And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:29
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus informs us that certain kinds of evil spirits cannot be driven out, except by prayer. Seeming to contradict his own statement Jesus did not pray when He exorcized the demon. Shouldn’t the teacher (Jesus) set an example for the Apostles and pray in order to cast out this demon? Such a question presents a misunderstanding both about the identity of Jesus and about prayer.
We know that Jesus, the perfect man, prayed regularly to His Father. In His State of Humiliation, wherein the Son of God did not always or fully use His divine power communicated to His human nature, Jesus particularly did not use His divine power to aide himself. As such, He was dependent on prayer, which meant that in faith He was dependent on His heavenly Father. However we also know that in His State of Humiliation Jesus DID use His divine power to perform miracles in order to help people who were in dire need. We see evidence of this throughout the Gospels as the Son of God healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, calmed a stormy sea and the like.
When Jesus explained that certain evil spirits cannot be driven out by anything but prayer, He is not so much describing some innate power in prayer but He is describing the power of the One who receives the prayer. Certainly persistent prayer has power (see Luke 18:1-8), but instead of drawing attention to the persistency of prayer we should identify the persistent faith that prompts persistent prayer. So even when we are speaking of persistent prayer, we are identifying faith in the One to whom the prayer is addressed…which ultimately identifies the power of the One who answers prayer. Faith clings to God, and prayer is the natural breath of such faith.
By magnifying prayer instead of magnifying the Recipient of prayer, one can easily be led into numerous misunderstandings about prayer. For instance, some have wrongly believed that when God does not answer our prayer, then we are not praying sincerely or intensely enough. Similarly, some have wrongly concluded that they will be heard for their much speaking [Mt 6:7], in other words the reason God isn’t answering is because I am not praying enough, or perhaps there are not enough people joining in the request. Others conclude that God isn’t answering prayer because of some personal insufficiency…whether it be that the faith of the one praying is too weak, or some sin or shortcoming on the part of the one praying is blocking the prayer. All of these misunderstandings have one thing in common…they show a belief that something in us can merit an answer to prayer, the way we want it answered. Such “prayer” shows faith in oneself instead of faith in God.
Indeed there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus [1 Tim 2:5]. By His payment for sin on the cross, Jesus has removed any barriers impeding our prayers. By His resurrection for our justification He has freely declared us righteous, and this is how we come to God with prayer…as the righteous ones. Unfortunately it is true that because of the Old Adam we will lack perfect sincerity in our prayers, we will lack perfect faith, we will yet stumble into sin, and often we will simply fail to pray as we should. Realize however that Christ stands as the perfect mediator of our prayers, and He has nullified every impediment (real or imagined) to prayer. In addition, the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, perfects every one of our prayers, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words [Rom 8:26]. So cling to God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—with a weak or a strong faith—and pray. Such a prayer spoken with faith in God, He makes right, and He will answer it in the most beneficial way possible.
So where was the prayer when Jesus cast out the powerful evil spirit? The prayer was not a petition made by Jesus to His Father, but it was a petition to Jesus. This is appropriate, for Jesus is the eternal Son of God; He who is one with the Father and the Spirit, is the recipient of prayer. The prayer was recorded in verse 22 when the father of the demonized boy petitioned Jesus: But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. This frustrated father demonstrated that his faith was not in his faith, it was in Jesus, to whom he prayed. As he struggled and groped for a solution to his dilemma he declared, I believe; help my unbelief! He knew faith in his faith was insufficient. Thus the cruel and powerful evil spirit was exorcised by prayer, for such a prayer had power as it demonstrated reliance upon the all-powerful, compassionate Lord God.