Monday, March 17, 2014

Five Things About Jesus and Prayer

  Life of Christ 45

          It is Sunday morning. Jesus had preached yesterday, and then stayed up late into the night doing miracles and ministering to people. Naturally, then, as all preachers do early on Mondays, He gets up before dawn, walks out of town, finds a lonely spot, and pours out His soul in prayer (Mark 1.35-39).
          I do not have, today, some great insight from the rabbinical writings. I do not have some fascinating explanation of the story. I do not have some interesting tidbit from the culture of the day. What I do have is five simple thoughts from this story about prayer.
          First, we notice that He prayed for large chunks of time.
          God hears you, assuming your heart is right, no matter how long or short you pray. Additionally, there is no specific scripture passage that demands we spend a certain amount of time in prayer. But these two facts, while facts, do not mean that our prayer life is designed to consist of short, brief, occasional prayers. What we find in the life of Christ is an example modeled for us in scripture of a prayer life that occupied great amounts of time.
          'And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed' (Mark 1.35).
          'He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God' (Luke 6.12).
          'And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest thou not watch one hour?' (Mark 14.37).
          Respectfully, don't tell me that you can't pray for an hour. Tell me you haven't yet, but don't tell me you can't. I think, if you tried, you might not get to an hour but you would be shocked how much further you would get than you thought you would, and with time and experience your ability to pray in blocks of time will grow.
          Second, He prayed in the wilderness.
          I have already referenced this in this blog, but one of the things you see about the life of our Lord is an oft repeated emphasis. It is a scriptural truth that you can pray anywhere and God can hear you (John 4.24). It is also a scriptural truth that you can pray among other people (Matthew 21.13). But there is also a scriptural emphasis on praying alone, in complete privacy. When there is zero fear of being overheard you can pour out the innermost thoughts of your heart and soul (Psalm 62.8).
          Yes, this can be done alone on top of a skyscraper, for instance, but there is something to be said in scripture about the importance of stillness and quiet when communicating with God. 'Be still and know that I am God' (Psalm 46.10). 'Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth' (Isaiah 5.8). I encourage you to find a wilderness somewhere, a place where you can be completely alone, and in relative quiet, and then spend some chunks of time in prayer there.
          I can hear it now, 'This is all well and good for you preachers, but it is completely unreasonable for me.' Why? Is Jesus only modeling prayer for preachers? Are preachers the only ones that need to pray or are they the only ones to whom God listens? I'm glad you work hard for a living, forty or fifty hours a week, but what about your days off? Could you not take an hour or two and just get alone with God once in a while out in the woods? Find a wilderness and pour out your heart to the Lord until you forget what time it is.
          Third, He prayed.
          I know why I need to pray. I'm sinful. My natural state is to drift away from God. I'm a frail and weak human being. I'm completely powerless to change events beyond my control. I also know why you need to pray. After all, you are just like me. But why would Jesus need to pray? He was sinless, never away from the Father for a moment of His existence until the cross, He worked miracles, and He knew what was in man's heart. When you set you and I on one side and Jesus on the other it would seem that He wouldn't need to pray at all, yet He clearly did, and did as a point of emphasis.
          I believe strongly that although He was the divine Son of God He laid aside aspects of those attributes when He took upon Himself the form of man. The human Jesus voluntarily was not omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent. He did His works in the power of the Holy Spirit, yielded to Him. In other words, He, in essence, depended for what He needed just as much on God as you and I have to do. And so He prayed. And if He prayed then you and I certainly need to pray.
          Fourth, the more He was involved in ministry the more He prayed.
          We find Him, at this point, several months into His public ministry, on His initial preaching tour of Galilee. He has begun doing miracles. He has begun preaching on a regular basis. He has begun gathering to Himself a few men to train. Galilee is responding to all of this with enthusiasm, and the Bible says that at this time 'all men seek for thee' (Mark 1.37).
          If this took place in 21st century America to us we would promptly hire an assistant pastor and another secretary, launch some new programs for the young people, begin formulating a book, and plan a nationwide preaching tour. Jesus didn't. He prayed.
          Every child of God needs to serve Him, whether inside a local church or outside of it. As that ministry grows it should begin to dawn on you that your need for His help also grows. For example, a bread delivery truck driver is assigned a certain route. If he takes his work conscientiously and does it well he will find that his route grows. As his route grows he will then find he needs more bread. The same thing is true of you and I. Just like Jesus, the more we are involved in ministry the more we need to pray. I am reminded of Luther's famous dictum, 'I have so much to do today I must spend the first three hours in prayer.' We cannot give people what they need unless we get it from the Lord, and the more need with which we are faced the more time we must spend with Him.
          Fifth, He prayed, and others followed. 'And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him' (Mark 1.35-36).
          One of the great fringe benefits of becoming a person of prayer is that others follow you in the same thing. Inside every genuine Christian there beats at least a tiny desire to learn to pray. It may be largely silenced by materialism, carnality, laziness, intimidation, comparison, or insecurity, but it is there. When you learn to really get a hold of God He can use that to motivate others to want to get a hold of God too. 'And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said, Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11.1).
          Fathers, if you want your children to pray, then pray. Mothers, if you want your children to pray, then pray. Teachers, if you want your students to pray, then pray. Husbands, if you want your wife to pray, then pray. Friends, if you want your friends to pray, then pray. Blaze the trail and others will come behind you.
          Several years ago my father sustained a terrible heart attack, and had to undergo an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. God, in His grace, brought him through it, but I am reminded of the days in the hospital immediately afterward. He wasn't allowed to go home until the breath in his lungs was powerful enough to hold a certain ball up in a breathing chamber. This was important because breath brings oxygen, and you cannot live without oxygen. So they had him breathe and breathe and breathe into that little chamber, pushing the ball up again and again and again. Prayer is the lungs through which our Christianity breathes; pray and pray and pray, and then watch in amazement as your prayer life takes shape and strength.
          There is nothing more important to your Christian life than prayer.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this blog you can find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 20, 'And There Prayed.'

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