Lord, there are so many things I just do not know about who you are and how you want me to be what you want me to be. What does it look like to follow you faithfully in this place and in this time? As I read your word, please teach me something that I did not know before. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you and to appreciate you in a new way.
I’m continuing in Mark 9 tonight. Read Mark 9:14-29:
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29 ESV)
Jesus and his three closest friends come down from this incredible mountain top experience to find the other nine disciples (apparently) in the middle of an argument with the scribes. What a jarring moment that must have been! One minute they are at the very intersection of heaven and earth, face to face with Moses and Elijah, hearing the very voice of God, and the next minute they’re witnessing an argument between their friends and the religious leaders.
A boy is in need of healing. His father had heard about Jesus and had brought his son to be healed, and in his absence, Jesus’s disciples try to get the job done—and they fail. They cannot do it. What happens to the crowd’s confidence in them at this point? They fail to heal this boy, and somehow an argument arises. And there they are, arguing, failing, and faltering when Jesus returns.
They had seen Jesus heal. They had seen him do it by a touch. They had seen him do it with a sharp word. They had seen him do it by sticking his fingers into his ears, spitting and then touching a mute man on the tongue. They had seen him do it by rubbing spit into a blind man’s eyes. I wonder if they tried all of these rituals, trying to imitate Jesus’s proven methods, before giving up in frustration. It might have been at this point that the scribes jumped in, offering their own two cents about how to heal the boy—or perhaps using this as a reason to undermine Jesus’s healing power (or at least that of his followers).
After explaining all this to Jesus, he responds by saying something strange: “O faithless generation, how long am I to bear with you?” And then he calls the boy to him, rebuked the unclean spirit, and the boy was delivered. His disciples ask him why they could not do it, and he says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
There is an interesting tendency we humans have to want to rely on methods instead of prayer when it comes to the things of God. I just think about all of the Christian magazines I read (and write for!), which are full of “practical” ideas for ministry. This worked in one church, so let’s package it into a new paradigm. Whether it’s small groups or micro sites, we are eager to repeat proven practices when it comes to ministry.
And when we do that, what happens to prayer?
As soon as we turn a divine moment, where God did something wonderful in a specific place at a specific time, into a paradigm, we stop asking God to be part of it. It’s almost like we’re saying, “OK, God, I get it. We’re supposed to do this. Got it! We’ll take it from here.” After all, that’s really what prayer is, right? Speaking to God, listening to God, inviting God’s participation? Apparently, the disciples had exhausted all of their best ideas about how to heal this boy—without considering prayer. Without praying.
Rather than trusting that the power to heal was inside them, accessible by prayer, I think they did what so many of us do: they relied on proven tactics. Rather than moving in faith, through prayer, they trusted in methods. But those methods didn’t work in this case. No spit was going to cure this boy’s issues: only prayer. Only faith.
This principle applies to so many areas of life. Certainly it applies to evangelism, but also to creativity and inspiration and healing and more. Rather than starting with methods when it comes to these things, let’s start with prayer. Maybe through prayer we’ll be led to a method. Or maybe we’ll pray and God will simply move. Either way, let’s resist the urge to follow a paradigm, and instead be people of prayer. People of faith. A faithfull generation.