The Resident Advisor responsible for my freshman wing in college was an ordained minister with the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American Protestant denomination. Our weekly hall meetings were a unique amalgamation of announcements and church—African-American style.
Terry Rhone challenged us in our commitment to Christ and demonstrated what a follower of Christ looked like. But one night, he left us with an adage that I will never forget. As you read the following lines, imagine as if you were sitting in an African-American church, with the minister standing at the pulpit, dressed in a minister’s robe, wiping his brow and the people fanning themselves around you. Here’s what he says:
Much prayer…much power.
Little prayer…little power.
No prayer…no power.
Scripture offers no sure-fire formulas, but this comes as close to any formula I know of.
Please join me as we explore this further.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Leviticus 20:22-27. Verse 23 says, “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you.” Granted, we can’t remove ourselves from our culture—but what if we lived in such a way that we deliberately chose which customs from our culture to adopt? One of the underlying themes of Leviticus is God’s command to live distinctively and differently than the surrounding culture.
Leviticus 21:1-22:16. Priests were required to work diligently to prevent being exposed to anything that would make them unclean. Imagine not being able to spend any time with a blind brother or a crippled neighbor or paying your respects to a deceased parent. That was the life of a priest.
We’ll likely get into this at a later time, but when Jesus died on the cross and the curtain in the Holy of Holies was ripped in two, not only did all of us become priests—but Jesus became our eternal high priest. He absorbed and disinfected our impurities, uncleanness, and sin. Neither pastor nor everyday follower of Jesus must live like the priests of old. God still calls us to holiness, but following Jesus’ example, we can walk alongside people in their brokenness and uncleanness.
Mark 9:1-13. Again, Mark highlights the shortcomings of the disciples. In verse 6 he gives us a window into what Peter was feeling at the transfiguration: “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” How would Mark, who wasn’t even a witness to Jesus or the transfiguration, know this? Legend tells us that his gospel is based on Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry. In other words, Peter told Mark what he was feeling.
Psalm 43. This psalm and Psalm 42 look very similar, and in many ancient Hebrew manuscripts, they appear as one psalm. Verse 5 is a great verse to meditate on when you’re feeling discouraged: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Proverbs 10:18. This is an interesting proverb. Hiding your hatred makes you a liar. This goes against conventional thinking—even today—which says, “Keep your feelings to yourself.” Yet, verse 19 says, “He who holds his tongue is wise.” Hiding your hatred and holding your tongue are two different things. When we hide our hatred, we deny to people around us what we’re feeling inside. Eventually, that hatred comes out one way or the other, either through passive aggression, aggression, or a outright eruption. Holding your tongue means keeping your words in check. This means to choose your words carefully.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
As much as many of us avoid it…
As much as many of us talk about it but never do it…
As much as many of us talk about it, don’t do it, and convince ourselves that we are doing it…
…prayer takes no shortcuts.
The disciples and teachers of the law were arguing over a poor, helpless boy who was “possessed by a spirit.” The term “possessed by a spirit” or “demon-possessed” is a terribly unfair and incorrect translation. A much better translation of this word is “demonized.” A demonized person may be harassed from the outside or from within.
The boy’s symptoms looked like epilepsy, but somehow, some way, there was a degree of demonic harassment.
Up to this point, we’ve read in the gospel of Mark that Jesus sent his disciples in his authority. In fact, Mark 3:15 tells us that Jesus gave them “authority to drive out demons.”
Yet they couldn’t drive out this particular demon. In fact, my hunch is that the disciples’ powerlessness was the subject of their argument with the teachers of the law.
And then with one fell swoop, Jesus delivered the boy from the demon.
Later, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
“This kind can come out only by prayer,” he replied. Think back through our readings in Matthew and Mark. On a regular basis Jesus excused himself from his ministry to spend quality time with his heavenly Father.
If you’re like me, we don’t start praying fervently until we need God’s intervention. And then when we pray, we start with something like, “God, I know I should have been praying earlier…but I really need your help.”
But what if we prayed fervently before we needed God to act on our behalf?
Our lives would be different—and I think we’d look and act a lot more like Jesus.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- What customs from your culture have you deliberately chosen not to adopt? Why did you make this decision?
- How can followers of Jesus live deliberately and distinctly different in our culture?
- What prevents you from praying? What helps motivate you to pray?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.