Lessons in the Jesus school of discipleship

By Graeme Shanks

Lesson 3: The Posture of Prayer
(Mark 9:14-29)

I loathe being confronted with my inability to do something. For example, I remember well the first and only time I went skiing in Austria. After 3 days in the ‘nursery’ learning the basics I hit the slopes. The ski lift would open to a fairly easy run, the others in the loft informed me. I’d be fine. I wasn’t fine. After a few twists and turns not only did I fall flat on my face but my boot fell right off. I tried again and the same thing happened. There I was sitting in the middle of this run with my fellow skiers zooming past me facing up to the fact that this is something I couldn’t do. It was a very humbling experience in addition to being a very cold one!

As we get back into the saddle of Mark’s gospel it seems the disciples are experiencing something similar. Mark records for us how Jesus along with James, John & Peter arrived at the bottom of the mountain. Having left a scene of greatness they arrived at a scene of commotion. The other disciples were not only caught up in a debate with some scribes who had arrived on the scene but they were trying to fathom their inability to cast a demon out a young boy. Why were they even trying in the first place? Well only a few chapters earlier we read how Jesus sent them out with authority and that they drove out many demons (6:13). So what’s happened? Have they lost the knack? It would seem Jesus was teaching them an important lesson.

However, before we get there, notice the compassion of Jesus. He whose glory was manifested on the top of the mountain now makes time for this lowly father and son. That’s the kind of person Jesus is. The father begs him to ‘take pity on us and help us’ (9:22). They are pleading with him to be compassionately moved by their suffering. Jesus is more than willing to get involved.

Equally, notice the reaction of the father. His is desperate for his Son to recover. He’s likely spent his whole life caring for his Son and longing that he could trade places as he watches him suffer greatly. He cried out as a sign of his desperation “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:24). What a strange paradoxical statement. And yet isn’t a statement that we all know in our own lives? We don’t understand it all. We struggle to grasp realities. We feel desperate. We feel helpless. Like Peter walking on the water we’re scared by the waves. It seems to me that the wailing of the Father is the cry of someone who knows they have nowhere else to go. Jesus is all he has. He’s all we have. Jesus is fully willing and able to heal the boy. Here is the King of light penetrating the kingdom of darkness as we get another little wonderful foretaste of the Kingdom he has come to usher in. Indeed, here is a little picture of the Kingdom that Jesus will bring when he comes in glory where heartbreaking stories like the father’s will be a banished memory.

"Jesus is all we have"

However, despite the scene having ended gloriously the question still lingers in the disciples’ minds. Struggling to compute their inability to cast out the demon they ask “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (9:28). The passage begins and ends with their inability. It’s clearly a point that Mark wants to communicate to his readers. Jesus gives them the answer. “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (9:29). Perhaps given their initial success when Jesus sent them out Jesus knew their tendency towards self-reliance instead of God-reliant. Jesus was preparing the disciples for future ministry, and they had to learn this lesson or else they could never carry out the mission that Jesus was going to entrust to them. It appears that they learned, too, because later on in Acts you see the disciples continually engaging in prayer.

I loathe being confronted with my inability to do something. However, there are great lessons to be learnt on the slopes of life. Jesus is all we have. In the words of the old hymn;

‘I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Saviour!
I come to Thee.’

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