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When Life Throws You to the Ground, Here's What to Do

Mark 9:14-29 relays the account of a boy tortured by an unclean spirit and the disciples' inability to cast it out. In Jesus' miracle and response to the disciples, we learn valuable lessons on the destruction when sin rules our lives, the futility of trusting in our own strength, the great need for faith, and the danger of prayerlessness.

Todd WagnerOct 7, 2001
Mark 9:14-29

Messages In This Series (10)
A Great Assurance From a Great Leader
Todd WagnerJan 13, 2002
Looks, Lips, and Lives That Leave Us Still Lacking Before the King: A Rich Lesson from the Rich Young Ruler
Todd WagnerDec 23, 2001
Adult Applications from Four Verses About 'Children'
Todd WagnerDec 16, 2001
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 2
Todd WagnerDec 9, 2001
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 1
Todd WagnerDec 2, 2001
Three Salty Statements to Spice up Your Understanding of and Effectiveness for Him
Todd WagnerNov 25, 2001
One for All, All for One - Just be Sure You're for Him.
Todd WagnerOct 21, 2001
Prioritization, Patience, Pithy Statements, and the Practice of Selflessness? Do It Anyway.
Todd WagnerOct 14, 2001
When Life Throws You to the Ground, Here's What to Do
Todd WagnerOct 7, 2001
The King on a Hill: Listen to Him to be Transformed
Todd WagnerSep 30, 2001

Well, we've been making our way through a little section of Scripture called the gospel of Mark. Let me tell you why we're doing that. We're doing that because our core purpose… Frankly, not just Watermark but any church that is a biblical church has to be consumed with what its head is consumed with. The Scriptures say just that: Jesus Christ is the head of the church, which we believe is a core value, an unchangeable, unalterable conviction that, if it doesn't honor and glorify and point to Christ, we shouldn't be a part of it.

We believe full devotion to this Jesus is normative for a believer, so when he gives us one Great Commission, one great charge, we ought to be about that. That charge can be stated in a number of different ways. We choose to use this phrase: we exist for this purpose to call all people to be fully devoted to this King. If we're going to be fully devoted to this King, we ought to know who he is, what he's like, and what it is he wants from us, and one of the best places to do that is go to his Word and to watch him in action.

The Scriptures tell us Jesus is a visible image of the invisible God, that all the fullness of deity dwells in him in bodily form. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know how God responds? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know what God wants us to be passionate about? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know how God loves? Look at Jesus. Do you want to be conformed into what God wants you to be conformed into? Then make it your purpose to be like Christ.

What we're doing is we're working our way through this gospel, and we're trying to clarify our vision, our understanding of this Jesus. Now this is the thirty-second time we've talked about the gospel of Mark, and in the back, if you've missed a few of the past weeks, you can pick up tapes and catch up with us. Our tape ministry has those grouped together in sets of 10.

We want to make those available to you, and money is never an issue. We charge you less than what it costs us to try and offset some of the cost, believing that those who are ministered to by our ministry here and by our ministry there will be able to rightly support in a way they're moved individually, but you can grab some of those, and it'll help you understand more about who this Christ is. Today, we go at it for the thirty-second time.

We're coming off a scene last week, where Christ took three guys, Peter, James, and John, up on this mountain, and he was transformed, transfigured into his eternal glory. Those guys struggled with how this Jesus, who was great and glorious King, was going to be humble and offer himself as a lamb who was a sacrifice. It didn't make sense to them, and they struggled with that.

Where we are today is in Mark, chapter 9. We are going to pick up in verse 14, and we're going to find out that the disciples who were struggling were not only the ones up on the mountain, but there were 9 below who were struggling also. One of the great things about this book we're in is it is full of opportunities for us not just to know about God, but it is also full of men and women like us, folks who struggled with getting their arms around who this Jesus is.

I mean, right here, you're going to find a group of guys who have already decided that being near and around Christ is a worthwhile thing, but they are like us in that they consistently speak out of turn and just don't quite get it right. They deal all the time with failure. They're too ready to engage in arguments. Can you relate to that?

They are undisciplined in their prayer lives. They are more eager, it seems, to learn techniques and to get programs in place and to do things a certain way than they are to walk closely with the God they say they've come to know, and they are helpless every time they are left themselves. That's who we're going to meet again this week. That's why this is such a great and relevant little section of Scripture, because we can relate to prayerlessness. We can relate to failure.

We can relate to undisciplined lives. We can relate to the fact that we want things we can control, systems we can put in place and never have to worry about again. We can relate to the failure and powerlessness that comes in our lives when we try and go out and do things on our own, so this little section of Scripture in Mark, chapter 9, verses 14-29, has much for us. Let me just say, what is happening now in the last series of verses and really through the rest of the book is Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. On his way to Jerusalem, he is on his way to a cross.

On his way to a cross, he is trying to communicate to those who have said, "We've figured out who you are, and we want to walk as you have walked and live as you have lived and love as you have loved and serve God as you have served God, which is to say to serve you." What Jesus is going to do on the way to the cross is tell them the way to live, so most of what we're going to see from here to the end of the book is not so much about discovering more of who this Jesus is but discovering more of how he wants us to live in response to who he is.

You'll find application for yourself today, whether you're somebody who's still hanging on the fringes of understanding who this Jesus is or whether you're somebody who has already stepped up to the plate and says, "The evidence is overwhelming. The words and the works match up. You can be nobody but God, and I must deal with you." Let's read these few verses.

It says, "When they came back to the disciples…" The they there is Jesus and the three guys…Peter, James, and John…who had just been up on the mountain, and they had just seen Christ in his revealed glory. The flesh of Christ, if you will, which the Scriptures say is a veil to cover up his glory, had been brought back, and they saw that, in fact, Peter was right when he earlier said, "You are the man! You are God, and you have come to reveal truth to us, and I'm now beginning to understand that you've come not just to reveal truth but to deal with sin."

They came down off that mountain, and there were nine other guys who were left down there, and no doubt, they, like me, were a little disturbed that they weren't in the in-group up the mountain. Wouldn't you have been? I mean, you kind of go, "Gosh!" In fact, I have to tell you this. During worship today as we were singing one of the songs (I think it was the song that says, "There is a fountain Who is the King"), as I was sitting there thinking, what I often try and do is place myself where I'm physically in the presence of God.

I try to imagine whatever heaven's going to be like, and I have no idea other than that I'll be shocked to be there, and I thought of myself in a myriad of people, and I thought how I wanted to be near him, whatever he's going to look like, so I could really sing in a way that encouraged him. I really wanted to sing in a way that he knew that I was in it. I mean, I really was, and this just happened to me a few minutes ago.

I was down there, and in my mind's eye, I was thinking, "All right, Lord, I want you to almost acknowledge me and go, 'Man, look at Wagner out there. He's really… He loves me,'" and I wanted him to kind of whistle at me and go, "Hang on for a second. Todd, come on up here a little closer to me. All right, myriads, go ahead. Sing again. All right, that's my boy."

Now I actually went through that in about four to five seconds just down here not long ago, and I kind of said, "Well, Lord, I don't want to do it so I'm better than anybody else. I just want to be a genuine person who responds to you. I mean, if you're God, I have to get this thing right. You know, I don't want to do anything…" I said, "You know, it's not about me and what I get," and I know that is sin, but I wrestle with that. Don't you sometimes? Don't you want to kind of get tapped out as special?

One of the things God says is he will acknowledge our faithfulness. Our works will never gain us access into his presence, but our efforts as individuals who by grace have been brought into his presence will have some acknowledgement we don't fully understand, but there is, no question, an acknowledgement of our obedience and faithfulness before him once we are one by grace.

I have to believe these guys were kind of struggling with why they weren't one of the three. I mean, they'd made it from the multitude of the 70 and from the 70 to 12, but they didn't make it from the 12 to the 3. Then, you know, James and Peter had to be kind of frustrated they didn't make it to the one. There was one disciple who's described as the one who Jesus loved. Man, what an awesome title!

I can just relate to these guys, and if those three had kind of gone up with Jesus, I can see myself down there going, "Well, that stinks. You know, I'll do my ministry down here, but you know…" There had to be a little attitude copped here. I can relate to that, and it's sin. I confessed it this morning, and I would confess it if I were these guys. Watch what happens as they get a little disturbed and discouraged. Here come the four guys down the hill.

"…they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him [this Jesus] , they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, 'What are you discussing with them?' And one of the crowd answered Him, 'Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and [they couldn't get it right] they could not do it.'

And He answered them and said, 'O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!' They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father [Jesus to the father of this one who was suffering], 'How long has this been happening to him?'

And he said, 'From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!' And Jesus said to him…" I love this, because we don't typically think of Christ like this, but Jesus steps back and says, "If? If? If I can do anything?"

He says to the boy's father, "'"If You can?" All things are possible to him who believes.' Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.'""I mean, I've come here because I've heard about you, but I'm not sure. I just am hurting because my son is dying and sick and he's been like this a long time, so yeah, I believe. Would you just help me? I know I don't get it right." How honest and authentic is this?

"When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, 'You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.' After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, 'He is dead!'"

This reminds me of the old joke where the doctor came out, and they go, "How'd the operation go?" He said, "The operation was a success. The patient is dead, but we did what we went in there to do." That's what it kind of looked like. The exorcism was a success, but the brother looked dead. Not so. "But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him…"

I love the language that is used there. It's the same language that's used of Lazarus, that he has been raised, brought into newness of life, brought from death to life, the same thing that happens to you and me when we get rid of the spirit of self-dependence and self-will. We are given a new life, and the Spirit of life indwells us, the Scripture says. "When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, 'Why could we not drive it out?' And He said to them, 'This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.'"

Now let me tell you what I long to do when I'm with y'all, and I, this week, did find myself thanking God for the way he has equipped me and gifted me to serve the body. It doesn't make me better than anybody else in the body. There are individuals who have been doing so many things throughout the week that you'll never see: all day yesterday here setting up, today later tearing down, here early putting out signs, welcoming and using their gifts of hospitality to make this a warm and loving place.

They are using their gifts of service to, behind the scenes, continue to work where every week when we sit down, and they break down and set up thousands of dollars worth of equipment that's very finicky, working behind the scenes until we get the color back on both screens, tweaking the sound in an auditorium where sound bounces. There are people answering the phones, writing letters, following up, helping you assimilate.

There are so many gifts used here, and one of the things we are committed to is making sure you get to use your gifts the way God has gifted you, given you a passion and a heart, enabled you using your experiences and even just your own personality to plug you in at just the right place so you can experience the joy of ministering with us.

Our heart is to do ministry with you and through you and not to you, but I was grateful I can use my gifts to encourage you, hopefully, this morning in the same way many of you have already used your gifts to encourage me as I walked in here and was greeted and was loved and will be followed up and prayed for this week.

What I do when we get in the Word like this is I ask myself, "God, what can I do as a teacher, as a pastor, as a shepherd to feed those you love so desperately? These are your sheep, not mine. What do you want to feed them with from your Word?" He came in a conversation with Peter at one time, and he asked Peter, "Peter, do you love me?" Peter said, "Man, you know I love you." He said, "Then feed my sheep."

What does God want to serve you this morning from this text? I ask myself that question. What I like to do is go through, and as I study God's Word and as I make some observations, I want to drag those observations across and come up with some timeless principles that are true, and from this timeless principles that are true, I want to come up with some applications for your life and for mine that we might respond rightly to this God.

Here we go. Are you ready? Let's make some observations. Let's drag out some timeless principles, and let's see what God wants us to learn for our lives from this incident he in his sovereignty preserved for you and for me, that we might know him and have our lives resurrected from hopelessness.

Here's one thing I observed as I went through this for us as a body, and we need to be reminded of this. First of all, when people come to us, they get their impression of him. Why do I say that? If you'll look at verse 17, back there in Mark, chapter 9, where we are, it says, "And one of the crowd answered Him, 'Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute…'" He says, "It destroys him."

Jesus could've said, "Well, you didn't bring him to me. You brought him to these bozos I left out here in the valley, for a very good reason might I add at this point." No, Jesus was willing to let himself be identified with those he called to follow him, and that is an incredibly humbling thing. Those who work with me here on staff know I am growing in my ability to let others represent us at different times. You know, I've done certain things longer. I'm gifted to do things a certain way, and I know how hard it is to let others at times stand before you and communicate things.

I can relate to that in my very limited fallen self, gifted self, I sometimes go, "Well, we should let this person do it because they can do it better. If not me, let's let this person do it," and we're constantly wrestling with where the balance is with letting others have opportunities to use their gifts in a global setting and where the threshold of pain is for those who will endure that. We don't always get it right, but I think to myself, "If I struggle with that, if we struggle with this, think about the humility of God that he would let somebody represent him."

You think about how Proverbs 26 says, "…who sends a message by the hand of a fool." It says, "It is like one who cuts off his hands and cuts off his feet." That's not a good thing. You think about how God does not want to chop off his hands and his feet. You think about how God does not want to be somebody who is represented by a fool, and he lets himself be represented by these men, and he lets himself be represented by us.

People get their impressions of whether or not God is good, whether or not God is holy, whether or not God is forgiving, and whether or not God is knowable by our behavior and by our actions. Let me just tell you the point again. When people come to us, they get their impression of him. That is an incredible responsibility.

I made a note to myself here. If our lives are unregenerate, which is to say they're not made new in the way we love, serve, speak, and care and in our purity and our kindness, then folks are going to make a decision about us. If our lives are powerless, they will assume our God has no power, and I think about how often he must be grieved when we don't use the resources he gives us to care for ourselves in a way that speaks of our relationship with him and to serve those he loves.

People then get the idea that God is not God, that the God of the Christian, the God of the follower of Christ is not a God because division and rancor and gossip and pride and anger mark us more than the things that mark Jesus. I think about his humility in allowing that, and I think about the responsibility in being those whom he has put his name on. I thought about Christ, when he walked on that scene and folks ran up to him and he saw how people were mocking him as Messiah because those who represented him had forgotten the things that he had taught them.

Do you think that's happened this week in Dallas? Do you think that's happened this week in this country? Do you think that's happened this week in this world he died to save, that folks won't look to Jesus because those who have taken his name have made it powerless? Jesus says it very specifically in John 17. "Father, I pray that they would be like us, that they would be in us, that they would be one with us, that love would so mark them that the world could not deny I am who I said I am."

When we let divisions come in our midst, when impurity marks us, not a sin we repent of and deal with appropriately but when we let consistent rebellion mark us, people go, "Well, I don't know God is, but he's certainly not this Jesus who Wagner says he loves because, if Jesus is that God and Wagner knows him personally, there ought to be something different going on there."

Let me give you another little observation and application for us. This goes for those who are guests maybe here today and for those of us, all of us, who at one point lived lives of rebellion and godlessness. When we are ruled by any spirit other than the Holy Spirit, the outcome is both predictable and undesirable. Now what do I mean by that?

There is a war going on, and all of us are controlled by a spirit. It might be the spirit of this world. It might be the spirit of our own desires and our flesh, and hopefully, for those of us who have made a decision about this Jesus, it is a Spirit whose name is holy, whose character is holy, whose essence is holy and who longs for our good, but the spirit who was controlling this young man is like the spirit who controls all who are not possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

What has happened to this child in Mark, chapter 9, maybe not in as visible and tangible of a way, is happening in the lives of all those who are not in a relationship with Jesus, who are not controlled and blessed with community with his Spirit. It is predictable, and it is undesirable. Let me just take you right here to Mark, chapter 9, again. Watch these passages. I just spliced them together, verses 17, 18, and 22. This is what it says.

"Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground…" Which I would say, it rules abusively. It just throws him down. It doesn't provide for him in a way that's caring and gracious. It doesn't shepherd him tenderly, but it throws him to the ground, which is to say this is a spirit that is abusive in his rule. "…and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth…" Which is to say, it reduces him to an animal.

How many of us when apart from God act as an animal? I'll just take a moment and make this a little bit clearer. The easiest way for me to communicate what an animal acts like is an animal is somebody who acts purely on instinct, who as some philosophers would tell you is just a sum of his desires.

I had a dog for 13 years who made Lassie look stupid. Let me just say it that way. Caleb and I had a relationship that everyone who saw it was drawn to. This dog would listen to me consistently and obediently in a way that humbled me in the way I should listen to my Master. There were two things, though, that really affected Caleb that made it hard for him to hear my voice.

One was a tennis ball that had been thrown in his presence. If I did not get to him before he responded in kind as a retriever, he'd be off, even if it meant running in front of a car. If I told him to stay and he listened to the power of my word, which he did, then he would sit and be fine, but without the master there, he would just go, and destruction would come in his path. He'd just chase that tennis ball.

The other time, when even my voice was not very effective, is when a dog of the female persuasion was in what is called heat. You talk about seeing a dog struggle… One of the things I tried to do from the moment he was a puppy… In fact, I never put him on a leash his entire life, not once, because I wanted our relationship to be bound by love and marked by love and not because he had to obey because I could snap that leash.

I can remember the times I would walk down the street and Caleb would be heeling, and I could tell there was this magnetic pull that was dragging him slowly away from me. I knew what was behind that fence, but Caleb wasn't your normal dog. He was a dog that, by sovereign election, had been brought into a relationship with one he knew he could trust, even when everything in his being was crying to go climb and claw and get over the fence.

There were lots of times that I said, "Hey, look, dummy. Just hang with me. I have you set up with one next week. I'm going to open the fence." There were places that I said, "Hey, man. Be a dog. Go for it!" Other times, I'm like, "If you go over that fence right now, you're going to get kicked and shot, and I'm going to be in all kinds of trouble with that poodle's mom, so let's just stay away from that."

Lots of us act like Caleb did without a leash or what a dog who doesn't have a relationship with a loving master does. I mean, they'll run anywhere and at anything. They will kill themselves clawing over fences just to get to what their desires tell them they need. That's what a godless spirit will do. You'll become somebody who's a slave to the lust of your eyes, the lust of your flesh, the pride of life. He'll reduce you to an animal, where your appetites are your king.

"…stiffens out." Which is to say, makes them lifeless. This is the great irony. One of the things that makes sin so attractive to us is it offers and dangles before us promises of life, doesn't it? How many of us have bought that hook and found out there's not life there in that worm, but there's death, and if you bite into it, it won't be long before stiffness and a lifelessness set in?

That is why sin is both tempting, because it looks like life, and why it's so deadly, because it leads to death and you will stiffen out. Right now, if I had an open mic out there, I'd have a lot of folks who would stand up and go, "Let me give you some testimony about how I've been mounted on the wall of sin and how what I thought was going to give me life brought me death."

Some of you right now have bitten that hook, and you're laughing at me. You think that's not true, and you're running right now. Let me just tell you, if you've bitten into the lie this spirit offers you, you're going to feel one day that hook get set, and then he's going to reel you in, and your destiny is to be mounted in a lifeless way.

It says, "He's been that way from childhood." "It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him…" Which is to say, it will lead him into a way that is ultimately self-destructive. Every single one of us is going to have a spirit which guides us and directs us. The question Jesus would throw out to you is, "What spirit do you want to lead you?"

Have some of you felt that way this week? Have some of you felt like you've been abusively led down some paths that are causing you to lose what promise you knew of life, and you've seen the self-destructive patterns you cannot escape, and your desires consistently get in your way, and you bring horror to yourself and to those who are close to you? Can you relate to that?

I have to tell you something. I want to introduce you today to this same Jesus who lives who met this young child who suffered in that way. He is here, and he will bring you out of that convulsive fit as he brought me. One of the great privileges of my job is I get to sit regularly before individuals who are being treated like this, and I get to see on a regular basis every week the undesirable and predictable outcome of those who let the spirit of self, this world, or the Enemy lead their lives.

I have a very good friend in Atlanta, Georgia, who began a work just like this, and three months after they started this work, their pastor made a bad decision with a member of their congregation, and he was exposed and found out, and my friend as an elder and several other elders gathered in a room with this guy on Christmas Day three years ago.

This friend of mine watched this guy's life just fall in right around him, everything he'd ever dreamed of. I mean, this is a charismatic, gifted leader who just followed a spirit which wasn't holy into a way that wasn't a life-giving way, and there was lifelessness before him, and it was self-destructive to him and to his entire family.

This guy called me, and he said, "Todd, if I never knew it before, I saw today why I don't ever, ever, ever want to go there, and I hope I never lose that vivid image and that vivid memory of what sin can do to an individual because I saw a man today who was as dead and as lifeless and as hopeless as I've ever seen, and it scared me, and it made me think about where I'd taken steps toward that path if I don't get my life seriously in check."

You know, one of the things I do when people come in my office and they're feeling hopeless and they've been mounted on the wall of sin is I tell them, "Look, there is hope for you. I know you're dead and have been led to destruction but let me introduce you to the God who heals and who resurrects you back to life.

Let me encourage you to get a journal out and to write down right now what you're experiencing, the depth of your pain, the hopelessness of your heart, the surety of the darkness you think will reign the rest of your life, and read it regularly, so you will learn to hate that which God hates because it hurts you." Don't we do this? Most of us, while we're hit with the pain, we cry out and say, "God, I'll never do it again!"

I was talking with a friend this week who said, "Man, all through college, I'd get drunk, and I'd be sick and throwing up on a Saturday morning, and I swore I'd never do it again. I'd get my legs back under me, and sure enough, the next Friday night, my buddies would come and say, 'Let's go!' I'd say, 'Where are you going?' They'd say, 'We're going over here,' and I would find myself the next Saturday in the exact same place."

We forget. Don't we all slow down when we get a ticket? I do. I guarantee you. I slow down for a good 100, sometimes 300, yards. Then they're out of my rearview mirror, and all of a sudden, I'm kind of back on my way. Write it down.

Let me tell you two of the best movies you can rent to give you a picture of sin, and I would not recommend you watch them with small children. Men, next time you think there's life in an affair, rent Fatal Attraction, and don't stop after the elevator scene. You watch it to the end, and you see the horror that comes with that worm.

Kids who are messing with drugs and think it's just fun to start dabbling just a little bit, watch Traffic with your parents, and you watch what that sweet, young, little 15-year-old girl does just to get a buzz. You watch movies where Hollywood dares just to pull back the veil and say, "Hey, it isn't all just fun and clean sheets."

Remember that he comes to steal, kill, and destroy…to steal your reputation, to steal your view of self, to kill your hope, and to destroy your life. That is the spirit which had control of this young man. What he will do with you is as predictable as what he did with this kid, and it is undesirable. Let me read you from Galatians, chapter 5. It says:

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh…"

Watch this. This is where the spirit of this world, of the Enemy, of our flesh which is a slave to that man called Satan… This is what he does. He'll bring into your life "…immorality…" Make sure you read that correctly, because what he'll tell you is that he'll bring into your life immortality. "…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…"

One of the things I do sometimes with folks who come into my office who are mounted on the wall of sin is I just say, "Let's just go back over the last year of your life. I want you to be honest with me, and let's talk about which of these words describe your life." I've been with some guys who are like batting 90 percent on these things.

I just go, "Now tell me why you're here with me today. Are you here because you're happy or hopeless? Have these things provided for you what you thought they would bring? I know, in a fleeting moment, you got a mouthful of worm, but the steel pierced through your little lip." I just say to him, "Let's, just for a second, reason together. This spirit has led you consistently in this direction. Don't you think you ought to try another spirit? Are you afraid you're going to break your winning streak here? What's going on?"

This is what he'll keep throwing out there. These things look fun. They are deceptive for a reason, and they are fun for a moment. Let us not pretend they're not. Elevators can be a great time for wild, passionate foolishness, but doors open, and life goes on. The horror you thought you left there will find you. There's a God who is kind and who is gracious and who wants to deal with your sin, but even more, he wants to keep you from walking back into those elevators of death.

Let me give you another one, another little observation right here in Mark, chapter 9. No matter how much success we experience in ministry, we should never begin to trust in ourselves, our programs, or our techniques. Let me just say this. There's nothing wrong with us. We ourselves are individuals God has shaped and made.

There's nothing wrong with programs or techniques. A lot of effort goes into what we do, and everything we do we try and do very purposefully, but the moment we put our confidence in our creative people, in our gifted persons, or in our wise methods and make those the source of power, we are doomed.

These are fantastic vessels, but they're never the source of victory or the source of power. They're a good means to the end, but they are never the means of our power. Appropriately, we put a lot of thought into how we're going to do what we do, but we should never be under any illusion about what it is that's getting it done.

Let me just read to you from Mark, chapter 3. This is what it says. I'm going to tell you why this is a significant observation. It says, "And He [Jesus] went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons." Now that is Mark 3. He called these guys to him, and he gave them the ability to cast out demons.

As if that isn't enough, just 3 chapters later in Mark 6… Let me read this to you. "And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits… And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them." These guys had been given authority to cast out demons, and they had done it, so what in the world happened in Mark, chapter 9?

Now this is a huge point. What happened in Mark, chapter 9, is these guys felt like, "All right. I've done it before," and they had confused the"I have done it before" with "I, as a vessel for God to work mightily through, have done it before" but not I separate and apart from the one who has the power and the authority ultimately over evil spirits. "I don't, but the Christ who I walk with and whose name I minister in and whose power I go forth in… He does."

Christ never wanted these guys to go out with some magic prayer that was going to give them a guaranteed result. He said, "You go in my name with my power, and we will be effective for my glory together," but he made it very clear to say, "Listen. Apart from me, you can do nothing. I don't care how many times you've done it. You can't do it without me. Oh, the world might think you're doing something, but I'll know better."

There is no power in who we are apart from Jesus Christ, and we need to have faith in our God, not in the form with which we go about what we do. He says it this way in the Old Testament. As you go, you don't do it by strength or by might, "'…but by My Spirit,' says the Lord." Let me read you what one guy said. This is a great little observation.

He says, "Presumably these men had come to regard their power to heal and to exorcise [demons] as their own autonomous possession rather than being a commission from Jesus to realize his delegated authority afresh each time through dependent prayer. Mark is suggesting then that self-confident optimism may 'feel' like faith…"

When these guys went out, these guys felt like they had faith. "I've done this before. I feel like I can do it again." Well, that felt like faith to them, but their faith was not in what Christ said they should have their faith in, which was him. This guy says, "…but it is in fact unbelief, because it disregards the prerequisite of human powerlessness and prayerful dependence on God." See that's where we as a body will always succeed or fail, and that's why Raise the Mark is so huge tonight.

I want to tell you, this church is packed with gifted people, and the moment we begin to trust in our gifted folks who are just so creative right now with kids in leading our ministries, the moment we begin to say, "Hey, man, we have a pastor who will bring them in" or, "We have music you just can't resist," we are doomed.

I'm thankful for gifted people who are part of this body. They are going to unleash ministries in the power of the Spirit that God is going to use mightily, but we can never trust in us, even when we've had a year…or five years of success. That's guaranteed failure. Let me just read it to you this way. This is kind of a subset of that point I just gave you. Too much success can lead to too much confidence in our ability.

There's an old little syllogism that goes like this: sow a thought, you reap an action; sow an action, you reap a habit; sow a habit, you reap a character; sow a character, you reap a destiny. I never wanted my destiny to be this, but it all started with the seed of a thought. Let me just show you a biblical progression as well. That's one, right out of Galatians 6, but here's a second one: sow success, and consistently, people have shown themselves to reap too much confidence in their own ability to produce that success.

Here's the third thing: sow that confidence in your own ability to produce success, and you will reap ultimately failure. You sow enough failure in your life, and that will lead to bickering, arguing, and blame, and after enough bickering, arguing, blame, and absolute dissention and ugliness in your midst, you finally, by the grace of God, will get back to brokenness from your endless failure and fighting, and that brokenness will lead to humility. Then here's what's so great: humility is what leads to biblically certain success.

Now if we want to go through that little pattern step by step again and again we can. The Old Testament is full of folks who did that. Judges itself is a book that's full of seven cycles where folks did just this, and they kept doing it. One of our jobs as shepherds, one of your jobs as core individuals who are part of this church is to make sure we just stay right there at the bottom, humbly trusting in God to work in our midst. This is what it says in 1 Peter, chapter 5. Let me just give you the biblical explanation of this. It says:

"You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time…"

Amen? Amen. Let me give you another observation. Faith is not a force which obligates God, but our lack of faith can keep us from him. Look at Mark, chapter 9, verses 22 and 23, right behind me, in this little section we're studying. "'It has often thrown him [the spirit] both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!' And Jesus said to him, '"If You can?" All things are possible to him who believes.'"

Notice what it says. It does not say, "All things are proper to him who believes." It does not say, "All things are mandated by somebody who has belief," but it does make it clear that, at least if you have faith and believe, you will tap into the source that can make it possible. All things are possible, not all things are obligated, by belief.

One of the great heresies of our day is what is called the health, wealth, and prosperity movement or, typically, the faith movement, which is kind of a name-it, claim-it movement which makes faith a force and not something we are called to. All things are possible. You can move a mountain with the faith of a mustard seed. It doesn't say you will if you have it. It just says it's possible. It's impossible without faith, but with faith, those things can happen.

The point here is that the presence of faith does not obligate God, but also and more specifically, the absence of faith often limits the power of God to manifest itself to us. I have been personally aware of pastors in this city who have, at funerals, condemned a widow for her lack of faith because she's burying her husband on that day. That is grievous error.

Our sweet little Angela who's here, who got I don't how many stitches under her arm this week from what she's been through again, has lost her sight to diabetes, has lost her kidney, and her pancreas is just rotten inside of her. You try and tell me that girl doesn't have faith, and I'll slug you. Faith doesn't obligate God, but if we don't have faith, we are separate from the one thing that ultimately can help us in the midst of our hopelessness.

I'll tell you something. Angela's eyes are going to see one day, and her little kidney's going to be taken care. She'll be given a body that doesn't need a kidney. I'd love to see it happen now, and I pray all the time, "Lord, I pray for Angela. Man, would you just reverse this? Would you just confuse the heck out of the doctors and me one day when she goes in there and everything is as it was?

Lord, I know you could do that. It doesn't look like you're on the journey, on that road. I believe, God, you heal. I believe you can heal. I'm praying for healing, and Lord, I'll be honest with you. I'm not really sure you can do it. Would you just help me in my unbelief that you can do it? I know you can. You know, it makes sense to me that you would, but if you're not going to, would you just hold me as I try and hold her as we love her?

Thank you for the hope I have that there's going to be a day when we all see we were right to have faith in you and we see Angela in a body of glory that even her pre-blind eyes and pre-lost kidney body didn't shine a light to." You don't let anybody tell you that faith obligates God to anything. Nothing obligates God except his character, and I can't explain his character all the time, but I can tell you it's good.

Let me give you another one. Prayer is an expected activity in a constant relationship. What do I mean by this? I mean simply this. In this little section of Scripture… I'll tell you, is this applicable? Does this not make you want to study your Bible? By the way, I'm just going to confess something to you. When I teach, folks say all the time, "Man, it's like drinking through a fire hose, right?"

I'm not trying to fill up your little thirst. I'm trying to take you to the King who is a fountain, and if what we do here every week makes you a little bit hungrier to get in the Word and go, "Son, where'd all that come from? I read that text. I didn't see jack there." If it can make you want to go back and sit there and stay with it, then I have done my job.

You know, the old deal, "Give a kid a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a kid to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." No. I don't want to teach you. I want to make you love fishing. I hope you see that, in this Word, if you sit over it and ask God to speak to you, you'll never come away without something that's going to give you life. So yeah, I want there to be something you hold onto every week, but more than that, I want you to love the book.

One of the things we're seeing in this little section right here today is that unbelief is directly connected to prayerlessness. Let me say it this way. Our prayerlessness betrays our profession of belief. The disciples said they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but were they in connection with him? No. They had lost some connection with him.

The Scriptures do make it clear that prayer is a specific activity, but it's also an idea that I think is most pronounced and missing here in Mark 9. It is a constant relationship. There are times when we ought to gather and get on our knees or individually go in our rooms and close the closet door, but when you're done praying, that doesn't mean you have to stop praying.

There's a little verse that says, in fact, that we are to pray without ceasing. Now what's that mean? Does that mean we are to be in our closet on our knees all the time? Certainly not. Does it mean we should do Raise the Mark services all the time and we should not meet like we're meeting right now? Certainly not. Prayer is living in specific communication with God, which means speaking to and listening to and walking in relationship with. Let me just give you some verses which kind of roll that out for you.

I already mentioned 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17, which says, "…pray without ceasing." Look what it says in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 18. "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…" In the Old Testament, it says it this way. "Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually," which is to say, "Don't trust in your ability to go out and serve him apart from him."

When I'm meeting with individuals in a counseling, spiritual-directing kind of a way (I even try and do this just daily as I drive my kids to school in the midst of just being a human who's interacting with this world), I'm trying to have a conscious running dialogue where I'm sensitive to his Word and his Spirit in my life.

My wife who sits right here will tell you there are times I'm a more evident vessel of that than others, where I'm just going, "All right, what do I do right now?" I mean, there was a time yesterday where I had a chance to go down a road, and I just checked myself. I often hear the Spirit, but this time, by the grace of God, I listened to the Spirit, and I kept that communication going, and it informed my life.

What happened here in Mark 9 is that prayerlessness was manifesting itself in these disciples. The faith relationship had been severed, and the form was at work. See, the prayer Jesus had in mind here when he says to his disciples, "This type cannot come out except by prayer," was neither some pious exercise that needed to happen nor was it some magical invocation.

It didn't say, "Pray this prayer." He didn't say, "Go to 1 Chronicles 4:10 and pray the Prayer of Jabez." He didn't say, "This is the exorcist's prayer, where if you read these words, you know, snap goes the Devil, and out he comes." What he's encouraging them toward here is complete dependence on God. Here is the idea. Listen to this.

Jeremiah 17: "Thus says the Lord, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength…'" What you do by your strategies and programs. "…and whose heart turns away from the Lord." That man is cursed. He will be ineffective against the demons of this world. "For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes…"

Because there's no provision. "…but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water…" In other words, he's going to have everything he needs.

I believe what happened right here with these disciples is they were not trusting in the Lord. They were trusting in the fact that they've done this before and they can do it again. They weren't thinking about their communion with Christ and the relationship they had that gave them power. They were just the guys who could do it. There's no specific magical invocation that ever gets you out of anything, but walking in relationship with him is the key as a body, as an individual.

Let me just finish with just two very quick thoughts. First, from this text, we see this. People who come to us with a deep sense of desperation don't need us; they need him. You know, after the tragedy of September 11th, a group of us went down to Channel 8, and Channel 8 had put a little number on the screen that said, "If you need help and crisis counseling or want to talk to somebody who can help you in this, just call this number."

We sat down there at Channel 8 and answered the phone when folks called. One lady called up, and she said this to me. Well, actually, she called and got somebody else, and what she told that somebody else was, "I want to talk to a priest because I'm afraid I'm going to die, and I've done something very bad."

This lady who answered wasn't a priest, and I wasn't a priest, and there wasn't a priest around, but she said, "Well, I have somebody who's closer to a priest than I am," so she handed me the phone, so I get on the line with this sweet gal from Arlington, and we start to visit, and I say, "Well, tell me why you want a priest," and she says, "Because I need a priest so I won't fear death anymore." I think she'd gotten a bad line. I tried to take her to a priest.

I had her get her Bible in her house. She said, "It's a Catholic Bible. Is that okay?" I said, "You bet it is. Open it up. Go here. Read from your Catholic Bible these words of truth about a Great High Priest who wants to give you peace, not as the world gives and, frankly, not even as your church gives, but as the God of heaven who loves you gives." We read about six different places in Scripture together, and I told her to take her awful thing to that priest and to lay it at his feet and find forgiveness and hope and to pass out of judgment and into life.

I talked to her about how what she needed was not me and not some other man with a reverse collar but she needed a King who loves her who died for that sin and that she needed to own her sin and do everything she could to make restitution, to seek forgiveness from those individuals, and not go through some magical invocation but, in humility, to begin go walk in righteousness, which for some people means, "Do all you can to make right what you have done wrong and to bear the weight of your sin but to find freedom in Jesus Christ."

She didn't need me, and I just took her to him. Where these guys messed up is that they forgot the lesson of the 5,000. They forgot the lesson of the feeding of the 4,000, which is what you need for them, you get from me. When folks come here… I want to tell you something. We are so thrilled you are here today, and we just want to take you to Jesus Christ and tell you that this Jesus wants you to draw near to him. He doesn't want you to come and sit through our services alone.

He wants you to use these services as a means through which we bring you to him and that you can find life there, and that gal who found life in Arlington a couple of weeks ago and this child who found life on some dusty floor in Palestine a couple of centuries ago can be your sister and your brother.

I want you to know this Jesus loves you. He died for you. He came off that mountain where his glory was revealed and walked to a cross where my sin and your sin was dealt with, and if you're trusting in your own success to navigate your way through life, it won't be long before you're filled with a brokenness that you'll wish you knew a different spirit. Today, I just call you to humility to humble yourself before this King and to find life in him. Let's pray.

Father, I thank you for your Word. How rich it is and how full of instruction for me it is! I just make my way back through today a little bit with my friends right here, and sometimes folks tell us how much they need to meet with us, and we can, in our craziness, start to believe it, and we just say today, "We know they don't need us except we are individuals, men and women, who apply ourselves to your Word that we might take them to your Word that they might know you."

I pray, Father, we would be individuals, men and women, who are diligent to know this book that we might take others to the place of life. I pray we might be individuals who know the High Priest personally and walk in a relationship with him, so when we're on the phone with somebody or on the road of life with somebody, we can tell them about you as we live personally in relationship with you.

Many of us sit here today and say we believe, but our prayerlessness betrays our profession, and we repent, and we want to begin to walk in the Spirit and to pray at all times in the Spirit and to pray without ceasing and to not have confidence in our flesh or our form but in our Savior. Father, we realize you've humbled yourself greatly to let yourself be identified with us.

We pray for this body, that it would be a place, Lord, that doesn't cause you grief but brings you great joy as we humble ourselves before your Word, as we clarify our vision about who Jesus is, and as we walk with him moment by moment, day by day. Thank you for gifts, thank you for your presence, and thank you that you have given us power so that the gates of hell will not stand against this church, but may we never forget that those gates are going to fall because we walk with you and not because we run the gate by ourselves.

Lord, we pray for the lost in this city, that they would meet you through us. We pray for immorality in our lives, that it would be dealt with, not through our discipline but through the Spirit's power as we humble ourselves under the means of grace which you have offered us, and we pray the gates of hell would be shaken in this city, this state, this country, and around the world.

Father, I pray for your church universal that we would begin to get it right, and Lord, we can't effect change anywhere but here today. Start with me and let it ripple out to my friends and let it ripple out to the world which you died to save. I thank you, Father, that what we need for them, we get from you, so today, we come, and we say, "Not by our strength, not by our might but by our availability to you and by your Spirit's power, we will honor your name." In Christ's name we pray, amen.


About 'Gospel According to Mark, Volume 4'

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 9:1 through Mark 10:34 and includes the 2-message series "Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: The Ordeal and the Ideal".