Have you ever known that you have the skills and abilities necessary to complete a task, but you fail anyway? Hopefully, you are with me and say, “I’ve been there.” What I find wonderfully encouraging is that the disciples had that experience as well, and so we are not alone. In Mark 9:16-29 we read an account of where a father asks the disciples to drive a demon out of a child. The result is that they did not.
Imagine the hopelessness the father must have felt. These disciples were in Christ’s ministry. They had been given authority by Jesus to preach, heal and have authority over the demons. The disciples had even driven out demons before this moment. Yet, this demon had been making life miserable for the child through near death experiences and the father is left pleading for help from Jesus.
Now imagine what the disciples must have been thinking. What is going on here? Did I forget something? This is so embarrassing! The scripture passage says, as Christ is walking to the scene, that an argument is taking place. I’ll leave it to your imagination on what the argument content could have been about.
So, Christ has a teaching moment with all of them, He heals the boy and then He explains why the failure occurred. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (v.29). Prayer is a great demonstration that shows whether we are dependent upon God. The reason that the disciples could not drive the demon out was because they were not depending upon God. I have to admit this really took me to the mat. How often have I failed in a routine task because I did not depend upon God?
This also got me thinking about my counseling. In what ways do I help a hurting person depend upon God? In many ways it is like the father shows up to my counseling room on Monday evening. I would recommend a few lessons to help strengthen our counseling based on this passage of scripture.
Lesson 1: Make prayer a regular homework assignment.
Our goal in counseling is to show the sufficiency of Christ through His word by applying it to life’s problems. In this passage the disciples are allowed to fail. The reason is because no prayerful dependence was shown. In counseling, we often take time to show what a person is depending upon other than God. We call that an idol. Prayer allows us to start shifting our allegiance to God instead of the idol that has failed us over and over again. Prayer is the homework that starts helping the hurting to depend on God.
Lesson 2: Prayer shows that the power to change comes from God and not from us.
Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest reasons we fail. Yet, when we start to depend upon God, He does what we cannot. There is nothing better than being able to be specific in prayer with a counselee, and then seeing God answer a prayer.
Recently, I had a couple in for counseling. They were both experiencing huge marital conflicts. In learning about them, I found out that neither were saved and redeemed by Christ. We then spent weeks going through the gospel. One of their homework assignments was to pray and ask God to help them toward salvation. When they both decided to place Christ as their King, I was ecstatic! The reason? The power to change and embrace Christ was shown in Him answering the prayer.
Lesson 3: When prayerful dependence is shown, God receives the glory.
When the boy was healed in Mark 9, no one was like, “wow those disciples are great stuff.” Jesus Christ stood alone as being supreme. This is what counseling should regularly look like. As a fellow fallen human, I am no different than my counselees. My job is to show the awesome power of God in His word so that He receives glory and praise.
When the counselee incorporates prayer into their life, it is so wonderful because then we get to praise God. This can be difficult when suffering and change is not happening as quickly as desired. A good passage to remember is Colossians 4:2. It states, “Continue steadfastly in prayer; being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Persistently and courageously asking God with a thankful heart is a necessary step when counseling. For when this happens, God receives glory.
We could be just like the disciples in Mark 9 if we are not careful. Do you think your counseling is going nowhere? Do you think that you are going nowhere in your ability to overcome? The question to ask is ‘how is your prayer life going?’