Last week I meet with a friend of mine, Eric Coe, who leads our team in Irkustk. His team in Irkutsk is much like the church in Antioch because there are Americans, Russians, Buryats, and Koreans all serving together as one. Their movement has students involved from many other people groups from across Siberia.
As we met, Eric and I began discussing a passage that we both had been mulling over lately. It is the story of the father who had a demon-possessed son whom the disciples could not heal. (Matthew 17:14-23; Mark 9:14-32 and Luke 9:37-45) The scene of the transfiguration precedes this story in each of these accounts. Much like the two OT heroes who appeared in glorious splendor with our Lord, Jesus would come off a mountain-top experience to face a frustrating situation. Moses had the golden calf thing. Elijah had the Jezebel trying to kill him thing and him wanting to die under a Juniper tree. Jesus comes upon an argument because the disciples could not heal a boy.
I am sure I would be distraught like this dad who ran up to Jesus. His only son was out of his mind. The boy was mute, he was deaf, he had sucidal tendencies, he was oppressed. Life was miserable for him and the whole family. This father was desperate and the disciples couldn't help him. Luke, who we can always count on for chronological accuracy has this scene happen in the same chapter that starts off with Jesus sending the twelve out with power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. Here they were just a little while longer, left on their own for one night, and they couldn't do what he had just sent them to do.
Jesus says, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?" I don't know if he was speaking to the crowd, the father, the disciples or all of them. I know Luke says that Moses and Elijah were talking on the mount with Jesus about his upcoming death and in all three accounts Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to die right after this. So I imagine Jesus is thinking about upcoming death and wondering, "Man, can I leave these guys behind? Am I going to have to extend my stay here or what?"
Ministry is crazy sometimes. It seems like sometimes it's like you can't do no wrong, God is moving and showing up and the joint is jumping. And then suddenly it seems like nothing seems to work. Where did the power go?
The disciples ask Jesus why couldn't they drive out the evil spirit. matthew records that He tells them that its because they have little faith. If they only had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains. The boy's dad was struggling with believing. The disciples had microscopic faith. And Jesus points out that the lot of them are an unbelieving generation.
" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Do I really believe that? I say I do but maybe I need to say like the dad, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" .
In a footnote in Matthew we learn that in later manuscripts they add that "this kind only comes out with prayer and fasting." This is similar to Mark too. Funny how we like certain additions to later manuscripts and then there are others we don't. I like "he who is without sin..." and don't like "they will pick up snakes" so much. But I digress.
I wonder if I am so quick to jump on the addition of fasting and praying? I like that over the idea of not having enough faith or impotent faith. Seems easier to take that route. But really, isn't prayer - desperate persistent prayer - a sign of faith? And really isn't fasting - true fasting not some pharisitical show or a cool Christian fad - what you do when you are desperate? Maybe even if it wasn't orginally there in the text I think still persistant prayer and real fasting when I face powerless ministry situations or desperate life situations would be evident if I have faith. The passage I link above in Luke 18 is a story told so we would learn to pray without giving up and He ends asking if he will find faith on earth.
Persistent prayer, fasting and faith are all woven together. The power available to us is unlimited. Nothing is impossible. Mountain-like obstacles of life and ministry are moved. People get delivered, healing happens and families are restored.
Mark says that Jesus commanded the demon not to return. It was a complete transformation. Then right after this in the next chapter in Luke Jeus sends them out again with 50 more disciples. They come back with joy and say "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." Again Luke with the chronological thing. I have to believe this is no accident. They have power available now to do what they couldn't do before.
Eric and his team have been praying and fasting this spring. They have seen more things happen in ministry than before. (I can't remember if he said more than he has seen in his eight years in Siberia or just lately, so I will leave it at that.) Barriers are being removed. Lives are being changed. And Jesus' glory is being revealed. They were believing but God is helping them overcome their unbelief.