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The Essentials for Service

Mark 9:14-29

14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.

15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.

16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?

17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;

18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.

19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.

21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.

22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.

23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.

26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.

27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?

29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.


The space shuttle Discovery landed safely and soundly yesterday, in fact, so much so that space scientists believe that it will fly three more times this year. Our spaceflights are becoming so common that they are almost like everyday occurrences. While this is so the effect of these flights on these who take them is most unusual. In fact, when astronauts talk about their experiences in space they sound like they are almost religious experiences.

Rusty Schweickart said, “I’m not the same man. None of us are.” Before the flight he was totally committed to his life as an astronaut. But as he floated outside of Apollo 9 on his space walk 160 miles above the earth, he was overwhelmed by emotion. “I completely lost my identity as an American astronaut,” he says. “I felt a part of everyone and everything sweeping past me below.” When he returned home he spent long hours at a Houston Clinic for drug addicts and took part in a volunteer telephone counseling service for troubled youngsters.

Jim Erwin said that walking on the moon was a religious experience for this Apollo 15 astronaut. He was “deeply moved by the beauty of the lunar mountains and felt the presence of God.” A month after his return he said, “I knew that God had called me to his service.” He became a Southern Baptist evangelist.

Bill Anders, who flew on Apollo 8, said that seeing the earth from out there evoked “feelings about humanity and human needs that I have never had before.”

Though the impact of their experience varies widely, most astronauts agree that there is an inevitable and a universal consequence to space flight, perhaps best expressed by Ed Mitchell: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, and intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world and a compulsion to do something about it.”

That kind of experience ought to be true spiritually. The higher we climb in our encounter with God, the deeper ought to be our involvement in meeting human needs. This can be seen most vividly in the contrast between Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and his descent into the valley found in Mark 9.

Mark 9 begins with Jesus going up onto the mountain. There he was transfigured, appeared with Moses and Elijah, and heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:35). Peter was so moved by this experience that he said, “Master, it is good place for us to be here” (Luke 9:33). Life is always much better near God on the mountaintop. There is a temptation to stay there. But Peter’s suggestion was so foolish that the Lord didn’t even answer it. He just took the disciples and started back down into the valley.

As they came down to the valley Jesus saw the nine disciples who had been left behind surrounded by a crowd. The scribes were arguing with them. A father had brought his only son, who was possessed by a demon, to these disciples to be healed. But they had been powerless, helpless, and had failed. Failure was a first-rate opportunity for the scribes to belittle not only these disciples but also their Master. They had dogged him for months. Now they taunted his disciples. It is always easier to be critical of failure than to do anything yourself.

When Jesus saw the embarrassment of his disciples he went to their defense and wanted to know what questions the scribes were asking.

Then the poor distressed father spoke up. He said that he had brought his son to Jesus to be healed. The physical symptoms of this young man are minutely described: 1) severe convulsions; 2) foaming at the mouth; 3) grinding his teeth; 4) a general rigidity of the body; 5) attacks so unexpected that he often fell into fire or into water; and 6) this was complicated by the fact that he was deaf and mute and therefore could not communicate with other people.

The man then told Jesus that he had taken his child to the disciples but they were powerless to help. Jesus then said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall suffer you?”

Then Jesus commanded that the boy to be brought to him. This was a promise of a cure. As the man brought the boy to Jesus it first seemed to aggravate his affliction. The spirit tore into him and he fell on the ground and wallowed while foaming at the mouth. Jesus then asked, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” Like a good physician he begins to get a case history. The man said that it had been there ever since he was a child.

At this moment the man gets a glimmer of the ability of Jesus to help. The disciples’ failure had severely shaken his faith but he was about to get it back. So he cried out to Jesus, “But if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Jesus responded, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” There is no if about it. Jesus was suggesting that the problem was not his power—the problem was the man’s faith. So the father cried out again, this time in tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

Then Jesus rebuked the foul spirit. The spirit made one last terrible effort to destroy the lad. It cried and rent the boy before it came out. He left the boy as though he were dead. Then Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up.

When they were safely out of earshot of the critical scribes, the disciples asked Jesus what they had been wanting to ask him all day: “Why could not we cast him out?” And Jesus said to them, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” Jesus obviously believed in the omnipotence of faith. He suggested that if a man believes nothing is impossible. It is akin to the fact, “With God all things are possible.” Faith ties us to omnipotence and thus it enables the omnipotent to take place.

This experience is so vital because it teaches us how to minister and how to serve. The group in the valley represents the world in miniature:

  1. Youth in the grip of evil
  2. Parents in anguish
  3. Powerless disciples and a powerless church
  4. Jeering, critical skeptics
  5. And then comes the compassionate and powerful Jesus

The actions of Jesus teach us how to blend our mountain and our valley experiences together in life. Christian life is neither all enjoyment nor all conflict. Very frequently there is an alternation between the two. On the mountain we meet God and in the valley we meet man. On the mountain we enjoy the presence of God, see the glory of God, and hear the voice of God. In the valley we struggle with diabolical forces.

We need the mountains to survive the valleys. If we didn’t have these mountaintop experiences, there are some of us who would literally die by ourselves. But we also need the valleys to serve. For it is not by mountain experiences that people judge us or him. They judge us by our actions in the valley.

Jesus teaches us not only by words but by example. There are three ingredients to our ministry: personal involvement (penetration of the valley), supernatural power (prayer power), and spiritual perception (awareness of Satan’s methods).

1. It takes personal involvement or penetration of the valley to serve other people.

Jesus could face the cross but he was also ready for the common things of life. He had come to die for the whole world, but he could give himself entirely to helping one single person in need. We must have that same kind of spirit in carrying on our work for God.

There is a legend about one of the saints who was about to travel to Rome. One night before he left, he had a dream in which he saw a beggar dressed in rags sitting by the gates of Rome, and a voice in that dream said to him, “Do you see that man? That is the Messiah, dressed as a beggar.” The saint woke up and he could not get the dream out of his mind. He kept thinking about it. Finally, as he approached Rome at the end of his journey, there was a figure dressed in rags, sitting exactly where he had been in the dream. And the saint went up to him and asked, “Is it true that you are the Messiah?” And the man nodded. And the saint asked, “What are you doing here at the gates of Rome?” And the man answered, “Waiting.” The saint responded, “Waiting in a world so full of misery and hatred and war, in a world in which your children are scattered and oppressed? In a world where children go hungry, you sit here waiting? Master, in the name of God, what are you waiting for?”

And the Master answered, “I’ve been waiting for you so that I could ask you—in the name of God, what are you waiting for?”

That’s God question to us today. What are you waiting for? All around us are young people in the grip of evil. All around us are distraught parents. All around us are weak and inept disciples. All around us are jeering, taunting critics. What in God’s name are you waiting for? Get off the mountain and penetrate the valley so you can do something worthwhile for God.

Some of you are good at mountain climbing, scripture memory, conference attending, tape listening, but you are not good at valley ministry. Learn from the Master. Get off of the mountain and into the valley. Worship is not to chloroform us into inactivity. Religion is not to be as Marx termed it, “The opium of the people.” It is rather to spur us to action and refresh us after work. So never think of building a tabernacle and staying on the mountaintop. Get down from the mountain and mix with the people. Out there young people are in the grip of evil, parents have broken hearts, crowds are jeering, and churches are inept.

2. You must pray.

The nine apostles left behind had tried and failed. When they were out of critical earshot of the scribes they asked why. Jesus said, “This kind cometh out only by prayer and fasting.” Obviously they had lost touch with God through prayer. They had tried to cast the demons out in their own power but their unbelief and prayerlessness resulted in spiritual impotence.

His answer to them is quite simple—you don’t live close enough to God. You’ve been equipped with power but it needs prayer to keep it and to maintain it. The disciples had been equipped with power direct from Jesus (Mark 3:14-15) but they had not nurtured that power with prayer and so the power had vanished.

Jesus wished them to see that the power that brought miracles was not theirs but his. God works through human instruments but he uses divine power. What God is looking for from us is not ability but availability. It is his power that is equal to any and every emergency. The disciples were able to work miracles only so far as they were living in union with him. And the bond of that union was faith through prayer. Prayer is the greatest expression of faith there is. The Lord intended to deliver this boy from demons through his disciples, but they were not in touch with the Lord as they should have been. Our impotency is due to our prayerlessness.

If we are to be successful we must be prayerful. He who works for Christ must walk with Christ and depend upon Christ in order to glorify Christ. If we lay our hands on the lost and needy we must keep our faith in Christ to become conductors of new life through him. Let us be close to God in prayer power if we want to be effective in his service. Our powerlessness will be due to our prayerlessness.

We must depend upon the Lord for everything. You might as well try to see without eyes, hear without ears, or breathe without lungs as try to do the work of Christ without the Holy Spirit.

In 1981 I visited Niagara Falls in Canada. My companion Dr. Alan Paul walked over to the tourist center with me to use the men’s room. When we tried to turn on the lights we discovered that there was no electricity. Presently, along came the director of the tourist facility with a flashlight so we could see.

Think of that—we were next to the greatest electrical generating plant in the world but with no power. We were there in the dark because the power was not on. That’s the picture of the church today. The greatest power of the universe is God himself and we are close to him and yet we grow in darkness because we are not connected with him through prayer.

The reason for the powerlessness of the church is the prayerlessness of the people. God expects us to be able to cast out demons and if we do not have contact with him, we will not be able to do it.

3. We need a perception or an awareness of how Satan works.

The first command of Jesus only produced an aggravation of the boy’s affliction. The enemy is most destructive when he is at the very point of being dislodged. It is when an army is compelled to evacuate a city that the soldiers turn to leave it in flames. It is when a team is about to be blown out that they become most angry and violent. It is when Satan is about to be dislodged that he makes his strongest resistance.

We need to know that the beginning of deliverance for sinners seems often for a time only to aggravate their bondage. When Moses said to the Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” the first effect was the Jews’ burdens were doubled and their straw was withdrawn and the people cried that they were worse off than ever. When a slave seeks to run away, the master puts heavier chains on him. And when a man wants to free himself from Satan, Satan works with greater ferocity.

The soul of a sinner is in bondage to Satan. Satan is even blinding our eyes so that we do not recognize his reality. We laugh about him and joke about him, but he is real. The devil never gives up without a fight. He never gives up easily. He always puts forth a strong resistance. When you try to break off the power of sin and come to Christ, then comes the tug of war. It is after a man has awakened to his need of Christ and earnestly tries to turn that he often falls back into his most grievous sin for a season.

Let no poor victim sink in despair—Christ is stronger than the devil. Put your hand in the Savior’s and there is no power on earth or in hell that can pluck you out of it.

The church may at times disappoint you. The weak disciples of the Lord may at times disappoint you. But Christ himself will never disappoint you.

Faith is the answer. How much faith does it take? Only as much as you have. Say with the man, “Lord, I believe.” Then be honest enough to admit your limitations and to express your hunger for more. Pray, “Lord, help thou mine unbelief.” It doesn’t matter how small your faith is so long as you realize that it’s small. Ask for more and be willing to use what you have.

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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