This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.(Mark 9:29 NASB)
Anything but prayer.
In my Bible where this verse has been highlighted, I’ve underscored those three words and written in the margin, “Yep. That’s us. Anything but prayer.”
To be sure, I’ve taken those three words right out of their context. That is, I’m using them in ways not intended in the text. But the point is a valid one: We are prone to try everything in the world before we turn to prayer.
Somewhere I read where a fellow was talking with his elderly grandmother about a family problem that was eating at her. “Well, in the final analysis, Grandma,” he said, “All we can do is pray about it.”
“Oh my,” she said. “Has it come to that?”
Yes, and sooner or later it always comes to that.
Let’s talk about that.
Some years ago I was reading everything I could lay my hands on concerning how to help a child come to know the Lord. There were so many complicating aspects of this issue, from gauging their understanding to the age of accountability, how to respond to their questions, what they need to know, etc.
As I recall, one book devoted 39 chapters to the question. The title of the last chapter blew me away: Finally, All We Can Do is Pray.
Finally? As though it’s the last thing we should do.
All we can do? As thought that’s the least thing we can do.
Better we think of prayer as the first thing to do and the best thing we can possibly do.
After all, what could be more critical than calling on the resources of Heaven for a problem?
I think of David’s prayer in Psalm 19:13, Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.
Whatever else “presumptuous” means here, it surely refers to doing the Lord’s work in our own ways. Using our own techniques, depending on our own resources, giving it our best shot. Relying on the best wisdom of man.
In other words, failing miserably.
The simple fact of the matter is the Lord never intended that His work would be done except by His strength and in the manner in which He directs.
And that is always going to require that we pray and ask Him for the strength and to direct us in the way to use it.
Recently six of us sat on an ordination council for a fine young minister. At one point, a theological professor asked Stephen to tell us some area of his life where he still needs to grow. He didn’t hesitate.
“I tend to be an activist,” he said. “I sometimes run on ahead of the Lord without seeking Him.”
When he finished, I said, “May I comment on that?”
I told Stephen about David in II Samuel chapter 5. He had just become king of the newly re-united kingdom of Israel, and was about to face his first challenge.
A servant came running in to announce that the Philistines were arrayed for battle in the Valley of Rephaim. No doubt David will want to mobilize his army and march to meet them.
But not so fast.
“When David heard of it, he went down to his stronghold.” That would be his place of prayer.
“David inquired of the Lord.” (II Samuel 5:19)
God assured David that he was to send his army to do battle with the Philistines. He did and won a great victory.
All is well, right? Well, not hardly.
A few days later, a servant comes in to say, “Uh king? They’re back. The Philistines want another dose.”
Now, David knew the Lord wanted him to fight these enemies, right? Had not God said so a few days earlier?
That was not enough for David. This is a different time, so the Lord’s will might not be the same.
“Therefore David inquired of the Lord (again).” (5:23)
This time, the Lord instructed him to send his army around behind them, to come at them from the rear. That was the last thing the Philistines expected, and David won another great victory.
We must not assume that because God told us to do a thing one way yesterday, it applies to today. We must pray without ceasing, and be willing to bring every situation before Him in constant prayer.
The human tendency is to try anything and everything before we drop to our knees for prayer. And that is part of what Scripture means when it says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) To be righteous means to look to the Lord in every situation.
“Father, make us people of constant, urgent prayer. For Jesus’ sake. For our own sake. Amen.”