In Mark 9, there’s a great story with an even better lesson.

Jesus and His “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) are on a mountain experiencing the miracle of the Transformation – the appearance of Moses and Elijah along with God’s voice from heaven.

Meanwhile, though, at the bottom of the mountain the other nine disciples are trying to carry on Jesus’ ministry without Jesus.  It doesn’t go well.  A father with a demonized son comes looking for Jesus.  He pleads with the disciples to help his boy.  They try, but are not successful.

Jesus comes down the mountain, walks into the commotion and asks what’s going on.  The disciples are embarrassed to answer, but the disappointed father speaks up, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out.  I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”

Jesus shows His aggravation with His disciples, “'How long shall I put up with you?’  He calls for the boy to be brought to Him and is told that this tragic affliction has persisted since childhood.  The father, having just witnessed the failure of the nine, pleads with Jesus, ‘If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’”

“’If You can?’ Jesus asks.  ‘All things are possible to him who believes.’”  The father answers with amazing honesty, “’I do believe; help my unbelief.’”  Then Jesus casts out the demon and restores a healed son to a grateful father.

The lesson for the disciples comes later, in a private moment.  “’Why could we not drive out the demon?’ they ask.  Jesus answers, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.’”  That suggests they had tried to cast out the demon without praying.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus’ answer is framed differently. “’Because of the littleness of your faith,’ He says.”  Matthew 17:20

Notice there is an implied connection between faith and prayer.  In Mark their failure is because of a lack of prayer.  In Matthew their failure is because of a lack of faith.  The two do go hand in hand.  The more we believe, the more we pray.  The less we believe, the less we pray.  Prayer is an expression of our trust in and our dependence upon God.

Realize, though, the faith required is not a crazy-big faith.  In Matthew’s account Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move a mountain – nothing will be impossible.  Unfortunately, at least on this occasion, the nine disciples didn’t even have mustard seed faith.  But did you notice the father, who admitted his serious doubts, did have faith.

Does that surprise you?  It does me.  A man who probably heard no more than a rumor that Jesus could exorcise demons has more faith than Jesus’ disciples who had been watching Him perform miracles with regularity!  How can that be?

Well, put yourself in the sandals of those nine followers of Jesus.  The father begs them to cast out the evil spirit.  I can picture these guys, looking at each other and smiling, “We got this!  We’ve been with Jesus.  We’ve seen Him do this a hundred times. This is not a problem!”  And then they try and fail miserably.

They failed because they are a lot like us.  They were trusting in their own confidence – self-confidence.  And Jesus says to them and to you and me, “You didn’t put your faith in me.”  They had forgotten the power was not in them, but in the One they followed.

The father had plenty of doubt and a little bit of faith.  And yet it was enough, because the faith he had was in Jesus.

How about you today?  I’m more than humbled by Jesus’ lesson.  And I’m reminded by Paul that “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:1)  Strength comes from depending on Jesus and not on me.

Can we, like the father, be desperate enough to abandon all our self-confidence and in our brokenness, confess our inability and just say, “Lord, we can’t do this.  We have no power in ourselves to do effective ministry and bear lasting fruit for the kingdom.  If we don’t move over and let You move in and through us, nothing of value is going to happen.”