Today’s Reading: Matthew 17
If you had a chance to ask God a “why?” question, what would you ask him? Why did this bad thing happen to me? Why did my mom pass away?
How about a personal failure question? That’s what we find in Matthew 17! The disciples failed at something they were empowered to do and did not know why they’d failed.
The disciples had tried to heal a young man and were unable, so the man brought his son to Jesus. Let’s pick up the story:
“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (verses 15-21)
Verse 19 highlights the private why—“Why couldn’t we drive the demon out?”
I love that the disciples asked this question. People don’t do this today when they finish a task. It’s rare to find someone asking for critique to get better, but these disciples did. We live in a culture that will blame others but not inspect ourselves.
Jesus’ answer is astounding and multi-layered:
• The big issue Jesus says is: faith.
• The problem is the size of it: it’s little.
• Because of that: failure.
Jesus refers to mustard-seed faith: if the mustard seed is little and that’s all you need to get big stuff moving, then you’re not in the ballpark of “little faith.” Your faith is smaller than little, it’s microscopic because nothing got changed.
And then he tells you what can get your microscopic faith kick-started and moving toward little: prayer and fasting.
Faith is not a concept about God. Faith is like a lens on how big we see God. When Jesus spoke about prayer and fasting as His follow-up to their little faith failure, He said that prayer and fasting will help get the God lenses on.
How? It’s about connecting fasting to prayer. Does fasting make God big? Not really.
Fasting is not a hunger strike to get God’s attention. Fasting creates space for God. To make a meal during this time period was not going to Whole Foods or Costco, it was an all-day affair from killing an animal to cooking it. Fasting meant creating space to pray, space for God.
When someone fasts they are giving God more time, and when you get more time with God, trust me, God gets bigger. That’s why I believe you can fast from many different types of things and not just food—social media, television, certain activities—to create space for prayer.
How do you deal with demons? Not by deliverance classes and learning crazy ways to deal with the dark world. Create more space for God by fasting. When you do that, God gets bigger. When God gets bigger, faith starts getting bigger. And when faith gets bigger, then mountains (and demons) start moving.
The way you get a grain of faith is by praying and fasting. A private “why” did not help only the disciples. What great insight for us to have when we need some movement on things that won’t budge.