We recently had the privilege of hosting two men who serve the church in Ethiopia. They shared the remarkable things happening in that country for the gospel.
There is a great advance of God’s kingdom happening now. Thousands are coming to faith in Christ, hundreds of churches planted and the power of God is being visibly demonstrated by transformed lives and deliverance from evil forces. It was such an encouraging evening but it was also challenging.
The stories from that far away place caused me to wonder why the church in my culture seems to a large degree to be missing the authority now prevalent in that African country. It made me wonder if we are experiencing an “unnecessary powerlessness”.
We can come up with a variety of reasons to explain this difference. We can point to economic factors, educational factors or cultural matters. We can excuse ourselves in a variety of ways and no doubt at times need to consider new strategies. However an even wiser idea is to consider what Scripture teaches about unnecessary powerlessness. Such a teaching unfolds in Mark 9:14-29.
In this story the nine disciples who did not go with Jesus to the transfiguration are given opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ by a man who brought his demonized son to them. Unfortunately the nine could not win the day. The demon remained lodged in the tormented boy, the father was frustrated and the nine disciples were embarrassed by their lack of authority.
We see in the story, that sadly, this powerlessness of the disciples was completely unnecessary. In fact, Jesus expresses great disappointment that the disciples were unsuccessful.
“Oh faithless generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I bear with you…” (NKJV).
Looking back in the Book of Mark we see that the disciples had indeed been granted authority over dark spirits and had been able to cast them out.
“He called the twelve…and gave them power over unclean spirits.” (Mk. 6:7 NKJV)
Yet in this case they were powerless. It was a story of authority lost.
The story continues as Jesus arrives on the scene. He responds to the father’s desperate request, demonstrates his authority over this very powerful demon and sets the boy free. The nine disciples, stung by their lack of power and failure to exercise their Christ-given authority, demand that Jesus tell them why they couldn’t cast out the demon. Jesus answered, “This kind can only come out by prayer.”
We don’t know why the nine disciples were deficient in their prayer life. Perhaps they had relied on past successes or were discouraged because they had not been invited to the transfiguration. Whatever the reason, they had moved away from prayerful dependence on God. As a result they were powerless before this evil.
I must say that I find is quite easy to identify with the powerless nine disciples. I too have faced evil strongholds or fears and have not won the day. Though I know I have been given authority that authority has not always translated into victory. So too, sometimes our churches have often drifted into a state of powerlessness. The stories of transformed lives and people being set free from the bondage of evil can be few and far between. Could it be that the answer for us is the same as the answer was for the powerless nine?
The Apostle Paul warned that in the last days people would have a form of godliness but deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:5) I sometimes wonder if Christians will fall into the last days powerlessness unintentionally by simply neglecting prayer. As a result we find ourselves unable to win the day over personal and corporate evils that torment us. Like the powerless nine, there is an identification with Jesus – a form of godliness – but a disconnect from his power. This helplessness may not be intentional but it happens through the neglect of prayer.
As I listened to my Ethiopian brothers they told me of the prayer life of the church planters who are leading the advance of the gospel in many remote parts of that country. They told me that it is not unusual for these men to spend hours in daily prayer, waiting on God for his grace, power and direction. From the place of prayer they move into their world with a great authority.
It is encouraging to note, that a good number of God’s people in our culture have recognized their powerless state and have begun to seek the Lord with a renewed focus on prayer. To all of you who are seeking him in a renewed way, be encouraged and persevere. Your lost authority is on the way back.