the shape of leadership

Only by Prayer

A reason for hope in 2024

George P Wood on January 1, 2024


There are moments when I almost despair at the state of Christianity in the United States.

The percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation continues to increase, while the share of those identifying as Christian and attending worship services declines.

Every week brings new reports of prominent Christian leaders discrediting themselves through sexual immorality, financial impropriety, or spiritual abuse.

And among those ministers who remain faithful, many report high levels of stress, burnout, and even a desire to leave vocational ministry altogether.

In short, the American Church seems like it’s failing — badly. Even so, my desperation is almost rather than absolute. A story from the Gospel of Mark explains my hopefulness.

The story concerns the disciples’ inability to exorcize a demon that caused a boy to experience epileptic symptoms from a young age (Mark 9:14–29). Their helplessness is puzzling because when Jesus called His disciples, He gave them “authority to drive out demons” (3:14–15). Furthermore, on their first missions trip, they were able to do precisely that (6:13).

If everything is possible for God, there is always reason to hope.

By Mark 9, however, the disciples had lost that ability. Jesus quickly identified the root of the problem: lack of faith. “‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’” (verse 19). And then, to the father pleading for his son’s healing, Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (verse 23).

This complete trust in God characterized Jesus’ own faith, as we see during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you’” (14:36).

The problem with the disciples is they seemed to have lost faith along the way, a loss that was evident in their prayerlessness. When the disciples asked why they couldn’t perform the exorcism, Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (9:29).

I cannot help but wonder whether the American Church’s seeming failure, like the disciples’ before them, is the result of a prayerlessness that reveals lack of faith.

Rather than trusting God, are we trusting in the long history of Christian influence in America, church-growth techniques, or politics?

If so, we are trusting in human means to accomplish divine ends, when, as Jesus said, some things will happen “only by prayer.”

As 2024 begins, then, let us commit ourselves afresh to faith-filled prayer for revival in America, for purification of the Church, and for the encouragement of disheartened Christians.

If everything is possible for God, there is always reason to hope.

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