November 3, 2016 • Life for Leaders
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.”
This week we’ve been examining a story in Mark 9, in which a father brings his demonized son to the disciples of Jesus when Jesus was away. They were not able to drive out the demon, which led to an argument with several Jewish leaders. When Jesus showed up, he engaged in some thoughtful dialogue with the boy’s father before commanding the evil spirit to leave the boy. As we might expect, the demon left immediately and dramatically.
When Jesus and his disciples were finally alone, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” To this Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (9:28-29). Mark does not record for us more of the conversation. Had I been present, I would have wanted to know: “What kind of demon are you talking about? What kind of prayer? When should this prayer happen? How should I pray? Are there certain things I should say when facing down a demon?” I might also have asked, “Jesus, you gave us authority over impure spirits (Mark 6:7), so why was this spirit able to resist our authority?” But Jesus doesn’t answer any of these questions. He says, simply, “This kind [of demon] can come out only by prayer.” Period. End.
There is always a mystery to prayer. Anyone who suggests that he or she has completely figured out prayer is exaggerating or downright mistaken. To be sure, God gives us plenty to go on in Scripture. We have the Psalms, the prayers of Jesus, the model prayer known as The Lord’s Prayer, the prayers of many great saints throughout the Bible, the prayers of Paul in his letters, and so forth. Yet, we don’t get the definitive guidebook to prayer or some detailed, divinely inspired systematic theology of prayer. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are to pray, that God hears and responds to our prayers, and that there is an inescapable mystery to prayer.
Here’s my take on Jesus’s meaning. Earlier in Mark, Jesus gave his disciples “authority over impure spirits” (6:7). With this divine authority, they “drove out many demons” (6:12). I’m thinking that, in time, the disciples began to think of their power over demons as something they possessed. They started to rely on themselves and their authority rather than on God. So God, in his grace, temporarily withdrew the power he had given them. Why? Not to shame the disciples, but to remind them of the source of their spiritual authority. Thus, when Jesus says, “This kind can come out only by prayer,” he underscores the point. The disciples have power and authority only because they are in relationship with God. It’s God’s power, God’s authority that casts out demons. If the disciples are to exercise the authority God has given them, they need to rely on God and be in regular communication with God.
And so do you. And so do I. This is true not only when we face actual demons, but also when we are confronting the “demons” of our workplaces, our communities, our cultures, and our own hearts. Thus, if we are to experience God’s power, we also need to be faithful in prayer, asking for God’s help, seeking God’s guidance, and offering ourselves to God as his servants.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What are the “demons” you face in your life and work?
Do you pray for God’s help with these “demons”? Why or why not?
When did you last experience God’s power in a way that surprised you?
How do you need God’s power today?
Gracious God, thank you for giving us authority through Jesus Christ. Thank you for the indwelling power of your Spirit. Indeed, your power through us can do amazing things. Your power, not our power. Sometimes, like the disciples, we forget. Forgive us, Lord.
May we learn to be in regular communication with you. May our life of prayer be such that we are open and clear channels of your power. Use us, Lord, for your purposes and glory in all we do. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Prayer Triggers
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.