Incredible. Unbelievable. Inconceivable.
They had experienced Jesus and the shekinah, the very glory of God as it surrounded Jesus. They had also seen their childhood heroes, Moses and Elijah, visiting with Jesus. Three fishermen who followed an itinerant teacher and prophet from Nazareth and they got to see the most significant leader and lawgiver (Moses) and the greatest prophet (Elijah) in Jewish history.
Incredible! Unbelievable. Inconceivable.
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and the voice from heaven told them to listen to Jesus, focus on him and not their heroes because Jesus was God’s Son, the one the Father loved. Their lives should be devoted to his life and re-fashioned by his words.
Incredible. Unbelievable! Inconceivable.
But then they had come down from this mountain top experience with Jesus only to find reality waiting for them:
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
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” (Mark 9:14-18).
“But they could not!”
Incredible. Unbelievable. Inconceivable!
This episode from Jesus’ ministry with his closest followers is all too real. Most of us have lived it. Sometimes we’ve been those folks who had a mountaintop experience and can’t understand the lame and limp discipleship of those who appear to be placed in front of us to wear the shine off our new-found spiritual passion. Other times, people have been off having a great spiritual retreat while we’ve stayed back and tended to the needs of ministry and found ourselves insufficient to meet them. And we wonder why weren’t those “mountaintop navel gazers” with us when we faced such a hard ministry crisis?
Spiritual, real-world, true-to-life, ministry and vibrant faith are hard to accomplish in a world where the evil one tears down what we try to build and our limited abilities smack us in the insecure places of our hearts.
So, what is the point of this episode? If it rings with the authentic tones of our troubled world and faulty discipleship, then what are we to take from it?
We don’t pray enough, and when we do pray, we pray wimpy prayers. You can dress up the point any way you want, but that’s the truth in cornbread English. Notice how Mark made the point in his story of Jesus:
“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.”
After Jesus had gone indoors [after healing the boy with the tormenting spirit], his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:19, 28-29)>
Deep in our hearts, we know it is true: We don’t pray enough, and when we do pray, we pray wimpy prayers.
Oh sure, most of us have Ephesians 3:20-21 printed on a decorative plaque about God being able to do immeasurably more… yadda yadda yadda. We even want to believe it’s true. The problem is, we fill our hearts with thoughts of our insufficiency for the challenges ahead of us. We hold bitterness in our hearts for our disappointments with our prayers that we feel have gone unanswered.
We believe, but unlike the father of the boy with the tormenting spirit, we don’t confess our unbelief and then ask for help in believing more is possible. We believe, but we forget the power of prayer is in its simplicity (Matthew 6:9-13), from hearts filled with expectation (James 1:6-8), and accompanied with our thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6). We forget the thousands of needed things in our lives God has done for us out of his overflowing love and grace. We forget he has chosen to partner with us in HIS kingdom work by HIS power for HIS glory to benefit those HE longs to grace with HIS blessings.
So, we say today:
Forgive us, Father. We pray, but we pray selfish and small prayers. You have repeatedly and graciously answered those prayers. Still, we forget to praise you and thank you. But today, dear Father, please help our unbelief. Trouble us to awaken us to your power available to us in prayer.
And, most of all dear Father, thank you for Jesus. We pray by his authority that you defeat the evil one and liberate our loved ones from his tyranny. Break down the walls of our self-doubt and insufficiency. We ask for you to do in our time what is incredible and unbelievable and inconceivable to bring your grace and demonstrate your glory. Amen.