25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." 26The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" 29He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer" (Mark 9:14-29).
In our meditation yesterday, we looked at the verses above containing one of the secrets of moving in the Holy Spirit's power—prayer. While Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with three of His disciples, the nine remaining were asked to deliver a man’s son from a demon, but the nine disciples were unsuccessful. In a parallel passage, Matthew (17:20) wrote that when the nine disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the spirit, the Lord responded by saying that their lack of faith was the problem. The NIV translators removed verse 21 because few manuscripts contain this verse. The verse says, "This kind does not go out but by prayer and fasting." You will usually find this edit explained at the bottom of the page. I think this piece of instruction by Jesus is essential. A lifestyle of prayer and fasting is the key to difficult situations resistant to regular prayer, counseling, and sound advice. Prayer and fasting are the keys to overcoming stubborn problems, not just deliverance from evil spirits but to all kinds of difficulties and unanswered prayer. We get power and insight from the Spirit of God as we depend on Him through prayer and fasting.
As long as our motives are right, there is an increase in the Holy Spirit's anointing or presence that comes during prayer and fasting. Isaiah 58 talks about the right fasting motivation. In Acts (see below), we see church leaders fasting and praying, after which the Holy Spirit spoke into their situation with a clear call for them to lay hands on Saul (Paul the apostle) and Barnabas to release them for ministry into other lands:
1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod, the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3, emphasis mine).
The early believers in Christ fasted and prayed earnestly. This self-denial was the secret to their miraculous power from God and confident faith. When Jesus said to the nine disciples: “this kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:14-29), He wasn't talking about sending the man and his son away while the disciples took a few days for prayer and fasting. If you want to be a person that moves in the power of the Spirit to any degree, you will take time to give yourself to prayer and fasting. When a situation surfaces, a man or woman of God must be ready, led, and empowered by the Holy Spirit due to the kind of prayer life they lead rather than taking the time to fast and pray when the need arises. Indeed, if there is time to seek God for a need in your family, work, or life in general, then schedule a fast. I believe that you will find that fasting and prayer will resolve many persistent problems. Keith Thomas