“Ay, ay, God help me…but will he help me-
Will he help me?
Pray to Him -pray in a humble and trusting spirit.”
~Sheridan Le Fanu
Today has been an emotionally trying day. For the last several weeks I have felt the symptoms of the carcinoid cancer slowly coming back. I was afforded a few months of relief after a series of radioembolizations, but the freedom has been short lived. After I returned home from a routine appointment this afternoon, I had to fight back tears and hold my imagination at bay. Yes, I know this condition is incurable. Yes, I know that carcinoid heart disease is a very real possibility due to the metastatic nature of my cancer. But the honest reality is that I am not prepared at the age of 46 to contemplate the inevitable. In terms of my faith, here is where the rubber meets the road. I firmly believe in a good and holy God. I firmly believe that He only has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, to provide a hope and a future (ESV Jer 29.11). Yet, just like the father of the possessed boy, do I really believe that God has the power to deliver on those promises? The bottom line is that I have gazed deeply into the mirror and come away retaining only a distorted self-image. It is true that even though I know the Word of God, when it comes to the question of His ability to heal my cancer, I have ceased to be a doer of the Word and I am engaging in a serious self-deception (ESV Ja 1.22). The problem is that I believe in God but I do not always have faith in His promises.
I firmly believe that He only has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, to provide a hope and a future (ESV Jer 29.11). Yet, just like the father of the possessed boy, do I really believe that God has the power to deliver on those promises?
It is the exploration of the difference between belief and faith that the story of Captain Barton has meant so much to me. Barton professed that he had a belief in God that was prompted by his experiences with the supernatural haunting he was enduring. He professed that only a supernatural power greater than that which haunted him could set him free; however, he was not ready to acquiesce to asking God for help. He believed in God, yet he did not have faith in God to heal him of his burden. Barton has only had a supernatural experience with fear and hatred, he has not yet experienced a supernatural love that transcends all things. He has gazed quickly into the mirror and has only managed to retain a darkened image. Captain Barton is a double-minded man and as a result has become incredibly unstable.
After spilling his heart to Dr. Macklin and receiving only a materialistic answer, Barton admits that he cannot delude himself that a merely materialistic solution will solve his problem. He laments to Macklin that his only hope is:
“…By some other spiritual agency more potent than that which tortures me, it may be combated and I delivered. If this may not be, I am lost- now and for ever lost” (Le Fanu 50).
He continues to berate himself as being too slow to understand the supernatural elements of the world, too skeptical as to its existence, and too slow to believe if proper evidence was not supplied to him (Le Fanu 50). He understands that he needs help in order to successfully face these demons of the past and finally lay them to rest, yet is not fully committed to the fact that there is a God, to surrender to him fully, and do what it takes to obtain His supernatural blessing.
The answer that Dr. Macklin gives to solve the problem is incredibly simple. In all honesty it does not require Barton to do anything. There are no works that need to be performed in order to gain the much desired freedom from demonic oppression. In fact, the solution is so simple that it is no wonder that Barton overlooked it. Dr. Macklin provides him an answer to all his problems in three simple words, “pray to him” (Le Fanu 50). I can imagine the look on Barton’s face; it had to be one of sheer amazement, then one of total frustration. Pray? Dr. Macklin, you cannot possibly be serious. Pray? Really? Absolutely. Even Jesus states it is that simple:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For anyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (ESV Mt 7.7-8).
In fact, Scripture makes the solution sound even easier. Paul tells his readers not to be anxious about anything but to come to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (ESV Ph 4.6). The Apostle John records the words of Jesus that whatever one asks in prayer, whatever may be laid upon the heart, to ask and it will be done (ESV Jn 15.7). Again, Paul makes it seem so simple to pray, in fact he promises us that if we cannot find the words to lift up before God, the Spirit will intercede on our behalf (ESV Ro 8.26). Wow. How simple is that? Maybe that is the problem, the solution is too simple. It requires that one let go of any illusion of control and let God work. It says that not only does one believe in God, but that one also has faith that God can move the mountains of life. Oh! If only it were that simple.
I have to humbly admit that Captain Barton’s response to Dr. Macklin is similar to how I would have responded in the same circumstance. Barton looks squarely at Macklin and tells him matter of factly:
“…I can’t pray- I could as easily move a mountain by an effort of my own will. I have not belief enough to pray; there is something within me that will not pray. You prescribe impossibilities- literal impossibilities” (Le Fanu 50).
Personally, I think that Captain Barton and I are in good company in our lack of true faith. Not that I am justifying it, mind you, but I can completely understand where Barton finds his disconnect with this advice. It is just way too simple to be possible and it requires more faith than either of us are ready to exercise given the extreme circumstances of our pain. There has to be another way. I think that the father of the demon possessed boy felt the same way. He was painfully aware of his son’s affliction and the origin of the problem. He knew that no ordinary cure was going to heal him, and when confronted with Jesus he was not to sure this man from Galilee had what it would take to do the job. Even the disciples lacked a clear view of the situation, and they were the ones who were spending every waking minute with Jesus. The problem is clear, the father had given up all hope and was terrified at being disappointed yet again. The disciples felt that knowledge, rather than a supernatural communion with God, would be enough to get the job done. As a result, each party came before Jesus with feelings of frustration and defeat.
The problem is clear, the father had given up all hope and was terrified at being disappointed yet again. The disciples felt that knowledge, rather than a supernatural communion with God, would be enough to get the job done.
Captain Barton finds himself in the same place as the father and disciples. Resigned that Dr. Macklin will provide him with no other solution, Barton states that the how in resisting the devil is, to quote Hamlet, the rub (Le Fanu 51). He is left feeling that the only solution is to face this ghost alone. As he turns to leave, out of desperation, he asks Dr. Macklin to pray for him that he may find some relief; he has resigned himself, much like the father and the disciples, to being unable to fight off this demonic presence. To successfully ward off these demonic influences and walk in the freedom of an unrestrained faith, the life of the believer needs to be one of constant prayer (ESV 1Th 5.17). Neil T. Anderson states that if a believer fails to do their part in laying hold of the freedom given in Christ, the daily victory over the darkness will be tenuous at best (186). Anderson is also very pointed that requesting that someone else fight the battle, as Barton did, will not help. If a believer is in bondage, it is a direct result of what was personally chosen; to experience total freedom is contingent on what is personally confessed, forgiven, renounced, or forsaken (Anderson 186). This is something that Barton refuses to do.
When asked by his disciples why they were unsuccessful at exorcising the demon, Jesus tells them that that particular demon can only be driven out by prayer. John Piper notes that before exorcising the demon, Jesus did not stop to pray first; he was just able to speak and the demon fled. That is because Jesus devoted his life to prayer. When the trials of life came, he was always ready. This is why Paul commands the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing; prayer keeps the lines of communication open. There is never a moment when a believer is out of communion with God if living a life devoted to prayer.
Jesus has promised never to leave or forsake me, and He has held true to His word; it is I who have been unfaithful (ESV Deut 31.6).
If we who believe lead lives devoted to prayer, we keep ourselves from temptation and are prepared when the hour of trial is at hand (ESV Mt 26.41, 45-46). Like Captain Barton, I have easily become overwhelmed with today’s events and because I have not been living a life devoted to prayer, I was easily overcome when the hour of trial came upon me. Jesus has promised never to leave or forsake me, and He has held true to His word; it is I who have been unfaithful (ESV Deut 31.6). The road to victory is set before us all and Jesus promises that we will overcome because he has already gone before us and fought the battle. In order to walk in the freedom of that promise we need to make sure that we are continually in communication with Him. It is such a simple task, one that is seemingly impossible, yet without it we toss away our lifeline and allow the storms of life to sweep us away in the flood. Beloved, as the waters rage, cling tightly to God in prayer. He is trustworthy. Rest faithfully in him. He will pick you up and carry you to safety.
Anderson, Neil T. The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, Habitual Sins. Eugene:Harvest House. 1993. Print.
Biblegateway. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web. 22 July 2016.
Le, Fanu Sheridan. In a Glass Darkly. London:Wordsworth. 1995. Print.
Piper, John. “No Prayer No Power.” Desiring God. 2016. Web. 22 July 2016.