Mark 9:14–20 ESV
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.
Transfiguration one day and trouble the next. Life ever moves from mountain-top experiences to chaotic messes in the valleys, even for Jesus. Why should it be different for us.
Understand the situation here. Jesus left the nine disciples for a short time away. While he was gone, the Feds showed up on their gotcha campaign to continue their investigation into this exciting upstart movement afoot in Galilee. The pressure was on, and what came forward but another impossible situation. Could these disciples get it done? No. In the wake of their failure, the religious officials pounced and an argument broke out.
This is a classic picture of everyday life. The powers of darkness meet up with the presence of God in the midst of human pain and all of this inside a larger context of conflict. This is what the powers of darkness do. They foment chaos, confusion, and conflict while exploiting peoples’ problems and amplifying their pain. Multiply this by a few hundred million and you get a pretty good picture of the world we live in. Transfiguration mountains are the exception on the still-broken side of the not-yet kingdom. Still, we must be good news people at work in the midst of what is so often a very bad news situation.
It’s just so easy to become pessimistic, because we know all too well the situation of the disciples who couldn’t quite get it done. In the face of so much unresolved pain and unhealed suffering, it’s all too easy to slip into pessimistic attitudes and cynical spirits. We must rebuke these responses in ourselves the minute we detect them rising up because they are toxic to faith.
So how does faith respond in the face of failure? While we know pessimism isn’t the answer, neither is optimism. In between those poles lives perhaps the worst response of all: a defeated spirit of resignation.
Here’s my prescription in the face of this kind of failure: (1) Learn from Jesus in the face of failure. Tomorrow he will teach us something about this situation. (2) Get back up and get on the horse again. Failure is going to happen. We don’t have to accept failure but neither do we need to be surprised by it. It’s the nature of the game when you are dealing with rogue satanic forces. Jesus is going to win the war, but the troops are going to lose some battles along the way. There will be discipleship fails. The team will lose some contests. Faith forges on in the face of failure wiser for the battles ahead.
Let failure take its toll on our self-confidence because what we need more is God confidence. When self-confidence fails, it gives rise to humility, and when God confidence rises, boldness is born. This is precisely the posture of discipleship Jesus wants for his disciples: humble boldness. It’s the powerfully beautiful convergence of poverty of spirit, meekness, and purity of heart. This is a learned disposition only Jesus can teach us, and once we learn it, we will realize only the Holy Spirit can empower its implementation in our lives.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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