You’ve planned. You’ve prayed. You’ve promoted the event. You’ve recruited the help. You’ve invited your target group. You’ve set up the room to perfectly set the mood of the event. You’ve done everything you could have possibly done to make this a successful event that will honor the Lord. And nothing happens.
Have you been there?
Oh, I have. Many times. And, I feel like I am in that season more often than others.
Quickly, let me define what I mean by nothing. There is a difference between gathering a crowd of people to consume the “Kingdom product” that you are selling and making an eternal impact in an individual or group of people’s lives. I am talking about a true movement of God that brings about a new birth in Him by the Spirit. I am talking about new faith, true repentance, and life change. So, nothing means: no new faith and no life change.
For those of you who are like me, it has been a while since you’ve seen a movement of God that brings new faith and/or significant life change. Allow me to offer these thoughts.
Read Mark 9:14-29.
First, the disciples were successful in gathering a crowd (v.14). I don’t doubt my or your abilities to gather a crowd. But a crowd is not always the Kingdom. Second, the crowd gathered with an expectation of seeing physical needs/wants met (v.17). You will always be able to gather a crowd under the pretenses of meeting physical needs/wants. Third, the crowd began to overtake the disciples when the crowd’s expectations stopped being met (v.14,18). You busy yourself with building a crowd and it will turn into a mob one day. Lastly, the crowd’s faith was misplaced (v.18). The disciples were unable to provide true life change. The disciples made for a poor Messiah. You and I will, too.
For some of us, it has been so long since we’ve seen a movement of God that builds the Kingdom, that it hurts to think about. So, we push the longing down and begin to focus on what we can control. What we can do. Before we know it, we’ve gathered a crowd and stopped building the Kingdom.
Have we settled for the appearance of Kingdom activity rather than seeking a true movement of God?
“O faithless generation…” (v. 19, ESV). Our lack of faith is the number one barrier to seeing a movement of God and true Kingdom growth. In tandem with our lack of faith in Jesus, is our misplaced faith in one another or spiritual leaders. Faith placed in church leadership comes as a natural human response when we project to our people that we have it together. That we have all the answers. That we know exactly what to do. Until we don’t. Until we’ve got nothing left. Then the crowd gets restless, ready for another insufficient Messiah. You and I have more to do with our peoples’ misplaced faith than we want to own.
Maybe yours and your peoples’ faith isn’t misplaced, but it is still lacking. Let us see what led to the father’s lack of faith. First, his specific circumstances led him to doubt (v.17-18). I can almost hear him now, as we hear this in us, and our people, “But you don’t understand how dire and serious my situation is! Who can actually change this circumstance?” Everyone has a situation that they believe is beyond changing. They think they are the only one, too. Everyone has a situation, that you as a church leader, are incapable of changing. In particular, their spiritual blindness can’t be lifted by you.
Second, the father forgot who he was talking to. The father doesn’t want to give his hopes up, so he couches his request with “if you can” (v. 22). The father has tried everything else. Now, he looks at Jesus and is basically asking, “Do you want to try? Maybe you can do what all others have been unable to do.” We don’t want to give our hopes up, either. We’ve tried everything and exhausted everyone. Maybe Jesus can give it a shot.
Our God doesn’t give anything “a try”. Not one ounce of His effort is ever wasted. When God chooses to move, whatever desired outcome is His, it will happen. This is our God.
“Bring him to me” (v.19). The crowd fades at this point in the story. Their cries and wants will have to wait. There is one who needs the attention of the Messiah the most. There is one who is down to his last hope. There is one whose life is about to change forever. All other efforts have failed but there is One who never fails.
To what are we bringing others? Are we bringing them to the collective efforts of finite humans or the infinite life transformational power of Jesus?
“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer [and fasting]” (v. 29, HCSB). God will share His glory with no individual, ministry position, philosophy/approach, building, or aesthetic. Prayer and fasting directs our focus to the only One who can bring true Kingdom growth. We cry out in desperation for God to move and work, because if He doesn’t, nothing of eternal significance will happen. The act of prayer is a confession that we are lacking and that God is the all-sufficient source of what we need.
What are you asking the Lord to do? Are you asking Him to bless the plans that you’ve already made because you think they will work? Are you asking God to give you vision and guidance to His plans?
Do you desire a movement of God more than you do a meal, your phone, your busy work?
Do you spend more time thinking and assessing the felt needs of the crowd or communing with the One who can build the Kingdom?
What would you be willing to give up in order to experience a true movement of God?
For those of you who are praying and seeking a movement of God within your community and nothing is happening: DON’T GIVE UP! Keep praying. There are prayers that I have prayed and continue to pray for the past 5 years.
We’re holding on to the promise of Mark 9:29. Join us.
Ben Neiser is the Collegiate Network Coordinator for the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He has served in collegiate ministry for 11 years. Ben has a M.A. in Christian Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Lindsey, live in Provo, UT with their two daughters, Ella and Clara.