The desperate father makes the long journey to Jesus. His son has had uncontrollable seizures since he was but a toddler. Nothing has worked. Maybe Jesus can help. Much to his dismay, Jesus is gone and only the disciples are present. They’ve been commissioned to extend the ministry of Jesus–but still this is like a rookie surgeon doing risky brain surgery while the expert is on vacation.
Dad brings his precious little boy to this band of Jesus followers in hopes that maybe they can do what Jesus has done. They’ve been trained to do this. They’ve been commissioned. They’ve even cast out demons and healed people before. And so they go through the motions of what they did before; perhaps shouting at the demon, commanding it in the name of Jesus to leave the little boy.
They keep trying.
Still nothing. (Mark 9:14-18)
The desperate family squirms their way into the back pew. Dad is hoping that maybe God will show up and heal his splintering family. Truthfully, his greatest hope is that junior will quiet his mouth for about 20 minutes so he and his disappointed bride can hear the sermon or maybe even some of the songs. They need rescue, hoping that the pastor—one who has been entrusted to extend the ministry of Jesus—will be able to heal the brokenness.
The pastor steps up to the pulpit and faithfully exposits God’s Word. He is doing what he was trained to do. He studied all week. He is able to stand before the people and say thus says the Lord. And he does it with passion. His sermon would have gotten an A in seminary class.
But it didn’t rescue this family.
Nothing happened. The Word didn’t take root. It was all true but for some reason the Word didn’t come to this family in power. The pastor couldn’t drive out the demon intending to destroy this family.
I think the disciples have something on many of us pastors, especially those of us who travel in more Reformed-minded circles. You see the disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” I’m not sure we often ask that question. We assume that we’ve done our jobs and so we really don’t ask why we aren’t seeing fruit.
We faithfully studied. We got the text right. We prayed God would help us to preach the text clearly and passionately. We delivered the message to the best of our ability. We stood before the people and said “thus says the Lord”.
When nothing happened we rest in our theology of God’s sovereignty. Or perhaps our theology of the depravity of man. They either didn’t respond because God had other plans or because of their own stubborn hearts. And while that may very well be true, I’m convinced we are missing something else.
“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
That was Jesus’ answer to the disciples failure. They weren’t utterly dependent on God. They had assumed that just because they were commissioned, and just because they had been given the right tools and training, that they had within themselves the power to drive out this demon. They were doing self-sufficient ministry in the name of Jesus.
I think Brian Croft is correct. The most common ministry priority neglected by pastors is prayer. If this is true then it puts us in the same place as the disciples trying to heal this little boy on the power of their calling. It won’t do. There are some things that will only happen in our churches and in the lives of our people as a result of faithful prayer.
Listen to Spurgeon:
“No man may expect to be the means of the conversion of a sinner without having the faith which leads him to believe that the sinner can be converted. Such things may occur, but it is not the rule. If I can preach in faith that hearers will be saved, they will be saved. If I have no faith, God may honour his word, but it will be in no degree; certainly he will not honour me. Abandoned sinners, if converted by means, are usually brought under the power of divine grace through ministers of great faith” (C.H.Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 10, 1864, p.34).
Brothers, lets stop neglecting this area of our ministry. Let us be dependent upon God to work and not assume that the power of our calling is enough to carry on the ministry of Jesus. We must be men of prayer. And men who are praying that God will work and move and do mighty things in our midst. Not just praying that God will keep us from being idiots on Sunday morning. Let’s pray and truly believe that God is able and willing to work and move in our church and community.