‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ Mark 9:28
This question follows an incident where a father brings his son to the disciples and asks them to heal the boy, because Jesus is away on the mount of transfiguration. They fail, but fortunately Jesus returns at the opportune moment and heals the patient by driving out an evil spirit. Afterwards, they want to know why they couldn’t do the job themselves.
Jesus’ reply comes in v29, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’ Whilst this certainly is a comment on dealing with a particularly stubborn type of spiritual enemy, it is also much more than that. It highlights the difference between the disciples’ walk with God and that of Jesus.
Some of the original manuscripts of Mark actually say, ‘prayer and fasting’ which shines a little more light on Jesus’ answer, and prevents us from thinking that it is the number of hours that we spend on our knees that is important. Fasting is useful in several ways: it demonstrates our willingness to sacrifice our wants and needs in service to God, and it helps us to pray in earnest, in a more ‘concentrated’ way. There’s something about channelling hunger (or any other deprivation) into prayer that just seems to allow prayer to flow. Somehow, it makes it more effective, at least from our point of view.
So what Jesus is really saying is that it isn’t wearing the badge of ‘follower of Christ’ that makes you effective, it is the quality of your walk and relationship. It is the heart attitude that you have towards God, that no one else can see and is the reality of your situation, that attracts His attention. He loves to prove Himself to those who have decided to take Him at His word, and trust Him that He will do what He says He will do.
There is a remarkable verse in Matthew which says, ‘the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it (11:12). Obviously it doesn’t mean that you have to be violent, but it does suggest that to really ‘lay hold’ of God’s kingdom, you need a certain determination and drive. We all manifest this in at least one area of our lives; for some this is football or some other sport, for others it is work etc. The Old Testament puts it this way, ‘But if from there [once you are in the promised land] you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.’ (Deuteronomy 4:29)
Perhaps this is a good time to decide to seek God with a renewed earnestness and seriousness (nothing to do with a lack of humour) that will take new spiritual ground and unleash new spiritual power in our lives.