Training for the Ministry of Intercession (Part One)
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'Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible to you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting' ().
When the disciples saw Jesus cast the evil spirit out of the epileptic whom 'they could not cure,' they asked the Master for the cause of their failure. He had given them 'power and authority over all devils, and to cure all diseases.' They had often exercised that power, and joyfully told how the devils were subject to them. And yet now, while He was on the Mount, they had utterly failed. That there had been nothing in the will of God or in the nature of the case to render deliverance impossible, had been proved -- at Christ's bidding the evil spirit had gone out.
From their expression, 'Why could we not?' it is evident that they had wished and sought to do so; they had probably used the Master's name, and called upon the evil spirit to go out. Their efforts had been vain, and in presence of the multitude, they had been put to shame. 'Why could we not?'
Christ's answer was direct and plain: 'Because of your unbelief.'
The cause of His success and their failure was not owing to His having a special power to which they had no access. No, the reason was not far to seek. He had so often taught them that there is one power, that of faith, to which, in the kingdom of darkness, as in the kingdom of God, everything must bow. In the spiritual world failure has but one cause, the want of faith.
Faith is the one condition on which all Divine power can enter into man and work through him. It is the susceptibility of the unseen, man's will yielded up to, and molded by, the will of God. The power they had received to cast out devils, they did not hold in themselves as a permanent gift or possession; the power was in Christ, to be received, and held, and used by faith alone, living faith in Himself.
Had they been full of faith in Him as Lord and Conqueror in the spirit-world, had they been full of faith in Him as having given them authority to cast out in His name, this faith would have given them the victory. 'Because of your unbelief' was, for all time, the Master's explanation and reproof of impotence and failure in His Church.
But such want of faith must have a cause too. Well might the disciples have asked: 'And why could we not believe? Our faith has cast out devils before this, why have we now failed in believing? 'The Master proceeds to tell them ere they ask: 'This kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer.' As faith is the simplest, so it is the highest exercise of the spiritual life, where our spirit yields itself in perfect receptivity to God's Spirit and so is strengthened to its highest activity.
This faith depends entirely upon the state of the spiritual life. Only when this is strong and in full health, when the Spirit of God has full sway in our life, is there the power of faith to do its mighty deeds.
And therefore Jesus adds: 'Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer.' The faith that can overcome such stubborn resistance as you have just seen in this evil spirit, Jesus tells them, is not possible except to men living in very close fellowship with God, and in very special separation from the world -- in prayer and fasting.
And so He teaches us two lessons in regard to prayer of deep importance. The one, that faith needs a life of prayer in which to grow and keep strong. The other, that prayer needs fasting for its full and perfect development.
Faith needs a life of prayer for its full growth. In all the different parts of the spiritual life there is such close union, such unceasing action and re-action, that each may be both cause and effect. Thus it is with faith. There can be no true prayer without faith; some measure of faith must precede prayer.
And yet prayer is also the way to more faith; there can be no higher degrees of faith except through much prayer. This is the lesson Jesus teaches here. There is nothing needs so much to grow as our faith. 'Your faith groweth exceedingly,' is said of one Church.
When Jesus spoke the words, 'According to your faith be it unto you,' He announced the law of the kingdom, which tells us that all have not equal degrees of faith, that the same person has not always the same degree, and that the measure of faith must always determine the measure of power and of blessing. If we want to know where and how our faith is to grow, the Master points us to the throne of God. It is in prayer, in the exercise of the faith I have, in fellowship with the living God, that faith can increase. Faith can only live by feeding on what is Divine, on God Himself.
It is in the adoring worship of God, the waiting on Him and for Him, the deep silence of soul that yields itself for God to reveal Himself, that the capacity for knowing and trusting God will be developed. It is as we take His word from the Blessed Book, and bring it to Himself, asking him to speak it to us with His living loving voice, that the power will come fully to believe and receive the word as God's own word to us.
It is in prayer, in living contact with God in living faith, that faith, the power to trust God, and in that trust, to accept everything He says, to accept every possibility He has offered to our faith will become strong in us. Many Christians cannot understand what is meant by the much prayer they sometimes hear spoken of -- they can form no conception, nor do they feel the need, of spending hours with God. But what the Master says, the experience of His people has confirmed -- men of strong faith are men of much prayer.
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