A Picture of Prayer and Fasting

Mark 9:17-29

If there is one thing that we Americans like it is food. The average American eats 2000 lbs a year, which includes 29 lbs of french fries, 23 lbs of pizza, 24 lbs of ice cream, and 53 gallons of soda (1/wk). That, of course, has led to the need for shows like The Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover Weightloss Edition.

However, dieting is also now cool, hip and popular. But when we think about not eating for a period of time, we usually don’t think about our prayer life (other than praying for weight loss). And yet Jesus uses an incident in His ministry to make a direct link between praying and another spiritual discipline: fasting. The story of a Daddy and his boy paints us a picture of praying and fasting.

Family Crisis

We all face needs in our life each and every day. But there are times in which we head into a full-scale crisis (family, kids, marriage, work, ministry). These are times in which “business as usual” is out of the question.  Just think of the recent hurricanes and the required preparation and responses.

This Daddy was in one of those times. Imagine your little boy or girl possessed by a demon, their small body ripped and ravaged by an invisible force within. A power that is totally out of your (or their) control (vs. 18, 20-22). This demon would throw the boy’s body into convulsions like a violent seizure, make him start foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth as he cries. It was happening right then! Throughout his life, this demon had led him into open fires to burn him, or into deep water to drown him. This was a full-blown demonic assault!

This is a picture of what Satan wants to do to your life, family, ministry (John 10:10 – steal, kill, destroy; I Peter 5:8 – devour). We all will face times of crisis.

Faith Crisis

This Daddy went to the first people he could think of: the disciples. But they weren’t prepared (vs. 18b). Jesus expresses tremendous frustration with His disciples for their lack of faith (vs. 19). Lack of faith is always something that disappoints and frustrates our Lord. It is like a slap in the face from His children!

Here is where Jesus challenges this Daddy about his own faith (vs. 23-24). I love this response! With tears in his eyes, and a cry in his voice, the Daddy says, “I do believe, but help my unbelief!” I have faith, but I’m not where I need to be. Help me grow in faith! That was all Jesus needed to hear (vs. 25-27). But there was another crisis that was also lacking when it came to the disciples’ prayer life:

Fasting Crisis

The perplexed disciples couldn’t figure this one out. So Jesus makes a powerful explanation (vs. 28-29). Prayer is powerful. Praying in faith is even more powerful. But there are some crises that are so serious, threatening, daunting that nothing will overcome them unless you also fast. Prayer, faith and fasting.

The disciples clearly were not fasting (though they would after Jesus’ ascension; 2:18-20). But Jesus obviously was. We don’t read much about it. Jesus didn’t flaunt it or draw attention to it (we only read of His wilderness fast; Mt 4:1-2). But here He implies that He was fasting. And He was ready to confront this crisis in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:18).

The take-away? Sooner or later you will face a time of crisis in your life. You may be in one today. That is not a time for business-as-usual in your prayer life, devotional time. It is a time to seek God’s face with body, soul and spirit. And fasting may be just what is necessary to confront that demonic assault. Prayer, faith, and fasting: it will empower you to face anything, by connecting you to the power of God’s Spirit.


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