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How to Pray for Significant Spiritual Needs—Mark 9:14-29

How to Pray for Significant Spiritual Needs

Mark 9:14-29

Let's talk about prayer.

  • What kind of faith do you have in the Church today?
  • What do you expect of the Church (collectively)?
  • What do you see the Church doing?
  • What kind of faith do you have for the ministry and impact of your Church?


These are important questions because what we believe is what we receive. Of course that is not a blank check, but if we have been obedient to the Scriptures; if our beliefs are in line with the Scriptures; and our requests are in keeping with God's will, then we are assured that what we believe and ask for we shall receive (Matt. 9:29; Mark 9:23; John 15:7). First John 5:14-15 says,"This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if he hears us, whatever we ask we know that we have what we asked of him.”

What keeps us from seeing the fulfillment of many of Scriptural promises? A study of Mark 9 gives us some insights on how to pray for significant spiritual needs.

The Setting (Matt. 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29).

Here's the scene. The transfiguration of Jesus had taken place on the mountain, with the inner circle —Peter, James and John—eyewitnesses of what took place. The Lord and His three disciples came down the mountain and there met the other disciples, who were arguing with a large crowd. When the crowd saw Jesus, they ran to Him. The Lord was quickly aware of what was going on.

The Symptoms of the Incident (Mark 9:14-29)

The obvious symptoms were a concerned and suffering parent and a suffering "only" child. The disciples could do nothing (which was typical of them; the exception being the ministry report of 72 that Jesus sent out-—Luke 10:17-20).

This is a picture of the Church at times. The world would love to go directly to Jesus, but it doesn't know how, so it goes to His disciples, His Church, His followers. Unfortunately, the Church is often unable to minister to significant spiritual needs. We have the power and authority, but we often fail to see God's healing take place.We are sometimes better at arguing than healing, and some even get caught up in an emotional frenzy like the crowds in this story, rushing here and there hoping to see Jesus do a miracle.


The Situation Explained

Was this situation God's intention? We'll look at three reasons it happened:


  • a lack of faith and freedom;
  • a lack of listening and learning; and
  • a lack of prayer and power.

    These are why the disciples had problems, and it is the same for us today.

    a lack of faith and freedom

    vv. 18-19—"…Whenever it [the spirit] seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 19] "O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

    Think about what the Lord could have said in this situation. He could have explained away what the disciples were unable to do, saying something like, "Oh, these men are just human. Some day when I come back again then you will see supernatural power unleashed. But today is not a day of miracles." He could have explained away the symptoms as not really being what they appeared to be. He might have said, "This kind of ministry is reserved for those who are gifted in casting out demons. These guys are just trainees. You can't expect a whole lot from them." No!

    Observe what He said to the disciples (v. 19); He reproved them for two things:

    • their lack of faith"Oh unbelieving…” That lack of faith contributed to their failure.
    • their lack of freedom"Oh unbelieving generation…” These men should have been different from their generation, but they were powerless. Why weren't they free from the unbelief of the day? They did not expect the kingdom of God to intersect with their lives and give them the same results as Jesus got. They were caught up in their generation's mindset, expecting the Messiah to come in power and release them from Roman domination. If we read the verses following this incident, we see Jesus attempted to adjust their view immediately (see vv. 30-32).

    We have the same problem. We don't see the miraculous in our lives as we see it in Scripture. Maybe we don't believe the miraculous will happen. Maybe we are caught inour generation's mindset that is more attuned to science, investigation, explanation, and information than it is to the supernatural power God has available for us. Some of us may even have a worldview that does not allow for the miraculous, so we don't see it.

    Sadly, some of us may be like Jesus' hometown (Mark 6:1-6). Our theology says it is possible, but do we really believe God performs miracles today? Would Jesus say to us,"oh unbelieving generation?The most difficult challenge for Christians today is to stay free from the expectations, biases and pull of the world's viewpoint. We need to have our minds transformed and renewed, so that we will not be conformed to the thinking of this world—Romans 12:1-2.

    a lack of listening and learning

    v. 19b—"How long shall I stay with you? (Haven't you been learning anything?) "How long shall I put up with you? (Aren't you listening to me? Aren't you watching me? Aren't you able now to do what I have commanded you to do?)

    The disciples obviously had not been listening and therefore were not learning. Are we any different? What is our problem today? We certainly lack learning and listening as well. If we watch and listen, what can we pick up from this incident? We can take a number of steps when we face this kind of an impossible situation, when a ministry opportunity is beyond our ability or experience.

    Bring the person to Jesus. v. 19c—"Bring the boy to me.” The answer is not faith in you, or the Church ("They can heal me there.") It's not faith in a formula (learn from Acts 19:13-17). Neither is it faith in your experience: "No problem, I've seen this kind of situation many times." Faith in our training, prayers, or insight—classes, seminars, etc.—is misplaced, too. They are helpful, but our faith is not in them. The answer is Jesus. He is the Creator and Lord of the universe. He alone is able to meet the real needs of people.

    The only reason we can do this, however, is because we have experience and time spent with Jesus prior to the ministry opportunity. We need time spent talking to Him so we know His will; time in the Word reviewing how He responded to various needs; lots of time just walking with Jesus, reflecting and meditating on His manner and even method of ministry. (Read the gospels often.) We must spend time with Him in spiritual warfare for our own needs—Luke 22:31-32.

    Respond with positive faith-filled action, not with fear of Satan's power. Jesus is in us-—v. 19c. Expect the roaring lion to roar (1 Peter 5:8); expect opposition. Expect, however, to win—1 John 4:4; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:1-18, etc. Notice the scare tactics in Mark 9:20. So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Notice Jesus' reaction in v. 21—Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?” "From childhood,” he answered.

    Observe and ask questions—v. 20. Watch the Lord. The father had already given a list of the symptoms, but that was not enough for Jesus. He asked for more information; He wasn't rushing into prayer. Praying accurately is important (v. 21). Jesus learned the problem had been going on for a long time, and also found a misconception (v. 22—"It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”) What should we do when we hear a lie, a misunderstanding, a misconception?

    Instruct and strengthen faith. v. 23b—"Everything is possible for him who believes.”Jesus corrected the misconception. He was obviously concerned for the long-term needs of the father and the son, not just the healing. Our concern, likewise, should be greater than short-term solutions and extend to the future ministry of the people we are helping and their walks with God—2 Cor. 1:3-7. People remember ministry in the time of crisis! Second Corinthians 1:3-7 shows us that the ministry we receive today is storing up ministry potential in the future.

    Listen for the heart. v. 24—Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  It is very important to allow the person to talk, not to speak too quickly. Continue to question them, or ask for clarification. Remember, listening and learning are tied together.

    The heart is where the real need will often be found—Matt 12:34; 15:8.

    The father in Mark 9 is like most of us—he had a little faith mixed with doubts and unbelief. Did Jesus answer the man's prayer for help? Did he wait until the man was perfect in his understanding before He answered his prayer? The next step comes only after the above steps.

    Make a diagnosis and go for it. There comes a time when discussion is no longer valuable. We need to get bold in prayer and discernment! v. 25—When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

    Jesus apparently didn't want a show (v. 25a). He rebuked the evil spirit, addressing it by name. (By the way, the name of a demon is what it does.) Next, He commanded the spirit to come out and to never enter again.

    Jesus demonstrated a number of things here that we should observe and apply to our ministries, dealing with each situation uniquely, as we should. Don't get locked into the same way of dealing with your ministry opportunities. Jesus is not the only one who can rebuke and resist the enemy; 1 Peter 5:9 tells us we can resist Satan, too. Notice what precedes and follows this verse; this kind of ministry doesn't happen without the fulfillment of the prerequisites. (Refer to I Peter 5:5-11 and James 4:4-12 for further insight.)

    Notice Jesus also relied on the Holy Spirit to discern what kind of spirit He was dealing with, and we must do the same as we are ministering to others. Be aware of the prompting of the Spirit for words of knowledge, wisdom, discernment and prophecy. The Holy Spirit is your partner in this kind of ministry—Acts 5:1-4; 8:29; 10:19-20.

    Note: If you are in a small group and praying for a member of that group, expect the Holy Spirit to use each of you, maybe in different ways. Don't be afraid of pauses and silence, and encourage one another to speak and act as the Spirit might. If you have had more experience at praying for people, allow the less experienced person to watch and observe. Afterwards, you might spend time discussing what happened, e.g., Jesus and the disciples.

    As you are ministering, pay attention. Keep watching, observing changes and continuing to pray or act if needed. vv. 26-27 —The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead. 27] But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. We should not limit our prayer to one time. We should carry on a conversation and see if we need to continue to pray—Mark 8:24. Pray for things as they come up. Offer assistance as it is needed—v. 27. Practical assistance and wisdom may also be a part of the answer to someone's need.

    The disciples later asked why they were unable to drive the evil spirit out . v. 28—After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?” Jesus made it clear this kind of supernatural ministry could only happen when we fulfill certain conditions.

    This observation leads us to observe the third deficiency:

    The lack of prayer and power

    v. 29—He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer.” He made it clear that this kind of ministry only happens consistently when people are praying. (Some translations add "and fasting.") These spiritual disciplines were needed before this incident occurred. Jesus did not pray to His Father at this moment, but remember where He had been—in the presence of God (Mk. 9:2-7). Jesus was fresh from His Father's presence when the incident took place. I don't believe Jesus was advocating a formula prayer, but a lifestyle of prayer, with specific times given for concerted and specific prayer and fasting. Mark 1:35-38 and Matt. 4:1-2 are examples of Jesus' pattern of setting aside times for prayer. 
    (See outline: The Adjustment of Fasting.) There is a great difference between Jesus' preparation and that of the disciples.

    "This kind of significant spiritual need cannot be helped except by a heart which is kept fresh, alive and in touch with God through a life of prayer and fasting."

    Discussion/Application Questions

    1. Why are people with significant needs not being healed today? Give your best reasons before you look to the Scripture. Then look up the following verses and do one of two things: Give a one-sentence summary reason why people might not be healed in America today as they are in the third world and in the Scripture, OR give a sentence summary about what these verses tell us concerning ministry to the sick, injured, afflicted. After you have answered, notice the possible responses in the appendix.
    2. What reason is mentioned here for a lack of healing?—James 5:15a; Mark 6:1-6.
    3. What do we observe about the timing of healing?—Mark 8:22-26; 9:14-29; John 9:3.
    4. Why are some people not healed?—James 5:16. What might be the result of doing what James 5:16 instructs us to do?—Psalm 32:1-5. What can illness/sickness/affliction do for us? Psalm 119:71, Psalm 119:67, 2 Cor. 12:7-10, Gal. 4:12-13
    5. How should we respond to the weak/sick?—Gal. 4:12-15; 1 Thess. 5:14.
    6. What sorts of sickness/weakness should we expect as a part of life?— 2 Cor. 4:16.
    7. What is the ultimate goal that can be accomplished through suffering?—2 Cor. 4:16-18.
    8. What other means can be used by God to assist in healing us?—1 Tim. 5:23. Who was Luke and what was his profession?—2 Tim. 4:11. What did Epaphroditus do for Paul?—Phil. 2:25-27. What was Epaphroditus' condition when he was with Paul?—Phil. 2:26-27.
    9. Summarize what the above verses say to you about healing. Must we always have answers to our "why" questions? Why?
    10. What does the incident in Mark tells us about praying for neighbors, extended family members, coworkers, fellow students, friends and even those who are strangers to us? What should happen prior to prayer?
    11. What kinds of prayer do you feel would be appropriate in the following settings?
      In an office
      In a public school or university/college classroom
      In a neighbor's house
      In a church/small group gathering
    12. In the above settings, what guidelines would you observe based on your own experience or the observation of others?
    13. What does this scene in Mark 9 say to you about your personal need to pray for others?
    14. What do you intend to do as a result of this teaching?


    Possible Answers to Question #1

    Why aren't people healed today as they were in the Scripture? What do these verses tell us about ministry to the sick, injured, afflicted?

    • No faith/little faith—v. 15a, Mark 6:1-6
    • Healing is delayed/progressive—Mark 8:22-26; 9:14-29; John 9:3
    • No confession of sin—v. 16. Result: Psalm 32:1-5.
    • Our illness gets our attention. For instance: Affliction teaches us the Word—Psalm 119:71. Affliction teaches us not to wonder—Psalm 119:67.
    • Sickness/weakness can be used to lead us and strengthen us—II Cor. 12:7-10; Gal. 4:12-13.
    • Don't shoot wounded—Gal. 4:12-15. Help the weak—I Thess. 5:14 (hug and hold them).
    • The body wears out—II Cor. 4:16.
    • Suffering can achieve good—II Cor. 4:16-18.
    • Other means used—I Tim. 5:23, e.g., doctors.
    • Do not know why.