supposed to be good!” they said. “We joined the league for this?” another taunted. I’ll leave the rest of the words they shared to your imagination.
It stung. It hurt. Our faith in our skills and our team were shaken. We went down in flames.
The disciples faced something very similar to this as they sought to follow Jesus. They had been trained by the Master, and been very successful in the past. But, one day, they came up as epic failures. The story begins in Mark 9:14-18. The disciples encountered a man whose son was possessed by a demon, and he asked them to cast it out of him. They stepped up to the challenge, eager to display the power of Jesus. They failed.
Previously, the disciples had been able to cast out demons (see Mark 6), but for some reason, they couldn’t do it this time. No matter how hard they tried, this evil spirit would not leave. To make matters worse, the Pharisees (religious people) were stirring up the crowd against them. They were mocking them for their inability to cast out the demon. I can imagine them shouting, “I thought followers of Jesus could do this sort of thing! This just proves that your faith is garbage!”
The disciples failed, and it had shaken their faith. Additionally, the boy’s father’s faith had now been made weaker as a result of their failure. Was Jesus really as powerful as others had said? If His followers failed, maybe this is all fake.
But, Jesus is the Overcomer. He overcomes our failures in serving Him and others. He overcomes Satan. He overcomes everything this world can throw at Him. He can even overcome doubts and restore our faith when it is shaken to its core. That’s exactly what Jesus did in this story. Here’s the rest of it in Mark 9:21-27:
“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
Faith restored. Taunting over. Record set straight.
As followers of Jesus, we will fail. Perhaps we mess up and don’t represent Him fairly. Perhaps we fail at extending His love to everyone, even those we don’t particularly like. Maybe our faith gets shaken to the core, and we wonder what’s real vs. fake.
Take heart, Jesus will overcome all of these obstacles. He knows we’re not perfect, but He chooses to use us anyway. Refocus your sight on Him. Let Him overcome.