I love moments when I am reading the Bible, and the words I am reading come alive and arrest me. All the rules I have learned about proper interpretation are not in the forefront of my mind. The literary context is not controlling what happens in that moment. The language in which it was written is not ignored, but it is not a factor in that moment. The historical context may be obvious in the passage I am reading, but it is temporarily set aside in that moment. What the passage meant in their day pales in that moment.
Simply put, I am reading – even engaging the story or passage – and it all comes to a crashing halt when my eyes hit certain words, my brain immediately gives them meaning, and my heart is arrested. Those moments cannot be planned. There is no necessary rhythm, which demands it happens once a week or month or year. It does not even seem to matter whether or not my heart is hot or cold toward the Lord. It happens. And I am certain it has happened to you. You have had your moments.
The elders at my church have decided that our next preaching series will be in the gospel of Mark. As is my habit, I have been pouring through that book, learning as much as I can so that I can frame a potential weekly preaching series, which will be finalized by our preaching team. Mark is a fascinating book. Jesus’ ministry is the focus immediately. There are no “baby Jesus” stories in this book. Eleven verses into the book and God is announcing from heaven “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.” Fifteen verses into the book and Jesus is already preaching “The kingdom of God is at hand!” and calling for repentance. The gospel makes it clear early in the book that Jesus is the Messiah by his works and his message. Mark also avoids a sanitized message. Jesus is a dividing point for people. Jesus draws a line in the sand. The first half of the book is a constant weaving of proof that Jesus is the Messiah and a mounting opposition to his claims.
Mark fast-forwards to the choosing of the twelve (see chapter three). Almost from the beginning of the gospel, the disciples are partners (though sometimes confused) with the work that Jesus is doing. The twelve are sent out on a ministry trip (6:7), and they return with amazing stories of their ministry (6:30-32). But still they are growing in their understand of Jesus. One moment they are astonished at Jesus’ works because they do not quite get who he is (6:51-52), and the next moment they boldly proclaim that he is the Messiah (8:27-30).
Not only do they have limitations in their understanding of who Jesus is, we also find that they have limitations in the works they can perform as his partners. Even though they have already accomplished much (6:30), they encounter limitations along the way. In 9:14ff, they are asked to cast a demon out of a boy, but they cannot (9:18). The father of the boy then says to Jesus, “If you can, then do something!” (9:22). Jesus’ response is another reminder that he is the Messiah, “If you can?! All things are possible to him who believes” (9:23). Then Jesus promptly casts out the demon.
Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Hey, wait a minute. Why could we not do that?” (9:28). After all, they are his partners. He had sent them out with power and authority to do his work. Yet in this particular moment, trying to help a father who was desperate and with a large crowd looking on, they came up empty. If you were a fly on the wall, or maybe a fly on a donkey in this case, what would you have seen? Matthew boldly steps forth, “Sure, I will help you.” Then he calls for the demon to come out, but nothing happens. Thaddeus feels for the embarrassment of his friend and steps forward to give it shot. Nothing. Perhaps Bartholomew, feeling a little proud, steps forward to fulfill the request. Maybe one by one they all try, but nothing.
Do you ever feel that way in ministry? Do you ever feel that God has called you to be a partner with him in the work that he is doing in this world, yet it seems that in your ministry you are faced with a lack of any substantive results or at best minimum results. You minister and minister and minister, but you have very little to point to and say, “Wow! God is at work through me.” Maybe you know the word, “nothing,” all to well.
Then Jesus arrives, learns of the situation, and responds, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” And my heart was arrested. My heart was arrested because my heart was heavy with so many situations that I was facing as a shepherd of God’s people, i.e., many demons to cast out, yet it seemed nothing was happening. And, then, I read those words and my heart was arrested. “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” That is what Jesus said to me in that moment.
What are you faced with in your life today? What are the things for which you feel responsibility as a minister of God’s people, yet it seems that you are not seeing the Lord work through you. Let Jesus’ words minister to you today as well. Turn toward him, believing, and pray. He will help you. “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”