Ministry Priorities (Matthew 17:17)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

At the base the mount of transfiguration, Matthew records Jesus’ disappointment, ““O   unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?””

Many are those who take Jesus’ comment completely out of context. Doing so leads to seeing the comment as a sad commentary on the skeptics and unbelieving population of His day (and by extrapolation – those in our day). There is some truth in that. But in context, Jesus comment has a different flavour to it altogether. Mark’s Gospel frames it this way:

“When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When 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.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.””  

Jesus’ lament about the generation around Him is certainly given while all around are present. But it is not just directed at the unbelievers around Him, or to the father of the demon-possessed boy He has been asked to heal. Rather, is also and perhaps more primarily directed at His own disciples (who have failed to heal the child). After all, His comment that “everything is possible for him who believes” must be understood as a rebuke to those standing within earshot who do believe. Worse, the fuller context sees the disciples arguing with the teachers of the law in the face of their failure to heal, and everyone can appreciate that arguing with others is no substitute for faithful service. 

And surely every disciple of Christ ought to know that service without prayer is never truly fruitful. 

The great people of the earth today are the people who pray, (not) those who talk about prayer.

S.D. Gordon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

It is more important to pray for the people you are planning to minister to than it is to execute the planned ministry for them.