Overcoming spiritual impotency starts by recognizing and accepting personal responsibility for both gains and losses. Impotent means “unable to take effective action—to be helpless or powerless.”
Before you get any wrong ideas, I’m talking in the broadest sense of living the Christian life at half-throttle, never reaching God’s full potential. Jesus set a high standard of ministry for His disciples,
“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
How wonderful to be called and given full authority to do the impossible! With opportunity comes responsibility.
Just a few verses later, Jesus spells out their mission more clearly,
“Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
As Christ’s followers, we are all called to “go” and “proclaim” the Good News of the Gospel. Each of us will carry out that mandate a little differently, depending on our situation and spiritual gift mix. We are all called to share God’s love with a world in need, however.
As well intentioned as I may be, I have been unable to reach the high mark Jesus has established. Although there’s a faint smattering of a few of these victories, I fall far short. I’ve been honestly seeking God and asking why. The lives of others depend on my overcoming spiritual impotency.
Pinpointing the Cause
Rather than focusing on the symptoms, we must go deeper to the cause of our powerlessness. God makes it clear, He desire us to freely give away all that we have received.
One day, Jesus invited His inner circle, Peter, James and John, up the mountain for an out of this world encounter with Moses and Elijah. Though the supernatural occurrence left them confused and questioning, they witnessed unbelievable things. Meanwhile, the other nine disciples weren’t idly waiting below. They were ministering — or rather they were unsuccessfully trying to!
” ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ ”
Ouch! How’s that for a scathing performance evaluation that no one desires to hear from their Superior? I feel the sting from this side of two thousand years!
It’s not just you and me working on overcoming spiritual impotency; the best of the best struggled too.
Matthew, who records the account, witnessed the suffering of this poor father and son. He felt the failure of his inability to set this young lad free from demonic possession and heal his troubled body and mind. Matthew knew that every Christ follower would face these same hurdles to effective ministry.
The First Problem
Signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit become a visible testimony of our salvation (Hebrews 2:3-4). God delegated these things for us all, not just those in “ordained” ministry. So what keeps us from fulfilling our calling? What’s the problem?
Jesus spells it out in two words: “unbelieving and perverse.” We tend to emphasize the former and ignore the latter. Both are critical if we are going to be effective at overcoming spiritual impotence.
“Unbelieving” goes beyond a littleness of faith. It also contains the aspect of not being worthy of confidence or being untrustworthy. Perhaps we have all experienced, either in our own lives or in the lives of others, a powerful sense of divine potential or excellence of calling. Yet, practically, we fall far short.
I have to be bold in my self-evaluation, if I desire to overcome this malady of spirit. Can Jesus depend on me? Am I trustworthy with the gifts, abilities and opportunities He offers? Do broken, hurting people come to me and leave just as broken and hurting, or does Jesus pour out from me with healing and deliverance? Do I make excuses for my failures?
I can fully believe in God and the inerrancy of His Word, yet without verbalizing it, justify why healing won’t work this time, deliverance isn’t for me to get involved in right now, and don’t even mention raising the dead. These things belong to super-gifted, anointed Christians! Right? Here lives unbelief at the core. Yes, we know Jesus is present to heal, deliver and restore to life, but we doubt His willingness to do it here — through us.
Jesus uses the opportunity to build up their faith.
” . . . Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The Second Problem
The Bible tells us that God has already given to each of us a measure or quantity of faith. Beyond question, we possess at least a mustard seed sized amount (Romans 12:3).
Overcoming spiritual impotency depends on our willingness to deal with both problems Jesus addressed. He identified the second hindrance to vibrant ministry as being “perverse.”
The dictionary says that “perverse” is
“showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”
The Greek word, διεστραμμένη (diestrammenē), means to distort, misinterpret, corrupt, or oppose. Literally, it means to be “wrong-headed, arising from stubbornness.”
I’m perhaps way more “wrong-headed” than I realize. Every time my thoughts don’t align with His thoughts, I’m wrong-headed. In every situation where I vainly think my ways will get it done, instead of leaning into Him, I’m wrong-headed.
I can’t sluff off my stubbornness to Irish genetics. Since the fall of mankind, wrong-headed thinking has led those whom God loves to “show a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable and unacceptable (to God and others), often in spite of the consequences.” No one can justly claim immunity in this regard.
God never pinpoints a problem without offering the solution. The disciples recognized they hit a legitimate ministry wall of failure and limitation. They sought Jesus’ help in overcoming spiritual impotency.
“He replied, This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Prayer and fasting align both our hearts and minds to God’s. These two disciplines draw our spirit, soul and body in surrender to the sovereignty of God. Prayer doesn’t just change things — it changes us!
“He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.”
During Moses’ daily times in the Tent of Meeting talking with God, he came to know God — His character, His attributes, and His nature. He clearly saw the ways of God.
The people who stood back and watched God from a distance only experienced God’s deeds. They saw His miracles, ate daily of His provision, and sat under the fire by night and the cloud by day. Still, they did not “know” God! They continued to walk in deliberate and obstinate disobedience, even while knowing what was right.
When Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting,” was he referring just to a demon in a child? Could He also have been referring to our unbelief and perverse tendency?
It’s not just the demon possessed who suffer. We all do! Prayer and fasting are essential for us to overcome spiritual impotency. Only God can set us free from every “unbelieving and perverse” way. Prayer and fasting releases us from our boxes of little faith and wrong-headed thinking. Then what we have so freely received from Jesus will flow freely to others.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The first month of the year is an excellent time to designate for prayer and fasting, resetting priorities, and giving God first place. I’m asking Him what He desires to set me free from. Undoubtedly, unbelief and wrong-headed thinking hold prominent position on His list.
Unbelief originates in the heart; perversion flows from the mind. With hearts faith-filled and fully devoted to God, let’s endeavor to live with minds “clear-headed” free from every perverse way. Then we will gain the power to live victorious, bringing freedom and hope to those around us.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
1 Peter 4:7