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Why Couldn’t We?

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil 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 9.25-29.

Coming down from the hills where he has been transfigured in front of Peter, James and John, Jesus finds his other nine disciples in the middle of a scene of failure and confusion. What should have been a straightforward deliverance of young man from an evil spirit that was possessing him has ended up in a theological argument with the scribes (Mark 9.14). The nine had repeatedly tried to drive the demon out but had failed. Yet along comes Jesus and he rebukes the demon and commands it to leave and it does! What bit had they got wrong? That’s the question that the nine can’t wait to ask Jesus once they are back in the house. Jesus had given all his disciples authority over evil spirits and even the nine had exercised that authority successfully in the past (Mark 6.7-13) so why hadn’t it worked on this occasion?

“Prayer,” says Jesus. “It is prayer that was lacking.” Authority was not enough, neither was technique nor the correct form of words. The act of deliverance had to flow from prayer. But what did Jesus mean by “prayer”?

This is an important question for me because I am so often in the position of these nine disciples. People come to me seeking healing or wanting God to address some difficulty in their lives and though I pray for them and lay hands on them, there is often no deliverance, no change. So when Jesus says that it is “prayer” that is lacking, he presumably means more than, “Spirit of the Living God, present with us now, enter you Mary … body, mind and spirit, and heal you of all that harms you,” or some similar healing prayer, whether extempore or otherwise.

When Jesus said “prayer”, he must have meant, surely, that continuous, intimate communion with his Father from which there flowed everything that he, Jesus, did and said. And how remote is my life of prayer from that? How intermittent and shallow is my communion with God? Yet, knowing that, I still have the nerve to be disappointed with God when he doesn’t respond to my so-called “healing prayers”.

Forgive me, Father, for relying on authority or even on formula and technique when it comes ministering your gifts of healing and deliverance. Help me to enter instead that close communion with you that Jesus called “prayer” so that real and effective ministry can flow from there. Amen.

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