Do you pray to get things done? Do you believe some things will only occur if you pray, or that God can refuse to act until someone prays? Dallas pastor Tony Evans recently said, “One of the primary mechanisms that God has established to determine much of what He does on earth and in your life and in my life is conditioned by the absence or presence of prayer.” Evans left no doubt about his meaning when he said, “There are many things that He’s decided He will not bring from Heaven into history unless there is human cooperation with his desire and design.” Prayer gets things done.
How Jesus sees prayer
An event in the life of Jesus clarified the relationship between prayer and God’s activity. Mark’s gospel tells the story of Jesus and three of His disciples who, along with Moses and Elijah, gathered on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8). In His absence, the other disciples at the base of the mountain were overwhelmed by a challenge they couldn’t handle.
Jesus found the defeated disciples and a critical crowd at the foot of the mountain. A father with a demon-possessed son summarized the problem, “I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So, I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able” (vv. 17-18).
After Jesus healed the boy, the disciples asked why they were incapable of doing so. His answer is revealing: “And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer’” (Mark 9:29).
Jesus made clear that some things do not occur until believers pray. This story shows how distant a prayer-less disciple is from God’s design. In verse 18 the disciples “were not able.” In verse 19 Jesus bristled, “how long must I bear with you?” He saw the fiasco as an example of a “faithless generation.” Finally, in verse 28 the disciples admitted defeat, “why could we not …?”
The response to their question was unequivocal, “You don’t pray” (v. 29). Can we think of examples when someone needed the power of Jesus and brought their addicted child, broken marriage or lifetime of bad choices to church – believing that Jesus could help – only to find the church unarmed and unprepared for the battle? How can we avoid that situation?
Big problems call for prayer
Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (v. 29). He identified the problem as “this kind.” The Greek word is “genos” which lies behind words like “genetic” or “generation.” It also moves into English from “gen” to “kin.” It’s a family designation referring to “kindred” like the rural American term “kinfolks.”
In the context of the disciples’ challenges, there are “kinds” of troubles that cannot be solved without prayer. Think of it this way: If a pastor and his wife are walking into church and she trips and starts to fall, that’s a problem. But is it the “kind” of problem the pastor needs to pray about solving or does he merely reach out to steady her? He catches her. No special prayer is needed. Jesus, however, identified a different “kind” of challenge that “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” At some point, our problems move from the kind anyone can handle to the kind only prayer can address. Perhaps this is what S. D. Gordon meant when he said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray, until you have prayed.” Big problems call for prayer!
No other way but prayer
A boy exhibiting physical, spiritual, psychological, frequently recurring, life-threatening problems was beyond all hope of recovery (vv. 18-26). Of course, Jesus cast out the demonic spirit and immediately healed the boy (vv. 25-27). The clear teaching to the disciples, however, was that without prayer the miracle would have never occurred (v. 29).
For those of us convinced of the sovereignty of God, it may be difficult to intellectually reconcile the fact that God would allow an injustice to go unresolved until His people pray. But Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Prayer and nothing but prayer will work.
It’s an astonishing truth that, in His sovereignty, God has chosen to work through prayer. The reformed pastor Timothy Keller wrestled with this challenge in his book on prayer, concluding “Prayer is not merely a way to get inward peace – it is also a way to look outward and participate with God in His work in the world.”
God accomplishes His purposes through our prayers. No wonder John Wesley confidently asserted, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”
So how did the disciples fail to pray? It must have been in one of two ways. Either they did not offer a prayer as they attempted to expel the demon, or they simply were not men of prayer at all. Tellingly, Jesus did not pray before He cast out the demon; so, the suggestion that Jesus meant that the disciples had failed to pray prior to attempting the miracle, while possible, is unconvincing in this context. The larger point seems to be that the disciples, at this time, were not men of prayer. In fact, in Mark’s gospel we don’t find a single example of the disciples in prayer. They were prayer-less men.
So, we learn a few truths. Prayer is required to overcome life’s biggest challenges. A consistent life of prayer prepares us for unexpected emergencies. Finally, some things will not occur until we pray. James reinforced this truth when he wrote, “…You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Billy Graham once said he imagined a room in heaven filled with unopened gifts God wanted to give but no one ever bothered to ask for.
The Christian life is designed to work effectively only when we live lives of prayer. As Leonard Ravenhill reminded us, “Failing here we fail everywhere.” It is time to get things done. It’s time to pray.