My life has been changed by a footnote.
Mark 9 tells an uncomfortable story about a daddy and his demon possessed boy. Scratch that. The real focus of this passage, of every passage, is Jesus. This account puts His unmatched power over the things that torment us on full display.
The chapter records a series of remarkable events. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of a high mountain and transfigured before them. Clothed in radiant white, Jesus conversed with Elijah and Moses (who had both been dead for centuries). After their descent, Jesus and His closest brethren found the other disciples in the middle of a worked-up crowd. At the center was a demon possessed boy and his desperate dad. Jesus did what He does, healing the boy and blessing the faith of his father.
As remarkable as these events are, if you’re familiar with the Gospels you know they’re not exactly outliers. The Bible records so many examples of Jesus healing the sick, driving out the demonic, and even (more than once) raising the dead. Maybe that’s why this particular miracle didn’t arrest my heart until my eyes drifted to the footnotes.
Some older versions of Scripture leave these two vital words in the text, while the rest relegate Christ’s mention of fasting to an afterthought at the bottom of the page. For the sake of time, I won’t pull on the thread that unravels the why. But I will focus on what matters most—we all have a “this kind.”
“This Kind”: What’s Yours?
The boy in this passage was controlled by a dark spirit that responded to prayer and fasting and nothing else. Not fretting. Not begging. Not bargaining. No, Jesus was clear, “this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”
I wonder what “this kinds” you face? Maybe. . .
- A broken relationship that cannot be made right by your best efforts and deepest longings?
- A bruise on your heart that stays tender no matter how much time goes by?
- A pattern of sin you cannot break?
- A root of bitterness you cannot wrench free from the soil?
- A need you cannot meet?
- An enemy you cannot defeat?
Let’s pause together for a moment and ask the Lord. What is it in our lives we are most desperate to see driven out? With your “this kind” in mind, take a second look at Mark 9.
When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?”
Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”(vv. 14–18, emphasis mine)
Our focus is naturally drawn to the description of the boy convulsing. But look past the drama of his condition and the crowd that clamored for a miracle. Find the disciples.Can’t you picture them standing sheepishly in the middle of the melee? Can’t you see their eyes drop to their sandals as Jesus declared, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you?”
Can’t you almost hear Him sigh as He said, “Bring him to me” (v. 19)?
Why was Jesus so uncharacteristically exasperated? Surely He was not mad at the boy who had been possessed since childhood (v. 21) or the dad who tenderly whimpered, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24). Could it be that His disciples had tried to solve this problem in their own strength? That they’d looked for a quick solution that allowed them to bypass admitting their desperate need for His help?
Sin has put every one of us on an uphill battle with pride. Prayer is not our default. We are ever grasping for bootstraps to pull ourselves up by, solutions dependent on our elbow grease, or effortless ways out of trouble.
Yet, the “this kinds” remain.
Fasting: A Step of Surrender
Fasting is not just one more tactic we can use to wiggle our way out of the trials that constrict us. God is far too good and too sovereign to be controlled. Fasting is a step of surrender, a way to showcase that the “this kinds” in our life are beyond us. It’s an outward expression of our inner desire to see God do what we cannot. Fasting throws our hands and our eyes up to the Lord as if to say, “I am powerless here, but you are able. You are God. I cannot move another step in this thing without you.”
Do you identify with the tired father today? Are you worn out from trying to solve your biggest problems in your own strength? Consider this: have prayer and fasting been your first, and most often deployed weapon, or are they relegated to the footnotes of your life?
Maybe you see yourself in the disciples. You’ve rubbed plenty of elbow grease into an area of woundedness or weakness only to find it still festering. Do you shake your head and wonder, “Why couldn’t [I] drive it out?” (v. 28). My question remains the same: have prayer and fasting been your first, and most often deployed weapon or are they relegated to the footnotes of your life?
We all have “this kinds.” This side of heaven, we always will. But Jesus will always be able to drive out what we cannot. We fast and pray to let go of our strength and to tap into His.