prayer, bible, christian

Faithful Doubters

(This is the sermon I delivered on June 24, 2012 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, NJ. It includes a personal story that I have used in one other sermon previously, The Witness of Friends. It was just too perfect a match for the Gospel lesson not to use it again. I hope you agree.)

Not long after I moved to New Jersey a couple of years ago, I had an unexpected personal instruction session regarding New Jersey’s pedestrian crosswalk law with a Morristown police officer, for which he happily provided me with an unwanted invoice for the lesson. He explained that pedestrians have an absolutely unrestricted right to cross the entire roadway and all traffic must stop until he or she passes. So having received an expensive lesson, I began to pay particular attention at crosswalks. And what I have seen is that despite this unfettered right, most pedestrians hesitate before entering, beginning haltingly, and once confident that traffic will stop cross more confidently. They believe abstractly that they may proceed, but when they have to trust that traffic will stop for them, are captured by unbelief and hesitate. They have faith, but also doubt.

Today we will explore the tension between faith and doubt and how faith can grow in the presence of doubt.  Join me in prayer.

Prayer: Lord, this morning bless us with the Word of your unfailing love, for we put our trust in you even though we doubt. Show us how that through you, we may act in faith in the face of doubt. We lift now our hearts and minds to your message.


As she neared the end of her life, a woman of the church wrote to a friend,

Jesus has a very special love for you…but as for me, the silence and emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear, the tongue moves but does not speak.  I want you to pray for me that I let Him have a free hand.

Can’t you just feel the doubt and despair in this woman? The woman, however, was not a Christmas and Easter Christian. She was Mother Teresa. She was a great servant of Christ, who had given her life to witnessing to the love of Christ through service to the poor and destitute, who through great faith found the courage of personal sacrifice and reached thousands. Yet in the presence of her great faith was also great doubt.

Can you relate to that? If you doubt that God really acts in our lives, then you have a lot of company. Our scripture lessons today are filled with faith and doubt. Look at the Israelites in our Old Testament readings. God had liberated them from slavery, moved before them by a cloud and fire, divided the Red Sea that they could cross, and fed them from heaven. Yet, when brought to the very edge of the land promised by God, they were overcome by fear and doubt. It took years for them to build up enough faith to step into the Jordan River where the waters again separated and enabled them to cross to that land. They had seen great miracles of God, yet still had great doubt.

The disciples in our story from Mark are similar. Immediately preceding this event, Peter, James, and John had been to the mountaintop and had seen Christ transfigured. But that mountaintop experience, that great miracle and revelation, was still insufficient to give them faith that God would act through them to heal the boy brought to them. Your heart has to ache for that father. He is desperate for his son to be rescued from epilepsy. He has heard about Jesus and moves in faith and hope to bring his son to him, but the disciples could not heal and the Scribes and Pharisees are there sowing seeds of doubt. When Jesus speaks to the father about his belief he proclaims faith, but then is immediately overcome by doubt. He believes in God and believes that Christ can heal his son, but doubts that he will. In honesty though, he also lays his doubts and fears before Jesus.

But what Christ does next is the core of our lesson today. He doesn’t say go away until you have perfect faith with no doubt. He answered the man’s prayer. He recognized the kernel of faith in the man’s plea and helped his unbelief by showing him grace and mercy in a restored son.

What do you think happened after that to the father? We don’t know because he disappears from the scriptures as far as we know. With his son healed did he become a lion of the faith and walk the rest of his days fearless in service to God? Or did his faith grow from his experience of God through Christ, but still live with doubt?

I suspect the latter; that being human, he knew God was present in his life, but continued to experience loss, hurt, and unanswered prayer and lived with constant tension between faith and doubt. I am pretty confident that was the case………..for his story is my story. I want to share it with you now.

When my son was in his early teens, one night at the dinner table he clutched his chest with severe pain. My wife Kathy and I rushed him to the hospital and after what was an agonizing wait in the emergency room, he was examined. Heart problems were ruled out and they did a barium study that revealed that he had an aneurysm on his esophagus. Simply stated, part of his esophagus had ballooned out. This was a critical situation and they called for a thoracic surgeon for immediate surgery. They also ordered a MRI to pinpoint the defect for the surgeon.

While waiting for the MRI I was alone with my son in the ER. To that point in my life I had been a regular church-goer. I was in the pew on Sunday and active on church committees, activities, and missions. I believed in Jesus, prayed fairly regularly, and considered myself faithful, at least more faithful than many others that I felt free to judge. But Jesus was just a part of my life and I had to devote my time and energy to many other things. I just didn’t trust Christ with all those other parts of my life.

But standing over my son suffering great pain, I too was a desperate father. So I laid my hand on his chest and asked God to heal my son not because of my faith, but in spite of my life that showed such a lack of faith. In a brief moment later my son looked at me and said, “Dad my chest just got warm and the pain stopped.” That was a jump back, God moment for me. I had stepped in the water and it parted even though I did not really believe it would.

Shortly after that they took him for the MRI. As they completed it I saw the nearby room fill with somewhat animated doctors. After a while they came to Kathy and me and told us that they could not explain it, but they could not find the aneurysm. They cancelled the surgery and held him overnight for observation.

The next morning, the head of radiology saw the studies of the preceding night and became personally involved. He ordered another barium study. When it was completed he called me in to a room. He had the barium study of the previous night side by side on a light box with the morning study. He showed me where the aneurysm was on the first, and where it was missing from the second. He told me that they just do not resolve on their own. Once they appear surgery is the only answer. Except for my son. And then he said that he had seen enough in his career to know that God is sometimes the only explanation. He told me to take my son home and be thankful. I did, and I am thankful to this day.

That was a life-changing event for me. I had believed, and Christ had helped my unbelief. My faith grew and led me to ministries and service I had never expected, including standing here today. But just like the Israelites, the disciples, and the father from Mark, my faith still falters. I have been praying for something for approximately 15 years and the prayer goes unanswered. I doubt and feel guilty when I do. I doubt and rely on myself instead of Christ. But the kernel of faith inside still turns me back to him because I know he waits to grow my faith through his love and mercy.

Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. Faith is trust in the presence of doubt. God knows we doubt and extends salvation to us on faith in the presence of our doubt. As Blaise Pascal has said, ‘there is enough light for those who want to see, and enough darkness for those of a different persuasion.” If God revealed himself so completely that all we saw was light, we would not have faith, but complete knowledge. Who when facing God completely and directly would turn away? We would then come to him not by faith, but rather he would have overwhelmed our free will.

God does not make an offer we cannot refuse. But he wants us to choose him through faith in the presence of doubt. God reveals himself sometimes through answered prayer, scripture, miracles in our lives and those of others, and many other ways, but he rarely shouts unmistakably at us. He whispers. We just start with that small mustard seed of faith and go to God in prayer and he begins to work in our lives, growing our faith while accepting our fears and doubts. If you have never accepted Christ, take that first step into the water. Let him act in your life and grow the faith you find in that first step. But even if you have just taken that first step or have walked a long road of faith and doubt, as with the father in today’s lesson, ask Jesus to help your unbelief. As with Mother Teresa, pray that he will have a free hand to transform your life in faith. And then listen for his whisper.


  1. Laura Stealey on June 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks Tom for this sermon. I am going through some life experiences right now and your words were of great comfort to me.
    In Him,
    Laura Stealey

Leave a Comment

Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

Search the Blog