Only by prayer
Scripture: 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.”“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 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.” Mark 9:17-29
When we first moved into our new house with all of its quirks, a few new issues popped up that we hadn't noticed before we were actually living in the house. One appeared after I did our first load of laundry. The washing machine has some kind of leak, and so water pools up around it and the previous owner's solution to this was letting the washing machine sit in a tray. This tray filled with water when I did our first load of laundry in the new house. At first I didn't notice it.
But, my sweet little puppy loves water (especially in Tennessee summers) and she quickly discovered this seemingly fun feature and would lap up the water.
After she did this once and found it successful, she now continually checks the washing machine for water. I've been trying to help her break this habit. I moved her water bowl so it was right across from the washing machine, but she still continues to check the tray beneath the washing machine before going to her water bowl.
Because it worked once, she assumes it will work again, and continues to try it.
Watching her has led me to think a lot about my own habits and how they form.
When something works, I'll repeat it. When it doesn't work, I should consider trying something else. But sometimes, I think we can get stuck with an old habit, an old way of thinking, or something that worked in the past but won't always work. I think this is where the disciples were at in this passage.
They had successfully cast out demons before, so this wasn't new to them. The way they approached it was probably the exact same way they did it before. Because it worked, they did it again. But this time, it didn't work. So the man brings his son to Jesus, saying "your disciples couldn't cast out this demon."
Jesus is able to cast out the demon immediately, and His disciples are left to wonder, what did they do wrong?
Why weren't they able to cast the demon out?
Jesus makes a simple statement, "this kind can come out only by prayer." The way the disciples cast out other demons worked for those demons, but it wouldn't work for this demon.
The situation seems similar, but the approach had to be different.
When my pup learned there was water under the washing machine one time, she started consistently looking for it there. I haven't seen her change her behavior yet, but I'm waiting for the day when she realizes that even though that worked before, it isn't working now.
I wonder how often we are doing the same thing in our spiritual lives. Last time something worked, and so we repeat it hoping to get similar "results."
In our outcome oriented and results-driven world, we serve a relational God.
Instead of doing what had worked before, Jesus' advice to the disciples is prayer. I looked up the greek meaning of the word "prayer" in this verse. I wondered if it was some sort of special type of prayer. But it literally means prayer. One of the root words of the word prayer is "exchange."
I think prayer is often an exchange.
It's an exchange of our worries, our anxiety, our burdens, and even our hopes and dreams for God's thoughts, ideas, and power. That's what Jesus was advising the disciples to do. When faced with this demon possessed boy, they needed prayer. They needed an exchange with God where they met Him in prayer in a new way. The other way that had worked before wasn't working this time. They needed an exchange where they could receive His power again, much like how we need "daily bread."
Maybe approaching a problem, difficulty, or circumstance in life with the same tools or strategies that worked before won't work the next time. If not, it's no reason to panic. It's an invitation into a deeper exchange with Jesus, an invitation into relational prayer, that is truly powerful.
-Consider what you might try to repeat in your spiritual life and if God might be doing a new thing.
-What does your prayer life look like now? What might need to change?
-Is there a situation or circumstance you are trying to use old strategies to fix? Write out a prayer over that situation.
Spend specific time in consistent prayer this week. Commit to praying for one thing in your community or in the world.
When I lock eyes with you / your love is extravagant by Harvest and Jon Thurlow
Jesus, thank you for the invitation to pray big prayers for our lives, communities and for the world. Thank you for the exchange and the relational way you desire to meet with us in prayer. Help us to make prayer a priority this week, so that we can encounter you in new, fresh ways. Amen.