Gifted folks and doubters come to the same place

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching on probably my favorite passage in the bible. If you want to listen to “Take these broken wings” (named after the Mister Mister song, not the Beattles song), here is the link. Mark 9:14-29 depicts a man deeply struggling to believe Jesus can and will heal his child. The kicker is that the man already gave the disciples a shot and it didn’t work. So cue the unbelief, plus the unbelief that may have already been present. The hope of the passage is that Jesus isn’t offended. He doesn’t run, shun, or gun him down. Instead he says to the father, “Bring the child to me.” And when the situation only gets worse with the demon making the kid squirm like a fish out of water, the doubt hits an all time high. Yet Jesus stays around, he doesn’t run, gun, or shun. The man prays to Jesus, “I believe, help m unbelief!” And immediately Jesus answers. How cool. I’ll never get tired of this passage. Ever. Because I feel like I always need it. 

One thing I couldn’t get into with the sermon based upon time was the curious answer as to why the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon. It’s the simplicity of the answer that is so confusing: “this kind can be driven out only by prayer.” So the big dog demons take prayer, while the other ones simply require the invocation of Jesus name? Did the disciples not pray? 

We’re not privy to all the information, and I read two different commentaries which in essence provided two different explanations. Here’s my take and its application today.

The disciples regularly cast out demons. Regularly. They were gifted at tossing out demons. They could have put that on a resume (I’m sure it would have been helpful for some job back then…..). But I think Jesus is telling them that giftedness is no substitute for completely dependent prayer. For complete dependence. Now He is not trying to get them to deny their giftedness-provided that they realize where the gifts come from-for that is false humility. Instead he is reminding them that giftedness alone will only get you so far. Your ultimate strength will never be found in your own gifts or abilities but in complete dependence upon the power of the Spirit. Zecheriah reminded Zerubbabel, “Not by might or power but my Spirit. (Zech 4:6) I think Jesus is doing the same thing here when he privately teaches the disciples. 

What I’ve come to really appreciate about this passage is the juxtaposition of unbelief and perhaps over-confidence. We take both our unbelief and our skills/gifts to Jesus in dependent prayer. Can you do something with our gifts? Jesus says yes. Can you do something with our lack of faith, doubt, and even lack of gifts? Jesus says yes.

Gifting gets you somewhere but there is always a cap. Even faith gets you only so far, as there is a cap on that too. Whether you feel like you have lots of faith or numbers of gifts, remember the source of both is Jesus. Don’t forget to come to him in dependent prayer. And even when you think its too late, remember, it is not. 

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