I have been preparing my sermon for Sunday week this morning, on Mark 9. A father with a demon-possessed boy took him to Jesus when the disciples weren't able to cast out the demon. As well as having compassion on the father and son, Jesus used it as a training exercise for the disciples.
They went aside with him afterwards and asked the obvious question: how come we couldn't cast it out? Jesus replied that it is a type of demon that only comes out through prayer.
They hadn't prayed. I wonder why not? Maybe because they had cast out demons before in Jesus name, they thought they now had some innate power themselves? Maybe they were just a little blasse and forgetful? I don't know. But it is obvious that all of a sudden they found themselves cut off from the source of spiritual power.
"Why couldn't we do it?" is an interesting question. One with an obvious answer: because you aren't God. God is the one who casts out demons. The reason Jesus Christ was revealed was to destroy the works of the evil one.
Jesus (I think rolling his eyes!) says "O unbelieving generation." (9:19). Which nails it. They haven't prayed because they aren't acting in faith at this point. Jesus is making the connection between faith and prayer.
I have two equations in my mind:
- Faith ------> Prayer ------> God's power at work
- Unbelief ------> Prayerlessness ------> No power
The reason for powerlessness was that they were trying to do God's work without calling on God. The connection between trust and prayer is incredibly close. Prayer is the act of calling on God in utter dependence "if anything is going to happen here it is because you are powerful and I am impotent. You are mighty and sufficient for my need and I am insufficient and dependent on you."
Why do so many British churches not pray and pray and pray? Is it because we think that programmes are more effective? Why do so many individual Christians (me included) not pray and pray? Is it because we don't really believe in God's power being at work? Is it because our educational culture has taught us that knowledge and competence are more likely to produce results than prayer to a God who is unseen? If this last one is true then we are evangelical rationalists who don't even know that we are substituting the power of God for the competence of Man.