Last month Dan Moose wrote a post on spiritual warfare. In connection with that theme, consider afresh these excerpts from a familiar incident in the life of Jesus (Mark 9:17, 17, 28, 29 NIV):
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not”….
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
The tension created by the disciples’ inability to drive out the demon is not resolved until the end of the incident in Jesus’ private instruction to them. Their question and his answer conclude the incident. Their words should hang in our hearing as we ponder what happened. What do we learn from this incident?
My answer rests on my understanding of a few particulars in the passage. I’ll mention them before addressing a major lesson for us. First, the passage speaks not just to dramatic encounters with demon-controlled persons. Mark uses the incident representatively for satanic-demonic opposition of all sorts, dramatic or “ordinary,” visible or unseen. Second, the prayer that Jesus implicitly urges on his disciples is not on-the-spot praying, since Jesus himself did not do that before he drove out the demon, but rather prayer as a habit, a rhythm, a primary thread woven into the fabric of a disciple’s life—which we do see in Jesus’ life in Mark’s gospel. Third, this prayer is connected to faith, which I infer from Jesus’ rebuke (vs. 19)—a rebuke that he seems to aim at his disciples as well as the scribes and the crowd. So Jesus is pointing to a life of prayer as an expression of a life of faith. Fourth, the focus of this faith is two-fold:
(1) belief that some strategies of the devil are beyond our ability to handle, even as disciples of Jesus; and (2) belief that Jesus is indeed King and Lord without peer. This latter aspect of faith appears from the preceding incident, the revealing of the kingly, messianic glory of Jesus in the transfiguration.
So, in the context, Mark (that is, God speaking through Mark) is calling all subsequent generations of Jesus’ disciples to believe something such that prayer as a habit of life results. On the sobering side is belief in Satan’s formidable strength—a strength that can stop us cold in ministry. On the triumphant side is belief in the reality of Jesus’ superior glory—a glory that can overcome the opposition of Satan. Convinced belief in these things should compel us to prayer of the sort that Jesus says is necessary.
So then, as a district fellowship of churches moving into a future that is very culturally different from we’ve known, and a future (not to mention the present) that is filled with an array of formidable satanic opposition, ponder with me:
- What do my personal patterns of prayer reveal about my real beliefs?
- Is it possible that, in ways perhaps unseen to me, the devil is obstructing the work and I am spinning my wheels (or worse) because of my neglect of prayer?
- Amid today’s ever-increasing pace of life and overload of information and demands, in what ways are my convictions about the realities of this passage shaping my life of prayer such that other demands are not crowding it out?
- What might this passage mean (by way of application) for my ministry team?
- What might this passage mean for my pastor cluster and my region of Minnesota?
- What might this passage mean for our district as we trust God to be fruitful in the near and distant future?