Mark 9:17-29, 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.”
I want you to pay particular attention to the texts I put in bold print. The disciples had prior experience casting out demons. They knew exactly what words needed to be spoken, but clearly something here was missing. So what happened that they were unable to cast out the demons? The same thing that happens to us when we lose sight of Christ: self-reliance.
If you attend church regularly, consider this: You do the right things, say the right words, and this is perhaps even more so for fellow Lutherans who go to a church that goes through the liturgy. While there is nothing wrong with the liturgy, it is easy to just go through the motions and say the right words and have that be your only religious experience and think that’s all you need to do in your faith. When we just go through the right motions and say the right words, something is missing. Like the disciples, we begin to trust in our abilities and then we end up embarrassed and disgraced. We begin to trust that the right things we do and say are all we need for our faith and we lose sight of where that faith comes from: Jesus Christ.
My last couple blog entries have had a theme of prayer, which was actually unintentional. I wonder how often when we pray, we think in the back of our mind, “If God can do this, He will.” What an insult! The father in the above Mark passage said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, quoting the father, ” ‘If you can!'” In effect, He was saying, “If I can? I am Lord and Creator of all things; I can do anything. All things are possible for one who believes in Me.” Like the disciples, the father lacked that reliance on Christ. But he realises his misplaced trust and says one of my favourite lines in Scripture, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Help my unbelief… I feel like many of us need to proclaim this. Personally, I desire a godly girlfriend who will become my wife, and I pray for it to happen in God’s timing but I don’t believe it will happen because of my insecurities. Lord, help my unbelief!
Some things cannot be done without prayer. In the Fall of 2014, I decided to leave the Pre-Seminary programme at my university because of doubts I had about my abilities and my introverted personality in being a pastor. For a year and a half, I developed a spirit of cynicism as a result. I later realised I had become cynical, and I tried getting rid of that spirit by simply having a better attitude and acting happy, but it never worked. Then, after praying to God for a long time and returning to the Pre-Seminary programme in February 2016, that spirit of cynicism disappeared soon after the prayer. Every now and then, as I continue venturing to be a pastor, I begin to doubt myself. Lord, help my unbelief!
So what Jesus said at the end of this account is quite literal. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon, He gives them a simple answer, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” It seems like a shallow answer, but it’s not as shallow as it might seem. After relying on myself didn’t work by trying to cast out the spirit my way, I turned to God in prayer, and God followed through pretty much immediately. (I’m not saying God will always respond immediately, but in this case He did. What matters is that prayer works.)
Think of what you’re doing when you pray. When we pray, we’re turning to something outside ourselves. We are acknowledging that what we need is not something we can do by ourselves—by our power alone. In prayer, we are turning to God and relying on Him rather than ourselves to accomplish our needs. Prayer is to surrender our will to God’s will. What we need does not always equate with what we want; and God’s will does not always equate with what we want, but it is always what we need.