God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life: “By Anything but Prayer” (Mark 9:14-29)

God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life:
“By Anything but Prayer”
Mark 9:14-29

Bill Lacovara was fishing near Atlantic City, New Jersey, when he spotted a plastic bag floating in the water. Inside he found about 300 requests for prayer that had been mailed to a local preacher. Most of the letters were unopened. The preacher had died two years earlier, and authorities speculated that the letters had been dumped as garbage after his house was cleaned out.
Some of the prayers were frivolous. “I’m still praying to hit the lottery—twice,” wrote one man. “First $50,000—then, after some changes have taken place—let me hit the millionaire.”
Many of the letters were heartbreaking. They came from anguished spouses, children, and widows, all crying out to God. Some prayed for relatives who were using drugs, gambling, or cheating on them. One man wrote from prison, saying that he was innocent and wanted to be back home with his family. A teenager poured out her heart on yellow, lined paper, begging God to forgive her and asking for a second chance. “Lord, I know that I have had an abortion, and I killed one of your angels,” she wrote. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the mistake I made.”
Lacovara felt sad that so many prayers had been tossed away unheeded. “How many letters like this all over the world aren’t being opened or answered?” he wondered. “There are hundreds of lives here, a lot of struggle, washed up on the beach.”

It is sad that so many people misunderstand the nature of prayer - that they think they have to communicate with some other human being before their prayer gets to God. You and I, of course, understand that as Christians, we only have to pray through Jesus Christ to know that our prayers are answered.

Prayer is one of the most beloved and greatest blessings we have as Christians. Let’s talk about prayer this morning. The first-Sunday-of-the-month sermons this year come from the Gospel of Mark. We are walking through Mark with the Master, Jesus Christ, and we are studying “God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life” from the Gospel of Mark. Today, we focus on the role of prayer in our lives.

The noun “prayer” is only used twice in the Gospel of Mark. The first time is in our context; the second time is in Mark 11:17 where Jesus identifies the temple as God’s “house of prayer.” That quotation comes from Isaiah 56:7. The place where God is worshiped should be known as a “house of prayer.” That’s not the only thing we ought to do in worship but it should be a key activity we do in worship.

The verb “to pray” is used 9 times in Mark. Jesus was a man of prayer (Mark 1:35; 6:46). In fact, the verb is used most frequently in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32, 35, 38-39).

Jesus had been up on the “mount of transfiguration” when a daddy brought his son to the apostles; the son was possessed by a demon. In verse 17, the dad told Jesus that the demon was making his son mute so that he could not communicate with his dad. It is very difficult on parents when their child is sick but the child is too young to tell them what the problem is. Sometimes, parents just have to guess.

In verse 18, the dad tells Jesus that the evil spirit would take control of the son and slam him to the ground. The demon made the boy foam at the mouth - which is scary, isn’t it? The boy would grind his teeth, perhaps out of pain, which would make the whole scene even more painful for the boy and the dad. It is hard to see someone you love experience pain and there is nothing you can do about it. Three weeks ago when I had my kidney stone and I was writhing in pain in the waiting room at the ER, a few times, Rachel would cry because I was in pain. So, we can imagine how this event made the dad feel. The boy sometimes would get really stiff.

Dad had asked the apostles to cast out the evil spirit. The apostles had been given power to cast out spirits when Jesus called them to be apostles (Mark 6:7). So the dad’s expectations are reasonable. But, verse 18 says the apostles could not do it.

Jesus is frustrated with the audience, as a whole, perhaps not with the dad himself; maybe Jesus is frustrated also with His apostles. He calls His crowd an “unbelieving generation” (ver. 19). So Jesus says, “How long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Then He calls for the boy.

When the boy was brought to Jesus, the boy saw Jesus, the demon inside the boy saw Jesus, and the evil spirit immediately threw the boy into a convulsive fit and the boy fell to the ground and began rolling around - probably in pain - and foaming at the mouth (ver. 20). How scary would that be for dad? I would assume the mom is there too and I could imagine that she is crying uncontrollably as she sees her little boy being affected by the demon like this.

In verse 21, when Jesus asks the dad, “How long has this been happening to him?” I think Jesus wants to draw the crowd’s attention to the fact that this is a long-standing problem. And nobody was able, yet, to cast out the demon. The dad responded that the boy has been demon-possessed from childhood. The dad goes on, in verse 22, that the demon often threw the boy into fires and often into water, trying to destroy the boy. Apparently God would not allow the demon to be successful. But, the boy is suffering horribly and mom and dad are suffering in their own way.

At the end of verse 22, the dad cries and pleads, “If you can do anything, take pity on us, and help us!”

Jesus responds, repeating the dad’s question: “If you can?” Then Jesus states, “All things are possible to him who believes” (ver. 23). You should have that statement underlined or highlighted in your Bibles. “All things are possible to him who believes.” If we want to have the “life well-lived,” we need to trust God to do the right thing for us, at the right time, and in the right way. That’s how important “trust” or “belief” is.

Then the daddy immediately cries out and says, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (ver. 24). Perhaps you have felt that same way at some point. “Lord, I do believe. But I need help!”

When the crowd got bigger and bigger and bigger, the time was right for Jesus to rebuke the spirit. He said, with the power of the Creator of the Universe behind Him, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again” (ver. 25).

The demon cried out and threw the boy into terrible convulsions and came out of the boy. And, you know that the boy never had demon possession ever again. Why? Because Jesus commanded it. But the boy fell on the ground and was like a corpse so that many people believed that he was dead.

But, Jesus, with the authority of the Creator of the Universe, took the boy by the hand and raised him up. The boy got up, alive and well and was embraced once again by his mom and dad. I can imagine the tears that flowed from mom and dad as they were able to embrace their healthy little boy again.

But then verse 28 pops up which leads us into our theme for this study (this has all been introduction!). Jesus and His apostles are back in the house, probably Peter’s house in Capernaum, and they ask Him privately why they could not drive out the demon. Then, Jesus responds by saying, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

Now, that sounds like there are different types of demons, doesn’t it? It sounds like there are some demons who are easier to cast out than others. Whatever “type” of demon this one was, Jesus said it could only be cast out by prayer. Think about that… The apostles were given power to cast out demons but Jesus said that this kind could only be cast out by prayers. In other words, only God could cast out this type of demon.

There are some problems that can only be resolved by God. We ought to do all we can to resolve our problems to the extent we can. There are a lot of things that we can do to solve many of the problems we have. But, sometimes when push comes to shove, we have to recognize that only God can resolve the problem. I think we should be praying the whole time, all the time, in our lives. We need to be praying about what is going on in our day today and we need to be praying about what is potentially on the horizon. We don’t need to wait until a crisis hits us; we ought to be praying all the time, everyday continually putting our problems in God’s hands.

Because there are some things that only God can control. Back in the book of Genesis, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was not getting pregnant. We all know that Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years before Sarah got pregnant but we often forget that Isaac and Rebekah had to also wait 20 years before God answered their prayer.

I read in Genesis 25:21 that Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived and bore the twins, Jacob and Esau. But in verse 26 of that same chapter, the Bible says that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau.

We know the same thing happened with Samuel’s mom Hannah. Hannah’s husband had a second wife, Penninah, and she did not have any issues in getting pregnant, apparently. But Hannah was barren; she could not get pregnant. That story is told in 1 Samuel 1. The only thing she could do is go to God in prayer.

Let’s go back to the life of Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. We are familiar with Jesus’ prayer right? He is facing the crucifixion. Jesus has seen many, many people crucified but, of course, He has never experienced the crucifixion Himself. He prayed to God, the Father, because sometimes, that’s all you can do: “Abba! (A very personal, intimate designation for God in the Aramaic language) Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

When you are facing death - all you can do is pray to God. There are some things that no one or nothing can solve except God.

Related to this point…

We saw, already, the role of trust or belief in God here in Mark 9. “All things are possible to him who believes,” Jesus told the dad in 9:23. “All things are possible to him who believes;” Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane, “All things are possible for” God. When we trust God to do the right thing, we need to pray in a way that shows that trust in God.

In Mark 11:24-25, Jesus tells His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

When we pray, we need to trust God’s love that He wants to do the right thing for us. In Romans 8:28, a verse that we ought to memorize, Paul promises that God will cause all things to work together for good to those who love God. We need to pray believing, trusting, that God’s love will motivate Him to do the right thing for us. At the end of that chapter (Romans 8), Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (8:38-39).

When we pray, we need to trust God’s wisdom that He knows what the right thing to do is. In Colossians 1:9, Paul wrote the Christians in Colossae that he prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so they would walk in a manner worthy of God to please Him, bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God. The more we know about God, the more we are impressed with His wisdom and how He governs the world. Then, we can trust God’s wisdom when we pray. God knows how things need to work out for us. We need to pray, trusting God’s wisdom to work things out for the best.

We also need to pray, trusting God’s power that He can do the right thing for us, work things out for our good. Again, Jesus prayed in the garden that all things are possible with God. Now, when it comes to Jesus dying on the cross, there was no other way. The only way humankind could be saved was for Jesus to die for us. But, Jesus trusted God’s power. He knew that God would raise Him from the dead. Jesus just needed to stay faithful to the Father so that the Father would raise Him from the dead.

Prayer has to be done in faith. James says that we need to “ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).

Take home message: To have the “life well-lived,” bathe your day in prayer, trusting God will do the loving, wise thing for your benefit.


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