Fasting and Praying
TRANSCRIPT OF MATTHEW #49....
We’ve come to the third great section of Matthew’s gospel, Matt. 16:21 through chapter 25. We call that section ”The nature of the kingdom”. The whole book is about the kingdom of heaven. To put it into simple words, it’s a spiritual kingdom. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of the heart; it’s internal. It’s a kingdom of the spirit rather than external; rather than form. It’s a kingdom where the king rules. It’s a kingdom of relationship to the king. In order to make this study practical, we’ve divided these nine chapters into two parts. The first part is chapter 16:21 through chapter 17 and then chapter 18 through chapter 25. Chapter 16:21 through chapter 17 gives us the essence of the spiritual life. In other words, what does it mean to be spiritual? This gives you the very nerve center of what it means to live in relationship with God. This is the heart and core of His kingdom. If I want to enter into the joys and privileges of His kingdom, what basic principles must be true in my life? This section gives three great principles illustrated by the three stories in that section.
Then the second part, chapters 18 through 25 gives the results of that kind of living in my life. If I really enter into this, if that is true in my life and that is true in my life and that is true in my life, then all these things will follow automatically and naturally and I’ll be able to look at that section and those principles and see them as true in my life. If Iack these, I don’t have to work on these. I need to run back to chapter 16:21 through 17 and ask the Lord to work those things in my heart.
There are three stories in that first section. The first covers the first eight verses of chapter 17, the transfiguration. The second is the story that took place right after they came down from the mountain of transfiguration when the Lord Jesus cast the demon out of the lunatic. Then the end of the chapter gives the story of the miracle of the coin that was lodged in the fish’s gill. The last time we looked at the first story. Let me restate that principle and then we’ll pick up the second story.
We stated the principle in three words. The principle of the transfiguration is seeing Jesus glorified. That’s the principle; not just seeing Jesus but seeing Jesus glorified. Thousands of Christians just see Jesus. They just get the shell, the outside. They study His miracles or His perfect life or His parables or the facts of redemption, His death and His resurrection and then they say, “I’ve seen Jesus. I can tell you all of the facts.” Well, that’s just the outside. That’s just the external. To see Jesus glorified is to see the internal; to see as it’s illustrated in the transfiguration; that which is within; the light of God coming out so that you see Jesus. But we see more than Jesus. We see the Godhead in Christ Jesus; the light within.
I’d like to spend a lot more time here because nothing is more important really than seeing Jesus glorified. If you aren’t seeing Jesus glorified, you aren’t spiritual. You might be religious but you aren’t spiritual. That’s why that’s the heart and core of everything. As we illustrated last time, it’s impossible to have surrender without seeing Jesus glorified. It’s impossible to understand the bible without seeing Jesus glorified. It’s impossible to have any victory in your life without seeing Jesus glorified. It’s impossible to understand Christian service without seeing the Lord Jesus glorified in your life. It’s impossible to enjoy unity among God’s people without seeing Jesus glorified. All of that is illustrated in the transfiguration. So, if you don’t understand that principle, don’t play games with this. Don’t fake it in your life. This is basic. We’re not just having a bible study. We’re talking about life and living in union with our God. So, ask the Lord to open your heart to that. Nothing can be more sobering than this; if you are wrong there, you are wrong everywhere; nothing else will work in your Christian life if you haven’t learned to see Jesus glorified. So, don’t let that pass you by. Make sure you get that and trust the Lord in your heart. Otherwise you’ll be dwarfed in your whole Christian life. You’ll be stunted. You can’t afford to miscarry on that first principle.
In addition to seeing Jesus glorified, there are two other building blocks, foundation stones; two other great truths and life principles that give you the heart and core of what it means to live spiritually. Let’s begin with the second story, Matt. 17:14-23, “When they came to the multitude, a man came up to Him, falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic, and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. The disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move, and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’ And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.’ And they were deeply grieved.”
Almost everyone who studies this passage points out the contrast between the two scenes; the glory on the mountaintop, the transfiguration, and then the gloom in the valley. As soon as you come down it seems to be the opposite. There’s a contrast between the mountaintop of exaltation and the valley of humiliation found below. Some people have this wrong idea, that the contrast is spiritual. In other words, the mountain top, the transfiguration is spiritual but then after a while you’ve got to come back down to earth where the lunatics are and pay your taxes. They have this idea that the mountaintop is spiritual but then come back down to earth. It’s good to get revived now and then and have a spiritual experience and see the glory of God on the mountaintop but then come down to reality and come back to earth where there is real life and pain and suffering and heartache.
That’s not 100% true as we’ll see. According to the Holy Spirit’s presentation of this passage in Matt. 17, the valley was every bit of spiritual as the mountain. It’s a contrast alright but it’s not contrasting the spiritual with the natural. It was a spiritual contest here in the valley. When the Lord Jesus cast out that demon, that was a spiritual work. And the next story is also spiritual when God supernaturally provides the temple tax through the miracle of the coin that is lodged in the fish’s gill. There’s nothing unspiritual about that. The famous Italian artist Rafael tried to capture the contrast in his famous painting called “The Transfiguration”. If you’ve seen that painting it’s a marvelous thing. At the top of the picture he pictures the transfiguration and the glory of the Lord and he has all of this radiance and glory. And then at the bottom he tried to picture the contrast, the frustration, of the disciples, helpless in the presence of that Father and child and the awful agony and suffering of the father and the child.
In that picture he pictures the nine disciples pointing up toward the glory and toward Christ, as if to say, “There’s hope but not in us but there’s hope in Christ.” Unfortunately Rafael died at 37 before he finished that painting. One of his students finished the painting as he thought Rafael intended. We don’t really know if the whole was his idea or not. In order to get this scene before your eyes, rather than reading Mark’s account (which is the full record of it in chapter 9) and Luke’s account, let me just mention the six individuals that were present at the bottom of the mountain. I think as you look at these facts, the scene will begin to paint itself in your mind’s eye.
First of all, there were the nine disciples at the bottom of the mountain. I say nine because you remember Peter, James and John were with the Lord Jesus on the top of the mountain of transfiguration. It’s easy to picture the nine because this is the first time in the record, the first time in the ministry of Christ that His disciples had a public failure. They tried and failed. The disciples had attempted to cast out the demon and they couldn’t do it. The father brought his son to them and these nine disciples (in the original Greek) tried to cast out the demons again and again and over and over again. When they were first sent out, the Lord Jesus said, “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leper. Cast out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” And they did.
They went out for over a year and they did exactly that. They healed the sick and raised the dead and they cast out demons and they cleansed lepers; so much so, they were so excited when they came back, later on with the seventy, that they came to the Lord Jesus and said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And there was a caution Jesus gave them, “Don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” See, they had done it many times. They had seen the Lord Jesus deliver demon possessed people through their mouths, through them as instruments. But this time it didn’t work and they failed and they didn’t know why. They were confused. They had seen it dozen of times. They knew the formula and how to do it. They saw God do it and they marveled at it.The nine disciples were on the bottom of the mountain and they were red faced. They were embarrassed and ashamed. They had tried to minister for the Lord and they had blown it. They failed and they were confused and frustrated and didn’t know why.
Then the second group, the scribes were there. Certainly they couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this! Nine disciples, followers of the Lord Jesus and they couldn’t do it. In Mark 9:13, the scribes began to argue with them. They were right there to mock them and make fun of them, to laugh. “What happened, boys? Did you lose your power? What’s the matter? Satan too strong for you? Can’t do anything when Jesus isn’t here, can you? Now you are on your own. Maybe you’ve been deceived and He’s not the Christ after all.” The bible says that the scribes were arguing with the disciples.
When Jesus came down, according to Mark’s gospel, He gave a mild rebuke and said to His disciples, “Why are you discussing this with them?” Same as saying, “Don’t argue with them.” My heart goes out to those disciples. I think almost any Christian can enter into this. I’ll speak for myself. I know what it is to fall on my face in the service of the Lord and fall flat and blow it and fail completely; to contradict everything I love and believe, to contradict that with my life. In moments like that I find myself talking fast. When you blow it, then you begin to talk fast and you feel like you’ve got to give some kind of an explanation why it didn’t work; why when you trusted God He didn’t come through. And then I might say, “Well, it’s not His fault. I might have held back in my surrender and blah blah.” You feel like you’ve got to give some explanation why God doesn’t come through and provide and deliver and why He didn’t heal or work it out.
The scribes were there and the bible said that there was a heated argument going on and the scribes were digging it in and they were toying with these disciples and mocking and jeering. Sometimes I feel like those disciples trying to give an answer. Sometimes I feel like the scribes. You can’t escape any of these applications that the Lord has. Sometimes somebody doesn’t agree with my theology, I like to think I’m objective rather than subjective. What I mean by that is that I want to rest on facts and not on experiences. I want to know that it’s written rather that, “I had a dream, or a vision, or an experience.” And sometimes because I’m so objective (and I speak as a fool) I want to take a subjective Christian and shake them. I want to say, “Why are you doing that. Why are you trusting in feelings? Why don’t you just trust in the Lord. He’s there whether you feel it or not.” And sometimes I find the old scribe attitude in my heart where I almost feel happy if they fail. “See, I told you. You shouldn’t be trusting in experiences and in feelings. Now you blew it and I’m glad.”
My natural heart is a scribe’s heart. It’s a terrible thing to rejoice when God’s people fail, no matter how shallow we think they are. The possibility could reverse; we could be the shallow one. We’ve got our own subjective standards and we’re trusting everyone to trust our standard. It’s a terrible thing when God’s people fail and we should never rejoice. Back to the scene. The disciples were there and all red faced and frustrated and the scribes were there taking advantage of this rare opportunity to mock and dig and further frustrate the disciples. Then the bible says that the crowd was there. As you would expect, the crowd was acting like a crowd; neutral. They aren’t taking either side but they’re all gathering around to watch. The gospel of Mark says that the crowd was large and was growing. Crowds are like that. They see a fight on the side of the road or an accident or an argument or a fire, it won’t be long before you see a crowd because they sort of gather around whenever there is some kind of excitement. That’s what they were doing here.
The disciples were embarrassed because they couldn’t do a miracle and the scribes were arguing and fighting and now the crowd gets around and they’re watching which way it will come out. Mark says that when Jesus came down the mountain, evidently he still had the glow of the glory of God on His face because it says that when the crowd saw Him they were amazed and they ran toward Him. And most certainly the father was there. This is one of the things this story so heart rending. Luke tells us that this was not only his only son but it was His only child. You picture the agony in the father’s heart and the pain in his soul, as a father and to those who are parents, you can enter into this a little bit. Nothing hurts as much as seeing your children suffer and not be able to do anything to help them. That’s an awful frustration. I can picture this father holding his delirious child in his arms and the child in a convulsion, waving his arms madly in the air and the father holding him but not really reaching him, having him close to his body but not able to touch his real need and minister to him. That’s a terror for a father and a mother to watch their children suffer.
The bible says that for years this father had loved his child in agony, seeing him in convulsions, seeing the vacant gaze on his eyes and his hanging lips. The bible said that he couldn’t speak in human sounds; only grunt like an animal and groan like an animal. The father must have watched him as he fell everywhere, sometimes in the water and sometimes in the fire, trying to kill himself. The father was there and he had seen the disciples fail in their attempt to heal his son. Luke puts in very beautifully; that the father came and begged those disciples. I can picture that as a father, “Can’t you do something? Can’t you help my boy, my only son?” The father was there.
And the son was there and that really pulls your heart into the scene. Mark describes in these details, “He foamed at the mouth and was grinding his teeth and he stiffened out and he rolled about.” Luke adds, “He fell into fits of screams and was thrown violently to the ground.” You certainly have a contrast here to what was happening on the mountain of glory. There the Lord Jesus was touching heaven, touching the Shekinah glory cloud, in the fellowship of God and down below is this discord and frustration and suffering and pain, and scorn from the scribes. And yet, as we get into this, there was no adjustment in the Lord Jesus. He was the same in the valley as He was on the mountaintop. He was really in rest up there and he was in rest down there, too.
We would run into this scene all in a frantic, ‘What are we going to do?” But not Jesus; there was emergency here for Him. He was still in rest and still at ease; no emergency, no anxiety. He didn’t go into a nervous breakdown. The disciples and the scribes and the crowd and the father and the son were there. There was one more that was there. He’s the cause of all the agony. Satan himself was there. The devil had a victory; at least temporary in this young child.
Bishop Hall makes this comment, “”Out of hell there is no greater misery than demon possession; even worse than the most violet disease.” I think he’s right. Even in the presence of Christ this demon tried to show his maliciousness and his cruelty. He wanted to hurt and destroy, to corrupt. Even in the presence of Christ he threw him down into a wild convulsion. I read this in another commentary by Fuller describing that final convulsion that left the boy laying unconscious and as dead. He said, “Satan, like a bad tenant who lease ran out hates his landlord and does all the damage he can before he leaves because he has received his notice of eviction.” I think that’s true. He just wants to damage the whole house before he leaves.
The gospel of Luke says that the demon mauled him without intermission; just mauled that child. Alright. That’s the scene. Get it before you. We’re going to look at the principle but I want you to picture this; bottom of the Mount of Transfiguration, frustrated disciples, mocking scribes, a curious crowd, a broken hearted father, suffering child and a very vicious enemy of our souls, Satan Himself. Calmly enter this scene our Lord Jesus after His experience on the mount.
Having the facts before us let me try to nail down the great life principle. I believe if we can stand back from the story, we’ll see the principle and then may God give us grace to apply it in our hearts and lives. Let me state it for you and then illustrate it in the story. The principle can be stated in these words, “Not only seeing Jesus glorified but a spiritual Christian is also one who trusts Jesus unreservedly.” Let me illustrate that in the story. That’s the principle; trusting Jesus unreservedly. If you aren’t trusting Jesus unreservedly, then you aren’t understanding the nature of the kingdom. It’s a spiritual kingdom and that’s required.
Even at a surface glance you can see the problem in this passage is “unbelief”. Matt. 17:17, “Oh unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you; how long will I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” Mark 9, again unbelief. Jesus dealt with the unbelief of the father. Mark 9:22&23, the father comes to Jesus and says, “If you can do anything, than have pity on us and help us.” Jesus answered, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.” Then the bible says that poor father burst into tears and said, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.”
When the whole incident was over and the multitude was marveling about all that happened, the nine disciples went privately to Jesus. Matt. 17:19, “Why could we not cast him out?” “What happened? We were all embarrassed. We are out in the service of the King and we fell on our faces. We were out serving You, Lord, and we were so embarrassed. We did it in Your name. We tried to work a miracle and you let us down. What happened? Why couldn’t we do it?” Verse 20 He answers, “Because of the littleness of your faith.” Other manuscripts say “unbelief”. “Because of your unbelief.” “Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from there to there,’ and it shall move and nothing shall be impossible.
Once again, I think you see from that the context is unbelief and faith. That’s why I said the principle is faith; not only seeing Jesus glorified but trusting Jesus unreservedly. That’s the great principle. To understand what this means, let me describe it in the unique words that the Lord Jesus used in verse 21, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” By the way, let me say this. Some people, destructive critics will probably try to steal part of your bible and they’ll take a verse like verse 21 and say, “Are you familiar with the fact that the best Greek manuscripts do not have that verse? I wouldn’t put too much weight on a verse like that because it’s not in the oldest manuscripts. Well, we don’t have the original manuscripts and you’ve got to believe that the Holy Spirit of God preserved our bibles as they have been handed down to us. It’s not in the oldest manuscripts and we don’t have the original but it’s in hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts. It’s part of the bible. Don’t have trouble believing any part of this bible. You just come and pull out all the stops and thank the Lord for the way He has preserved it for you in English. I’m not talking about Greek and Hebrew. What you’ve got in here you can trust God.
The essence of real faith is in those word “prayer and fasting”. Jesus said that the great work of casting this kind, this type of demon was only done by those who prayed and fasted. What did he mean by that? What was He saying? If you miss that, you miss the heart of this whole passage. Was he talking about literal prayer? “Let’s get together and get up early and pray together and bow our heads and fold our hands?” You see, prayer as He’s using it here is not so much an act as it is an attitude. It’s not an impulse. True prayer doesn’t begin when you kneel down and it doesn’t end when you rise again. True prayer is a matter of the heart and it can be summarized in these words, “Laying hold of God.” That’s what prayer is. Whatever else it includes, it includes that; gripping God; laying hold and embracing Him; taking God into the situation, into the circumstance. It’s not forms, words, strange positions that you sit or kneel in or lay in or recline in or something else. It’s a heart that holds God; that grips Him. That’s prayer.
Just so, there’s a principle under fasting. We’re not talking about some literal act. He’s talking about an attitude; fasting. He’s not talking about denying yourself a couple of meals or denying yourself washings or anointings or sleep. That’s just a picture. God gave pictures and underneath the pictures are great principles. If you only see the pictures, then you are to be pitied because you miss the great principles that are underneath them.
There’s only one fast in the Old Testament that was commanded and that was the Day of Atonement. That’s the only fast that is commanded in the bible. They had other fasts. If you go through the bible you can see the different times they fasted. They fasted when things went wrong. They fasted when somebody died. They fasted when there was a threat of war. They fasted after they had committed grievous sins against God. They fasted when judgment was imminent. Many times they fasted. The bible says that when Jerusalem was captured they all held a fast and when the temple was burned they held a fast. The Pharisees believed Moses went up the second time for the tablet of law on Mount Sinai and went up on the Thursday and came down on Monday. So, they fasted every Thursday and Monday. Luke tells us they fasted twice a week on Thursday and Monday. The Christian church because of the passion of Christ made their fasting days Wednesdays and Fridays in order to tie in to redemption.
See, the picture began to lose the principle when they embraced the picture. They held onto fasting but they lost the great principle. As early as the second century the church introduced what we call “Lent”; a forty day fast just before the cross and not counting Sundays. That was a fast. In church history in the 6th century they made fasting a duty and if you didn’t fast literally, denying yourself meals, then you had actually sinned against God. By the eighth century fasting became meritorious; it earned from God. If you wanted a blessing from God, then you would fast because always rewarded fasting. But they missed the principle; the beautiful principle intended by God. They held onto the picture and they lost the meat, the essence.
Even the prophet Isaiah tried to get them away from the picture and back onto the principle. Isaiah 58:3-11, “Why have we fasted and Thou does not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou does not notice?” And God answers, “Behold on the day of your fast you find your desire and you drive hard all your workers. Behold you fast for contention and strife to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this that I choose; a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sack cloth and ashes like a bed? Do you call this a fast? Is this acceptable to the Lord?” And then He adds, “Is this not the fast which I choose? To loosen the bonds of wickedness and to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke. Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your home and when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light would break out like the dawn and your recovery would speedily spring forth and your righteousness would go before you. The glory of the Lord would be your rear guard. Then you would call and the Lord would answer. You’ll cry and He would say, ‘Here I am. If you remove the yoke from your midst. The pointing of the finger, the speaking of wickedness, if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness; your gloom will become midday. The Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places; give strength to your bones and you’ll be like a watered garden and like a spring of water who’s waters never fail.”
Do you see the difference in fasting? It’s not just denying yourself. Prayer is laying hold of God. Fasting is letting go of the world illustrated by denying yourself a meal. But that’s the great principle; laying hold and letting go; attachment and detachment; holding onto God and letting go of everything else on the level of earth. That’s why I say it’s trusting God unreservedly; clinging to Him alone and letting go of everything else. That’s praying and fasting.
In order to get the impact of this once more let’s go back to Matthew and dip into the context and then we’ll see the application. Matt. 17:20&21, is almost always misunderstood. It looks like Jesus is saying this, “You failed because of little faith but if you had little faith you could move mountains.” Think about that. “Why did we fail?” “You have little faith.” “What do we need?” “Little faith.” “Then why did we fail?” See, there’s a problem there. You failed because of little faith but if you had a little faith you could move mountains, “You could say to this mountain, ‘Be cast into the sea.’”
It’s often interpreted that the Lord Jesus was comparing this person who was demon possessed to a great mountain which only faith could move; an impossible situation. But if you read it carefully you’ll see that He is not comparing; He’s contrasting. He’s not comparing that demon possessed boy to a great mountain that needs to be moved. The disciples had little faith. Right? What could be accomplished by little faith in verse 20? You can move mountains and cast them into the sea. That’s what was confusing these disciples. They were seeing mountains move all the time. They were seeing great works in their lives and in their ministries. They were seeing signs and wonders and were raising the dead. They were cleansing lepers. They were casting out demons. Mountains were being removed all the time.
The problem of our understanding of this is we keep thinking, even though it says the other, that great faith moves mountains. Great faith doesn’t move mountains. Little faith moves mountains and those nine disciples were already used to moving mountains and that was their problem. They had little faith. Now, follow me. They were facing more than a mountain here. “If you have little faith you can move a mountain. But you’ve got a bigger problem here.” That’ why verse 21 begins with the word “but”. You can move mountains with a little faith but this kind takes more than a little faith. He’s contrasting. He’s saying that your problem is little faith and all you are able to do is move mountains; that’s all. That’s your problem. You’ve got to move on so you get down to the good stuff.
There’s a tremendous battle going on and this kind required more than little faith; more than mountain moving faith. That sounds so big, doesn’t it? That sounds so big but it’s not. That’s little stuff. This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Let me state it as simple principles and I think it will become clear. God uses spiritual people to do His spiritual work. That’s not too deep, is it? God uses spiritual people to do His spiritual work and the more spiritual the instrument, the more mighty will be the work that God does; the greater will be His redemptive work. That’s the secret of power in our lives and ministry.
Have you ever wondered why two Christians, or two groups can look exactly the same on the outside and use the same words and speak in the same volume and use the same kind of inflection and say the same outline and use the same illustration and speak to the same audience and one speaks with power and the other falls flat. What’s the difference? Why are some men anointed and some not? Why are works and ministries anointed by God and others not? Why are some singers anointed by God and others with voices even more beautiful not as attractive to the soul, to the spirit? How come? The answer is always the same. It’s the depth of life. The one who is trusting Jesus unreservedly is the one who will get the anointing and nobody else will. It’s the one that is praying and fasting; that is, the one that is laying hold of God the most and letting go of this world. That’s a heart attitude; that’s a direction of the spirit. When you get an individual or group laying hold of God and separated from the world, God’s anointing is on that person or group’ man, woman, young person; it doesn’t matter. Without prayer and fasting great things will not be done.
Thousands and thousands of Christians will have the awful agony that they have all of the right words and all of the orthodox theology and go to the right schools, and yet you look at their lives and your heart wants to break. They’re straddling both worlds, wanting to be spiritual and at the same time, wanting their share of this world’s goods and wanting to have faith repaid in the coin of this earth. It will never happen. Many Christians the material not only occupies a great portion of their life but it also dominates a great portion of their life. How this world can kill your soul and your relationship to God. It’s a terrible thing and will grind us down. All the cares of this life, having our affections in this literal world, on the level of earth, when our whole life is just filled up with our jobs and our working and our landscaping, our employment, our social acitivities, our family, our friends and even our church, we don’t begin to live in that spiritual realm. God’s people are weak through incomplete surrender and slipshod living. What a tragic thing to have so much power at our disposal and be weak and not be able to perform!
Proverbs 26:7, “Like the legs that hang down from the lame, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” One of my dearest friends is lame and I know what the legs of a lame man look like. They support nothing; they’re impotent. I used to misread that verse and thought it said, “As the legs which hang down from the lame, so is a fool.” In other words, a fool is like a crippled man. But it doesn’t say that. It says, “So is the proverb in the mouth of the fool…” What’s the proverb? The proverb is the truth of God. He’s saying that if you get the truth of God and put it into the mouth of the fool and the truth of God becomes crippled. “The truth of God in the mouth of a fool is like the legs of a lame man that hang down; it’s crippled.” That’s why in so many lives the word of God is so weak. It’s the same word of God. And yet, it’s become crippled because it’s in the mouths of fools; because it’s in the lives of those who live recklessly before God. We cripple God by our lives. I wish it were enough just to study because then you could get a good library and read all the commentators and read some of these great men and glean out the great principles and then spit them out and God would use you. Too bad it isn’t like that. It’s too bad it’s not how hard you studied and had good illustrations.
I’ll tell you what; I don’t care what illustrations I have, I don’t care what credentials I have, I don’t care what diplomas I have or what gifts I have or who endorses me (it could be the most famous author on the earth), if I’m not living a holy life, and being conformed unto the Lord by the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and not being changed and laying hold of God and letting go of this world, the most I’ll ever be able to do is move mountains. How pitiful! The most you’ll ever do is move mountains. How pitiful to move mountains and have no power over Satan or sin. Thousands of Christians are there and it’s a real tragedy.
There’s another principle here and if you want to understand the spiritual life you’ll have to understand this. That is, you’ve got to trust Him unreservedly; you’ve got to lay hold of Him and let go of anything else, if you are going to understand His power in your life. Those who are clean and right and holy and adjusted by the principles of God and who are enculturated in this book and in these standards, that’s the one God is going to use. Oh for those who would pray and fast! I believe with all of my heart that our generation still waits see what God will do. To somebody who gets serious about this and begins to pray and fast; someone who will really lay hold of God and let go of all else besides, oh how the powers of hell would be overturned. That’s spiritual; that’s the foundation stone.
It’s so easy to blame methods. You fail and wonder why it didn’t work. “Oh, I think we used the wrong method.” Or let’s blame the people, “Those hard people; they neve respond to anything anyway.” Blame others. “You have to change the program and change the style and bring in some more fancy gimmicks. We’ll get a weight lifter in here holding up an organist while she plays ‘Higher Ground’, maybe a bunch of people will come in.” If we came to the Lord as those nine disciples came to the Lord and we ask what they asked, “Why did we fail?” He would say what He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith.” The problem isn’t with Satan. He’s easy to handle. That’s not the problem. The problem is not the enemy. The problem is your faith.
Those who have learned to pray and fast, they would do more than move mountains. Those who have learned to pray and fast and lay hold of God and let go in their hearts by principle, they are the ones who are going to see a mighty thing. The tragedy is that we can see mighty mountains moved. We don’t have to be spiritual, you know, to start a ministry. Anybody can start a ministry. Any method will work if you are praying and fasting. No method will work if your heart is not right. You can change the menu all you want but somewhere along the line you better start changing your appetite because it’s only those who are praying and fasting. Alright, that’s the first statement.
Not only will God use spiritual people to do spiritual things but don’t settle for a mountain moving faith in your life. That’s little faith. That’s the problem the of the nine disciples. They were in the very thick of the work, seeing miracle after miracle, doing impossible things, very busy and active in the program of the Lord, but Jesus said that they neglected prayer and fasting; that is, they neglected to grip God and let go of the world. They saw what a little faith in the Lord could do and they were fully satisfied. “Wow, that’s great! Let’s have more of that little faith, that mountain moving thing.” With any very worldly Christian, you don’t have to pray and fast in order to get a following. Any worldly Christian can make records. Any worldly Christian can make tapes. Any worldly Christian can start a big organization. You can become an evangelist or a bible teacher or work miracles and signs and wonders and see mountains move. Don’t settle for that.
Let me ask you this seriously, “What good is it to trust God to bring a million dollars in if you haven’t learned to have victory over Satan?” What good is a million dollars? What good is it to preach to an audience of a hundred thousand people if you don’t have the anointing of God? It’s worthless. Nothing could be more empty and vain. God uses spiritual people to do spiritual work. Don’t settle for a mountain moving faith. That’s a little. Go after the kind that doesn’t come out except by prayer and fasting. Go after that.
Don’t’ substitute the picture for the reality. Many people read this and say, “This kind comes out by prayer and fasting. Okay, we better start praying. We’ll meet you at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning and we’ll get together and we’ll pray and then we’ll form prayer chains and prayer bands and prayer groups and we’ll pray around the clock.” Then they read about fasting and they’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to give up certain meals, or whole days of meals. We’ll have fast days during the week and then God will pour out His blessing.” God never intended that; that you lay hold of the picture and miss the spiritual reality. Nobody makes themselves spiritual by self denial. God is not impressed if you skip lunch or if you skip a supper. That may help some of us on the physical side for physical hygiene but it is not good for spiritual hygiene. He’s not telling you to fast and to skip meals.
There’s a principle here and it’s illustrated by the denial of a meal. If the picture helps you, then go ahead and do the picture but don’t miss the principle. If you want both, take both but if you are only going to have one, take the principle. Don’t just grab the picture and say, “Alright I skipped five meals, now God is going to bless me.” He is not! He doesn’t reward that. That’s works. He doesn’t do that. It’s like Sampson’s lock of hair. His strength didn’t come from his hair. His heart was wrong and God allowed His head to be cut as a picture of separation. That was a Nazarite vow. The outside pictured the inside. He was bald in his heart and that’s why God cut off his hair. When his heart got right, his strength came back. So don’t just go running to pictures. Embrace Him and let go of the world.
One final statement and it has to do with Mark’s record of the father’s statement. He said, “This kind will not come out except by prayer and fasting.” Did it come out? Somebody must have prayed and fasted. According to the record, it was the father. When the father came to Jesus and said, “If you can…”, the original Greek not only says, “If I can,” but says in the Greek, “If I can, but with you and not me.” See what He was saying to the man? He’s saying, “If I can is in you. This is not too big a problem for Me; I don’t lack power. You lack faith; the kind of faith that prays and fasts. Now if you will have that praying/fasting faith, then you’ll see more than a mountain move. You’ll see Satan overpowered. According to the record, he did it. So, we can look at what he did, in order to see how to pray and fast.
The father did not just stand up and say, “Alright, Lord, I believe. I have not doubts whatsoever. I’ve lived with my son for these years and I’ve seen him rolled over with convulsions and I’ve just seen your nine disciples fail in their attempts and now I’m standing before you without any doubts or quivering whatsoever. I know without as shadow of a doubt that you can do this.” He didn’t say that because if he had said that, he would have had that little faith that can only move mountains. But instead, what did he say? He said, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.” See, one way you know you have an unreserved trust in Jesus is that when you have that kind of unreserved trust in Jesus, you begin to see your own unbelief. Until you trust Him unreservedly, you only see that you have faith. But when you trust Him, you begin to see that you have unbelief and that’s the proof that you are trusting Him; that you see that you have unbelief.
That’s not a mismosh of words. This is a tremendous principle of God. Nobody can see their unbelief until they look to Jesus. When you trust the Lord He then begins to show the abysmal deeps of unbelief and the awful resistance in your soul. The most spiritual prayer that you can really pray, if you are sold out and surrendered to Him is, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.” “I believe but yet I see unbelief lies in my soul as an army. Help my unbelief.” You show me a man sold out and surrendered to the Lord and laying hold of the Lord, trusting God and gripping Him and letting go of the world and I’ll show you a man full of unbelief and he’ll be the first to admit it. You show me a person on the other side who says, “I never have struggles with the Lord. I don’t have any doubts and I just believe God unwaveringly and I believe without a problem, and I’ll show you somebody who is weak in faith. They haven’t begun to see his own heart and haven’t begun to lay hold of the Lord. You become aware of that when you see Him.
The father learned to pray and fast; he let go and laid hold of Christ and he let go of all pretentions of laying hold of Christ. He said, “Lord, I believe but I’m just full of unbelief.” There’s no more spiritual prayer than that! If you are going to understand the spiritual life, we’ve got to see Jesus glorified and we’ve got to come to the place in our life where without reserve we just want to grip Him and let go of everything else. When God brings us to that place, and only God can, we’ll begin to see our own hearts and how full of unbelief we are. And our prayer will be constantly, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Until you come there, you aren’t going to see an awful lot. You’ll see a few mountains move but that’s nothing. That’s little faith.
As far as power over Satan and deliverance from sin and walking in union and fellowship, walking in an unclouded relationship with Him, you’ll begin to see that as you lay hold and let go. As you grow in Christ, more and more you are going to lay hold and let go. That’s not an absolute; that’s a progression. You’ll never arrive at that. You are constantly holding on something down here and as you go on in the Lord more and more, he wants those who are praying and fasting. If you need the picture, then take it. But at least take hold of the principle; that you’ll grip God and let go of everything and then watch God do a might work and set people free and deliver the earth. May God work that in our hearts!