And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able”…And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:17-18; 28-29 [ESV])
In the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, he recounts a fascinating story where a desperate father approaches Jesus’ disciples on behalf of his son, who had been tormented by an unclean spirit since childhood. Despite their best efforts, the disciples are unable to cast the spirit out.
What went through the disciples’ minds when they realized they were not going to be able to exorcise this spirit? Did they feel powerless and ineffective? Did they wonder why the authority they had previously demonstrated over evil spirits seemed to have left them? Did it even cross their minds that it was connected to a lack of prayer?
Though Jesus was not specifically addressing the advancement of the Gospel among unreached peoples in this passage, his words clearly demonstrate that there are some victories that simply will not come apart from prayer. In our efforts to minister to the 2.8 billion people who remain unreached and/or unengaged with the Gospel, could it be possible that we have neglected the place of prayer, and as a result, have not yet seen the breakthroughs that we so desperately need?
Anyone who seeks to partner with God in the missionary task will surely face their share of opposition from the evil one – whether it is one unclean spirit, or powers and principalities that seek to keep multitudes in spiritual darkness. Where will the power to win this battle for the souls of men come from? Leadership skills, outreach strategies, and financial resources are all good and needed, but let us never forget that some battles can only be won in the place of prayer.