After a long day of ministry and a short night of rest, Jesus got up before dawn and slipped out of the house. Later others woke up. Someone, maybe Peter, asked, “Where’s Jesus?” No one knew. As the little fishing village of Capernaum began to stir, the disciples asked around, “Have you seen Jesus?”
“No, but we are looking for him. We heard he made quite a scene in the synagogue. Everyone is talking about his amazing power to heal. And such power over demons!”
Soon someone picked up the trail. It led around the northern edge of the lake and up into the hills where they found Jesus praying. It was Peter who confronted the Christ in a reproving voice: “Everyone is looking for you!” (vs 37). “They are bringing their sick and broken relatives from all over for you to fix. What do you mean slipping off without telling anyone?”
But Jesus had an appointment of infinitely higher priority: He needed to withdraw from service to meet alone with the Father. And from time to time don’t we? When our spiritual energy is spent, (Thank God!) there is a way to renew it.
I. If Jesus needed to get up and go out early to prayer, how much more do we!
Before the phone starts ringing, before the work day begins, we need to be alone with God. How much calmer will be our hectic schedules when we do give the Lord the priority he deserves. Our human frailty demands it. We have too much to do to try to do it in our mortal strength. Remember Ralph Cushman’s poem?
I met God in the morning When my day was at its best,
And His presence came like sunrise, Like a glory in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered, All day long he walked with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered, Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings, With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings, With the Presence left behind.
So I think I’ve learned the secret, Learned from many a troubled way:
You must seek God in the morning If you want him through the day.
(“Prayer Poems,” compiled by O.V. and Helen Armstrong. Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1942.)
II. If Jesus needed to find a solitary place for prayer, don’t we?
They go together, you know, the quiet time and the quiet place. We bow our heads before the Father in reverence; we close our eyes to help shut out the distractions around us. Maybe we need to stop our ears, too, against the din of this world that is “too much with us.”
Mark tells us in a later chapter that Jesus again slipped away from everyone and “went up on a mountainside to pray” (Mk.6:46 NIV). And Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16 NIV). And on one occasion “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God” (Lk. 6:12 NIV).
When Congress was trying to solve the school-prayer issue a while back, one proposal was to mandate a “moment of silence.” Students could choose to pray or not pray. One teacher said: “I would be delighted for congress to give me a moment of silence in my class at any time for any reason!”
III. If Jesus put prayer ahead of any other ministry, maybe we should too.
Peter expected Jesus to jump in response to the clamor of the crowd. Prayer did not appear to be a priority to Peter. Or to the other disciples. Or to the gathering crowd. Jesus did not let any of them set his agenda. We are not told on this occasion what Jesus prayed, but that he was praying. We might like to have more of his prayers in the sacred record. But then, this same passage also describes an extensive preaching tour of Galilee, and we don’t have a single report of one sermon on that tour.
The word translated “to pray” is pretty much the generic, comprehensive word for prayer rather than a word that might describe petition or intercession. It is not hard to imagine Jesus spending time in praise and adoration of the Father. Probably he laid before the Father the preaching tour they were about to begin. Do you think such prayer might have something to do with his amazing mastery of his own destiny?
Perhaps he prayed as he did in Mt. 11:25-26: “At that time Jesus said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . . Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Whatever his prayer, he found a renewing of spirit. As Isaiah said centuries before: The incomparable Jehovah, Sovereign and holy Creator, the everlasting God gives strength to the weary and power to the weak. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength – to soar, to run, to walk and not faint (Isa. 40:21-31 summarized).
Surely this retreat from the clamoring crowd to the quiet and comfortable bosom of the Father had much to do with the ability of Jesus to resist the pressure of the world to press him into their mold. We don’t discipline ourselves to pray as we should. And in that, we do not follow Jesus as we would. Look at Jesus for a glimpse of what a real prayer life could be – and do.
Sermon brief provided by: Austin Tucker, a teacher and writer living in Shreveport, LA