As Christians we should be aware that there are certain spiritual realities that may affect the efficacy of our works. One of these is unbelief, and I do not mean our own but that of others. The unbelief of others hampers our spiritual gifts. Even the Lord Jesus Christ was subject to this spiritual reality. When he came to Nazareth after beginning his ministry he received a hometown welcome of the wrong kind.
“And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:3-6 English Standard Version).
It follows from this example that the belief of others in Christ affects our ability as Christians to minister to them. It not only hinders our ability to serve them but it may also have a negative affect on our ability to serve others if they (the unbelievers) are present.
We see an example of this just before the aforementioned return of Jesus to Nazareth, when he is asked in another town by the head of a synagogue to heal the man’s daughter.
“[There came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’….They came to the house of the ruler…and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly…he said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead….’ And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him [Peter, James and John] and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her….’Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up…and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” (Mark 5:35-42 ESV)
My read of this passage is that, like a gardener, the Lord was expertly cultivating a spiritual atmosphere that was conducive to the miracle he was preparing to work. He brought the “inner circle” of disciples with him along with the girl’s parents. I think Jesus sensed that this group of witnesses would have the requisite faith to allow for the miracle (or at least not hinder it). It is not so much that Jesus needed their faith to produce the miracle (of course he didn’t) but he cultivated an atmosphere that was conducive to it, weeding out the skeptics.
So too we should be mindful of the spiritual atmosphere about us when we are trying to exercise our spiritual gifts, even when we are praying. We may find that our prayers (and gifts) are actually hindered in less believing environments and most effective when exercised in concert or around other believers (which is most likely to be in a church setting). Even if there is no formal mass or congregation it may be worthwhile to stop in a church for the sake of your prayers every once in a while to be in the presence of a conducive spiritual atmosphere.
One final note, Jesus forbids the girl’s parents from telling anyone of the miracle (Mark 5:43). Now it’s not clear if this is because he wants to keep a low profile or he’s concerned that they will be met with skepticism from those they tell about it and the disbelief they face will hinder the miracle and perhaps reverse its effects. Later, when Jesus heals a blind man he says “ ‘Do not even enter the village.’ ” (Mark 8:26 ESV). I think Jesus may have been concerned that there was such unbelief in the village that the healed blind man would be overwhelmed by it and it would negate the miracle. Again, this could also just be for the sake of the Lord keeping a low profile or even for both reasons.
My takeaway from this is that we need to guard our hearts and our faith around nonbelievers. We should be cautious about sharing our godly hopes and prayers with nonbelievers who may meet them with skepticism, potentially hampering our faith and our walks with God.
Credit image: https://pixabay.com/en/sky-clouds-sunlight-dark-690293/.