Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive [the demon] 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.’”
- Matthew 17:19-21 NASB
Comprehending the Contradiction
I’ve recently learned there’s a different between simply knowing God is one thing and living a life which calls forth the very nature of God into the world around me, completely convinced it will arrive in the fullness of God’s promise. As an intercessor, I’ve read prayer requests concerning things I’ve never experienced, prayer requests yearning for breakthrough in order to dispel a level of darkness I’ve never seen before in situations I’ve never been through. I’ve recently found myself in positions where I must go before the Father, asking for certain promises to penetrate the lives of those around me, all out of my faith and knowledge that God’s promises are yes and amen - even those I’ve never had to endure for.
Through this, what I’ve come to learn is while God is eternally and completely good, while there is not a single part of Him which rejects grace, love, mercy, provision, and liberty, I believe it’s easy for us to be ensnared by simply knowing He is who He says He is; we limit breakthrough when we cling to the Christian ways of saying things like, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good,” and think because we know He is good we will experience great manifestations of His glory.
We’ve been called to cast out darkness. We’ve been commissioned to see the dead rise. We’ve been told to lay hands on the sick so we can watch them recover. But I’ve recently learned we can’t do any of those things simply by knowing - we must be completely convinced.
How many times have we found ourselves praying for God’s peace to defeat the anxiety in our lives, knowing Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and still cannot escape the entanglement of our worries? How many times do approach the Father asking for an opportunity to be used by Him, knowing He equips the called, and yet continue to tell ourselves we’re not good enough, over and over? How often do we go before the Father, thinking we have faith the size of a mustard seed and are left questioning His will?
Our commission to call forth God’s kingdom to Earth, as it is in Heaven is legitimate. It’s weighty. It’s the greatest privilege we have as human beings. But we can’t rely on our knowledge of who God is if we’re going to see His glory revealed in its fullness. We move past failure and into manifestation when we move from knowing and into conviction.
After reading Matthew 17:19-21, I kept asking God, “Why prayer?” I was intrigued at what seemed to be Jesus contradicting Himself. The disciples came to Jesus asking why they were unable to drive a particular demon out of this a man’s son. Jesus’ explanation was, “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.” In one moment Jesus told His disciples if they had faith the size of a mustard seed nothing would be impossible for them. Yet in the next moment, Jesus placed parameters on their faith as He limited their success to their time in prayer and fasting.
So how is it that all the disciples needed was faith the size of a mustard seed and were simultaneously told even if they had faith, the demon could only have been driven out by prayer and fasting? How can we be told all we have to do is believe and at the same time be told if we don’t pray and fast we won’t see certain situations be illuminated by the light? The answer is in the relationship between simply knowing God is who He says He is and being fully convinced.
Prayer, as stated in Matthew 17:21, means to earnestly pray, or rather pray with sincere and intense conviction. I believe Jesus was leading His disciples to spend more time with the Father so they would be truly convinced of His goodness and grace - to find conviction in their faith. In the disciples call to cast out demons, their failed attempt reveals they knew God wanted to use them in order to deliver others out of bondage. They wouldn’t have walked up to a possessed son, claiming His freedom in Jesus’ name if they didn’t know it was God’s desire for their lives. Yet in their failure, we also see they had yet to be fully convinced of it, resulting in prayers wavering in strength and confidence.
God called the disciples to a place where they were required to take what they knew about God, as our deliverance and command the demon to leave. God called them to exercise faith over another which they had yet to exercise over themselves - just as He so often does with us; however it is often this lack of experience with a given type of situation which reveals our lack of unbelief, as we must take what we know to be true about God and activate it in faith. Prayer bridges the gap because it is our communion with God where He plants mustard seed sized faith within our hearts. Prayer is what translates what we know into a seed of faith. It is in prayer that we are fully convinced. It is in prayer that our faith is convicted.
Discover Your Conviction
As I continued to ponder why God was calling His disciples to prayer and fasting, He revealed a hidden mystery regarding our journey into enemy camps for the purpose of seeing God’s glory disarm the plans of the enemy. God revealed that while Jesus was drawing His disciples closer in prayer in order to convince them they would one day be filled with the Holy Spirit and be used to cast out demons, there was another instrument of their faith which played a part in this particular event. While the disciples may not have been convicted they could cast out a demon, they did have a conviction. There was something on the inside of them, fully convinced Jesus was the Son of God. And regardless of what it was, it was the very reason they left behind their old lives and decided to follow God. The conviction on the inside of them was the instrument God wanted to use to propel them into greater faith as they stood before the demon possessed boy and He wants the same for us during the moments where we are faced standing before giants we’ve never faced before.
When we find ourselves in positions where we are asked to pray for promises we’ve never endured for or positions where we’re standing face to face with a darkness we’ve never experienced, God isn’t expecting us to be fully convinced the first time around. But what He does desire is for us to draw on the conviction which is already in us. He asks this of us because there is no part of Himself unable to relate to another. For example, If we are fully convinced of God’s faithfulness, if our conviction is in the truth that God will never fail us, we can stand before a demon possessed boy, just as the disciples did, even with a bit of unbelief and self-disqualification, drawing on our faith that even in our doubts God is faithful to deliver the oppressed. Regardless of whether we’re looking to drive out a demon or pray for financial provision, there’s a conviction within our spirits which cries the truth of Christ’s identity and in our moments of unbelief and doubt it is what will carry us into a greater faith - a faith that will make the mountains fall and darkness flee. The question becomes, “What is your conviction?”
Increase Your Conviction
While I’ve come to learn to live through my conviction that God is everywhere I go and that He is, I don’t believe God wants it to be the only thing I’m completely convinced of. Romans 1:17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” God’s desire is for us to experience a stronger, deeper, newer faith today than yesterday. Spending time in prayer brings us before God, facing the imperfect situations of our lives, admitting out doubt and humbly letting the Father convince us of His faithfulness. As we’re hungering for more of God’s glory to be manifested here on earth, God’s desire is that we would come to be fully convinced that every part of Him and everything He says about us is true. But we can’t grow in our conviction if we are not honest with God in prayer.
I believe Jesus told the disciples the demon could only be cast out through prayer and fasting because He wanted them to see the value in praying through sincere conviction. The misconception that there is weakness in being honest before God prevents us from the confidence in knowing as we are honest, we are trusting in the nature of the Father. When we pray with honesty, we pray with conviction that God is gracious and He is kind to take us into greater glory. We must be transparent with God regarding our faith. We can’t pretend we believe things we don’t. We can’t hesitate to admit our unbelief or doubt before God because it is only when we admit we need more faith is God able to sustain us with more. It’s when we spend time in prayer are we able to hear God’s heart regarding the things we have yet to fully understand. Prayer is the avenue of which we hear God confirm His plans for our lives and reveal the power of His word over the situations before us. Prayer is where God establishes convictions, planting them within mustard seeds.
Only By His Spirit
Zechariah 4:6 says it is, “not by might nor by power, but by His Spirit,” are we to see the heavens come down. I believe the disciples had yet to understand the Holy Spirit was working in and through them. They had yet to grasp what they were declaring over the man’s son was only able to be accomplished through the power of God. The only thing the disciples had to do, as Jesus illustrated in His response, was have faith.
In the moments of our journey with God where we are called upon to bring Heaven to earth in ways we never thought possible, ways we may feel unqualified for, we are to fast because it builds a familiarity with the sustaining power and grace of God. It is not by our power or might this world will be diminished of all darkness and destruction, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we fast, we condition our hearts to say, “less of me and more of God,” releasing ourselves from the feeling of responsibility to succeed. We begin to operate as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable before God, fully convicted in our faith, willing and able to be used by God to establish His ways here on earth.
There’s no doubt we will find ourselves before giants and mountains, before the darkness of this world as we await the glory of God to be revealed on earth. And as we find ourselves before these obstacles, God will call us to command them to fall by faith, a faith which may have yet to be built. Just as Jesus commissioned the disciples to pray and fast, if we pray through conviction and rely on His strength, we’ll carry the presence of God into situations we never thought we could.