• Shanley McConnell

Devotion: For The Joy Before Us

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In Matthew 17:14---15, a devastated father fell to his knees before the Messiah. His beloved son was terribly sick, suffering from seizures and epilepsy. 'Have mercy,' he wept, 'Have mercy on my son.'


This is the image of a father's heart broken for his son. A man who wanted nothing more than to see his son rise to complete health. Although this is the first time Matthew's gospel references the father, it is not his first involvement. The scripture alludes to an earlier time when this man had carried his son to the disciples.


Over the years, I often studied this story with a focus on the disciples' faith. Even without the Messiah's physical presence, the disciples had been given the grace to work wonders in faith. Jesus had given them 'authority over unclean spirits, and the power to heal every kind of disease and sickness,' and yet, in this moment, they were unable to act upon his empowerment (10:1).


When the disciples failed to cast out the child's disease, they came before Jesus in confusion: 'Lord,' they asked. 'Why could we not drive it out?' Soul-deeply, they knew that God had promised to give them authority in prayer.


But Jesus responds: 'Because you have so little faith.'


As an outside reader, I'm not sure why the disciples' faith was lacking. Their trust in Jesus is seen throughout scripture. They had 'given up everything to follow' him, devoted themselves to the Messiah (Matthew 19:27). Many of them even unto death.


The disciples must've been confused and discouraged by their failure to heal this child. Even the father did not understand their inability. For truly, in Matthew 17:20, Jesus continued: 'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.' The answer as to why the disciples couldn't cast out the boy's disease remains with God, for he alone knows the innermost places of the heart (Samuel 16:17).


The message does not end here. In Luke 17:5-6, the disciples are faced with the same analogy:


'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed (the smallest of seeds known at this time), you could say to this tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.'

Listening, the disciples respond to the Lord with these words: 'Increase our faith! Lord, increase our faith.'


They were coming to understand that faith was not the result of their own power, resources or intention. Faith was (is) a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). For it is in Christ we are saved, not by our own good works but for the grace and salvation of God, manifest by his Spirit in and through us.


My friends ♡ I pray that we may be the kind of disciples who cry out for increased faith despite our weaknesses and doubt. May we hold onto the promises of God even when we do not understand why our prayers for physical and mental restoration feel unanswered. Be encouraged that God has heard you, and will respond in his perfect time.

As believers in God, we have also been endowed with His Holiness and Spirit. We have received the Spirit of God, so that we may know and live in the promises given to us by God-----undiscovered things beyond our best imaginations (1 Colossians 2v12, 1 Corinthians 2v9).


I love the next section of this scene: the reflection of a father whose faith is sometimes overlooked. But it not lacking at all. Instead of feeling slighted or hurt by the disciples' inability to bestow healing on his son, this man chose to step out of the crowd and approach the Jesus, Jehovah-Rapha, directly. He refused to let the disciples' representation of faith dictate the way he acted upon his own.


This man, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, laid down the weight that clung to him and looked to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of his faith (Hebrews 1:1-3). He humbled himself before the Lord and brought his son to the altar of all hope.


Dear friends, I pray that that we have the courage to approach Jesus in times when we have been hurt or disappointment by the limitations of our humanness (in any relationship). He alone will never fail us.


When I was twelve my family moved home to the United States after an interim year in Scotland. Anyone who has moved from one home to another (even a small change) knows how difficult this experience can be.


Coming back to one's homeland after an absence abroad is surprisingly unsettling. Living abroad makes one exceedingly aware of their national identity, and returning to this after adopting new, cultural norms forces one to revisit the very notion of 'familiar.'


My friends and I had always been close. A core number of us met weekly, spending hours together without ever tiring of one another's company, and, although moving away was difficult, the thought of reunion was precious and kept us communicating. But we realised many things when the year ended and we found ourselves back in physical company. The length of my family's interim spell abroad meant that my friends had not replaced me, but found ways to reconfigure as a close network. The rhythm of our small community had evolved. We were all on the cusp of growing up and our need to belong bred new emotions.


We still had one thing in common though. We all belonged to the same church youth group.


But even this changed. A couple of months after my family returned to the US, a new rule was established by the leadership at my church. It prevented youth from attending youth events if they could not commit to weekly participation. This was especially difficult for my family because we lived about an hour away from our old neighborhood; driving to school and extracurricular activities came with a new, lengthened commute. Many nights I slept over at my classmates houses to alleviate the strain of this.


Because I was young and couldn't drive yet, the ability to attend youth group events depended solely on my family's time-schedule. At the time, my father was diligently working three times over, and my mother, a teacher, faithfully organising all of our conflicting routines. In light of this, I could only attend the bible studies every so often and being prohibited from connecting with the church family I loved and had known for many, many years left me feeling lonely and a little forsaken.


Please know that I do not share this to speak ill of a church I did and still care so deeply for. Only that the narrative in Matthew 19:17 reminds me of this memory. Similarly to the disciples, the actions of those in leadership at my church were never intended to make me feel ostracised or rejected. I know how dearly they loved God, but truthfully: some things exist outwith intent.


The father in Matthew 19 could have allowed the disciples to taint the way he understood and believed in the healing power of God. But he chose, instead, to humble himself and approach Him directly. He lifted his eyes to the Father by approaching his Son and knelt in prayer. His compassion in overlooking and forgiving the disciples' inability to enact on their faith strengthened his own.


How easy it is at times to equate the power and embrace of Christ with the responses of those who seek to live like him. But my friends ♡ It is in moments when mistakes are made that the comfort and faithfulness of God is best felt and seen.


I pray that the hurt we have experienced by others won't deter us from pursuing relationship with the Messiah himself.


For how blessed it is that God sees our heart through the sacrifice of his Son-----his holiness and perfection advocating on our behalf. His love overcomes all our mistakes and failings (even when we are the ones who disappoint, or are left disappointed).


Colossians 3:12--14 reads:


As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, live with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

May we be people who pray for forgiveness and faith, seeking the Lord with our hearts open to conviction and change. Hearts that meditate on 1 Kings 8:39, a prayer written in reflection on our Heavenly Father who forgives, acts and renders to each whose heart he knows ('for you, you only, know the heart of all the children of mankind,' writes the prophet Jeremiah.


My friends, will you pray with me?


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Lord Jesus,


We come before you in awe of your love-----a love so faithful it overwhelms our faithlessness and fear. Lord, we thank you for your Spirit that strengthens our love for you, and for the communities around us, whether they be near or far.


Lord, thank you for seeing not what man sees, but, with your holiness + healing power, search our hearts. Lord, help us protect our thoughts and emotions so that they overflow with blessed purity, vigilance and quietude. We know that your word is living and active, and pierces to the division of soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intentions of our actions.


O Lord, may the words we speak and the meditation of our hearts be worship in your sight. Hoping in you will never put us to shame. Your love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.


Lord, we pray for those who have hurt us with actions that oppose who we know you are calling them to be. We ask for your divine strength, that we may show them the grace and compassion you first bestowed upon us. 


And Lord, we ask forgiveness for the times when we act upon our insecurity and doubt. We pray that those who may have been affected by our words and actions will find comfort in you, and feel at peace in approaching us for restoration. Lord, when we are afraid, alone or desperate, may we come to you directly, knowing that you meet us in our fear, loneliness and despair. Lord, you are Healer-----restorer of our soul & strength.   


We love you.


In your heavenly name,

Amen

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