After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Mark 9:28-29 (NIV, 1978)
I remember sitting in a seminary workshop in Atlanta several years ago. The class was to be an intensive study of evangelism and was being taught by a mega-church pastor from Arizona. His reputation was that of having one of the highest rates of baptism in the Southern Baptist Convention at that time. So, it was not a shocker when he began the first session by asking, “What is the most important task that has been given to the church?” The answer was seemingly a no-brainer. My classmates replied with a cacophony of semi-related answers ranging from evangelism to discipleship to baptism. Then, one of my friends offered a suggestion somewhat out of step with the others when he said, “Worship.” It wasn’t the answer the teacher was looking for, but he knew better than to correct him.
During this time in the early 90’s, church worship—it’s style, format, and presentation—was being debated as much as it is now. My friend had none of those issues in mind when declared what he believed was historically the most important task given by God to His church. No, and neither did Jesus when He calmly rebuked His disciples on their inability to cast out the deaf and mute spirit that had possessed the boy from his birth in Mark’s Gospel account. What had happened? They had seen Jesus cast out demons on dozens of occasions. Had they not prayed loud enough, sincere enough, long enough? The demons were not fearful, neither were they impressed.
They still aren’t. Our demonized culture is neither impressed nor intimidated at how much we know, how orthodox we are or how well we “do church” (I hate that phrase). Jesus’ point was not that the disciples had done anything wrong. It was simply that their efforts did not reflect the evidence that they had been in the presence of God. Jesus Himself would frequently get away to be in the presence of His Father. Prayer and fasting were part of His routine of worship so that He would know God’s will as well as the power that only comes from His presence. We can do no less.