This basis for the Essential Passages series is here. (Click the red word)
Mark 9: 14- 29 (New King James Version)
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?”
Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”
He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”
So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer [and fasting].”
It would be good for you to keep in mind now that the Essential Passages are based on things I think about! What's essential for me might not be for you. That being said, I cannot say enough about this passage from Mark.
The cry of the father is one of the most poignant prayers in Scripture, "I believe, forgive my unbelief." I love it in the older English: "I believe, forgivest thou my unbelief." This is one of the best example of how the Holy Spirit intercedes in our prayers, simultaneously helping us with confession and in faith. None of us are able to believe as we ought on this side of the life of faith, but we are called to live into the faith God gifts to us.
Even when we feel faithless and lost, that faith remains active within us. Getting up from day to day requires supreme acts of faith, though we do not often see it that way. That's the case for most of us. Yet, even for those who struggle with darkness and depression, opening one's eyes for a moment requires the faith to believe that the world is still there.
With each breath, from day to day, the believer sighs, "I believe, forgive my unbelief." How can we not, when we look at the world and wonder where God is, what God does and to whom God appears?
Secondly, the demon came out through prayer and fasting- meaning Jesus was prepared to handle the situation, but the disciples weren't. Now, was Jesus able to (regardless of prayer and fasting) because He was the Son of God, but for the disciples-extra devotion was needed? I'm not sure, but there are other details here to examine as well.
It is important, crucial in fact, to understand that this was a spiritual demon- that the boy was experiencing the real presence of a force that opposed God. This demon had physical effects on the boy. We have no way of knowing if this was something we would recognize as a mental or physical disorder. Many, many people (especially children) are harmed or killed each year because well-meanig people try to cast demons out of them to cure them from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism and other organic illnesses. Prayer is certainly needed in these cases, but we are called by God to embrace medical and scientific treatments that improve the quality of life for people who suffer in this way.
That being said, how often do we fast and pray for a situation we wish to see improved? During the election season? For a sick friend? During a time of crisis? In so doing, we may not receive the answer we seek, but we may (may!!!) come closer to understanding the will of God.
We probably would not read about this story in Mark if the boy had not been healed. This is not to say that we only get the stories where Jesus was "successful", but we read the stories where people, like you and me, understood that something greater was at work than just a miracle worker.
The cry of the father and the frustration of the disciples (who were usually able to heal) are examples to us in the life of faith- calls to embrace our own limitations and to recognize how God makes up those limitations. We believe, forgive our unbelief. We act, forgive our inaction. We love, forgive our hatred. We accept your grace, forgive our resistance.