Americans swell with the pride of their independence. The Fourth of July sparkles on our calendars, as we gaze upon explosions of red, white, and blue in the night sky. Americans celebrate the self-made man, the man who charts his own course and creates his our own destiny. Christians should express gratitude for our independence, and that independence is worth celebrating; however, we must guard ourselves from letting our political independence morph into a spiritual independence. Our national ethos subtly seeps into our Christian lives. Before long, we find ourselves going about our lives with little awareness of our need for Christ.
The Disciples Neglected Prayer
As Jesus reveals his glory up on the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, the rest of the disciples continued the ministry down below. A father had brought to them his demon possessed son, but the disciples could not cast out the demon. The scribes, seizing upon their failure, began a debate with Jesus’ disciples, and a theological brawl broke out before the watching crowd, while the desperate father hugged his flailing boy and wiped the foam from his mouth. Jesus descends from the mountain into this ruckus, rebukes this “faithless generation,” calls the father to deeper faith, and then frees this boy from his demonic chains.
After the crowd dispersed, Jesus gathered with the disciples privately. What a day! Once alone, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon. After all, Jesus had given them this work. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had sent them out two by two to heal the sick and cast out demons, and they had great success! Why couldn’t they cast out this particular demon? Jesus responds, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mk 9:29). The disciples had forgotten their dependence upon God.
Prone to Forget
We are forgetful people. We need to be reminded constantly and continually of our dependence upon Christ. That’s why we gather each week for worship in our churches. It’s why we take the Lord supper together with our church bodies. We eat and drink to remember our dependence upon Christ. Ironically, we Christians who come to faith in broken dependence upon God, somehow begin to think we can handle the Christian life on our own. In pride, we believe we can go about our lives with little help from God. Sadly, we become spiritually independent—how foolish the thought!
How do you know if you’ve become spiritually independent in your life? Well there is a simple way to tell. How much of your day is oriented around prayer? How much time a day do you spend communing with the living God? Do you pray without ceasing or have you ceased to pray? A non-existent prayer life is the sure indicator of the foolishness of spiritual independence. That’s why the disciples could not cast out this demon, they had begun to depend on themselves to do the work, instead of God.
When they were first sent out by Jesus, they felt nervous and unsure of themselves. That unease caused them to pray deeply and rely entirely on the power that Christ had provided them. But, after their ministry grew successfully, they became sure of themselves. Familiar now with the work of ministry, they neglected the intensity of prayer that had first defined their ministry with Jesus. Like the disciples, we drift into spiritual lethargy, and over time we begin to rely on our own power for the ministry.
Why do we wonder why the power of God isn’t more evident in our lives and in our church? Why do we struggle with the coldness of our hearts and the dryness of our worship each Sunday morning? Why do we question why God does not bring more people to faith in our city through our personal evangelism and the ministry of our church? We have not because we ask not! We have become so self-sufficient and independent, that we’ve ceased to pray. Sure we may have a habitual prayer before our meals or at the start of church meetings, but when was the last time we really prayed together for God to work and move in a powerful way?
Early in my ministry, I sat in at a church’s deacons meeting. The meeting had become particularly heated over an issue. Lines were being drawn in the room and people were getting angry. A younger and newer deacon sat at the end of the table listening to the bitterness in people’s hearts coming through their words. He interjected and said, “Guys, we need to stop and pray right now and go before the Lord.” Sadly, I watched as some of the more experienced men say, “We already prayed at the start of the meeting, no need to do so now.” Whenever a church ceases to pray, a church withers. Unless the church repents of its prideful independence, that church will grow in carnality instead of holiness. A church without prayer is a church guaranteed to die.
Repenting of Self-Sufficiency
Every work of revival God has ever wrought began with a movement of intense and corporate prayer. If we seek the Spirit of God to bring power among us, we must pray. The demonic lies that have gripped the hearts of our city are too mighty to be loosened by our own strength. Only Christ can bind up the strong man. We must look to Jesus and depend on him. The disciples needed to continue to depend upon Jesus for strength in their ministry.
It’s easy for churches to drift into this sort of self-sufficiency. Through the established rut of routine, churches tend to drift into self-sufficiency. Everything continues to run, but the church looses its vibrancy over the decades as people begin to trust in the processes rather than the power of God. The comfortable and slow drift into independence causes the church to decline. When that drift remains uncorrected over many decades, death is the inevitable result.
Our lack of prayer shames us and reveals how independent we truly are. May we repent of our independence, and become dependent once again on Jesus for power. Pray for the conversion of souls. Pray for the revival of your church. Pray for the ministry of the word each Sunday, that God would give your pastor’s feeble words power beyond measure to change people’s lives. Pray that God would call your church to greater sacrifice and mission in our city and our world. Pray that God would fill you with the wisdom and knowledge of his Son. Pray that Christ would become the treasure of your heart. We must commit to pray in this way, and wait for the Spirit of God to come and empower us. Revival isn’t a date that can be placed on the calendar or an event to be organized. Rather, it is the unexpected work of the Spirit of God that comes when the people of God commit themselves to diligent and dependent prayer.
 For the account of this event, see Mark 9:14-29.