December 13, 2015
Many of you are familiar with a quote by Protestant Reformer Martin Luther which goes something like this, “I have so much to do today that I will need to spend the first three hours in prayer in order to get it all done.” I don’t know about you, but how opposite that is in my own life. How easy it is for me to allow the busyness of life – the tyranny of the urgent – to squeeze out the things necessary, actually indispensible to my spiritual life – like personal time with God through Scripture reading and prayer. I can even spiritualize it – I’ve got to study to teach this Bible study or preach this sermon. I’ve got to meet with this person or that couple or this group. I’ve got to conduct this meeting, write that email, or return those phone calls. Is it possible that when the demands of life are greatest, it’s when we need God most? That when life gets really busy, it may not be time to roll up our sleeves, but rather, to fall to our knees?
Luther also said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Let that sink in. Is that true in your life? Think of it this way: if you walked in this morning, and your physical nourishment this week– food and water – were reflective of your spiritual nourishment – Scripture and prayer – how many of you would be on life support? Survey after survey reveal that Christians are praying less and less. While four out of five Christians say they prayed at least once last week, the average prayer is about five minutes. Let’s make it intensely personal and practical – have you prayed today? Did you pray yesterday?
Do you think prayer is important? Do you believe prayer is as necessary to your spiritual life as breathing is to your physical life? I know that many of you look at me, week after week, preaching God’s Word, and you think I have it all together. He probably prays for hours every day, and reads his Bible through, like once a week. Can I just take that off the table? Yes, I want to be a man of the Scripture and prayer. But this text hit me this week, much like it will hit many of you today.
Pastor Bryan Loritts of Trinity Grace Church in New York recently preached a sermon at Wheaton College where he challenged students on the topic of prayer. He made several comments worth repeating, such as, “The Christian life can be lived out of competency rather than divine connectedness.” Loritts is suggesting that we can actually live the Christian life – do the things Christians do – because we know the ropes. We know the words to say and the activities to do to appear Christian – like attending church on Sunday mornings. Are you a committed believer? Yes, I go to church. Do you read your Bible? Well, that’s what we read at church. Do you pray? Yeah, before every meal and we pray at church. I wonder how much of the five minutes of average prayer time is consumed by saying grace.
Here is what I want you to catch this morning – this is the big idea. Prayer is supremely and indispensably important. And so, do you pray? Because Loritts suggested, quoting E.M. Bounds, that great 19th Century pastor who wrote much on the topic of prayer, that every day you don’t pray is just a venture in functional atheism.
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Mark chapter 1 in our continuing study of this gospel. Mark has been wowing us with stories about Jesus. He wants us to know who Jesus is. So we’ve seen some rather spectacular things happen already. As per Isaiah’s prophecy, the forerunner name John the Baptist has already prepared the way for the Messiah. He has said things like, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “I baptize you with water, but there is One coming after me who will baptize you with Holy Spirit. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie His shoes.”
And then this One comes. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He’s baptized by John, and the heavens are opened. The Spirit of God is seen descending on Him in the form of a dove. The voice of the Father gives the divine introduction, “You are My beloved Son. In You I am well-pleased.”
We’re then given the short story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. All we’re supposed to understand from that is the highest forces of evil opposed Jesus. Mark wants us to know there is a cosmic battle going on – good against evil. And good in the person of Jesus Christ will prevail.
Jesus then came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The kingdom of God here – it is among you. It is available – you can enter by repenting and believing the gospel. He then begins calling His first followers – four fishermen – Peter and Andrew, James and John.
They make their way to Capernaum, and Jesus goes on the Sabbath into the synagogue to teach. And there, the cosmic battle continues. Right there in the synagogue, a demon-possessed man cries out, “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” Even the demons know who Jesus is. From the very beginning – and through this Gospel – Mark is wanting us to know who Jesus is – He is Christ, the very Son of God.
Jesus rebukes the demon and casts him out. Everyone is amazed – no one has ever taught like this man – with such power and authority. Jesus leaves with His four disciples and they go to Peter’s house – where they find Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He goes in, takes her by the hand, and raises her up. He heals her – so immediate and complete was the healing that she began serving them.
When that very evening came – the same day – the whole city gathered at the door of Peter’s house. With them, they brought their sick and demon-possessed, and Jesus healed all of them of various diseases and cast out demons. Mark tells us it was many – probably lasting into the wee hours of the night. Jesus has just had a very busy day. No doubt exhausted – He was, after all, a man – He falls into bed. But He rises early the next morning – while it was still dark. Let’s read the text – Mark 1:35-39 – read.
Jesus was busy – He had so much to do that He rose early to pray. He did not allow the busyness of life – the tyranny of the urgent – to keep Him from communing with His Father. This was a key – perhaps the key to success in ministry. And I suggest this morning that the effectiveness of your service to God is directly proportional to your communion with God. You may do all the right things, read all the right books, attend all the right conferences, work at the right job, attend the right church – but if you don’t have a vibrant, personal life with God, you are just a functional atheist.
Look at the text. Jesus had just had a previous exhausting day – teaching at the synagogue, driving out a demon, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then healing the whole city of whatever ailed them – various diseases and casting out demons – late into the night. But when the morning came, He could be found, already up, praying to and communing with His Father. We’re simply going to look at two points this morning:
- The Example of Jesus Praying (35)
- The Results of Jesus Praying (36-39)
What can we learn from Jesus’ prayer life in this one verse? I would suggest the following:
- First, Jesus had a time of prayer. Over and over in the Scripture, we find godly people sought time with the Lord early in the morning. Martin Luther sought time with the Lord early in the morning. Starting your day on the right track with the Lord is a great way to start. I know that as this point I should say, pick a time – whatever time is good for you and fits your schedule, but we’re looking at the example of Christ – and He started His day with the Father. Maybe we should take note of that.
- Second, Jesus had a place of prayer – and that place was often a deserted, secluded place. Whether it was alone on a mountain top, alone in the wilderness, alone in a garden, Jesus wanted no distractions – He wanted to be in a place where He could focus on His Father alone. Speak to Him, and hear from Him.
- Third, both the time – early in the morning – and the place – going to a secluded place – imply that Jesus’ time was an extended time. What I mean is this – His prayer was not relegated to five minutes of saying grace – although interestingly, we do find Him saying grace, that is, giving thanks before a meal. But remember, in the next verse, the disciples are going to look for Him, and I suppose that took some time. Again, He was no doubt tired from the day before, He had a busy day ahead – He had just started His Galilean ministry and was about to begin a countrywide preaching tour – but the truth is, He didn’t have time for itineraries and transportation details and lodging accommodations – He put first things first and spent time with His Father.
So what does your busy schedule hold? What is it that you’re doing that requires you ignore time with the Father? But you say, I have to pass my classes, I have to get to work, I have responsibilities. All of that is true. But all that is meaningless without a meaningful relationship with the Father.
- Which leads to the fourth thing – the success of His work was dependent on His communion with the Father. Yes, He was God in the flesh, but in the flesh, even the Son of God needed time with His Father. He needed the spiritual strength, vitality and refreshment that prayer and prayer alone gives.
Please don’t miss what I just said – even the Son of God in the flesh needed communion through prayer with the Father. If He did, how much more we? This will be the first of three times we see Him praying in this Gospel – and each time He will be seeking time alone with the Father. The second will be when He sends the disciples away in a boat, and He goes to a mountain to pray. The last, of course, is in the Garden. The truth is, He prayed all the time. Luke 5 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” And Luke 6 tells us He went to a mountain to pray, and spent the whole night in prayer to God.
Of course, the most famous will be in the Garden of Gethsemane. He will take His disciples there, leaving most at the entrance to the Garden. He will take His inner circle inside, and leave them, asking them to pray for Him. Then, He will go by Himself to pray. He prays long enough for the disciples to fall asleep. He will come back and forth to them three times – meaning three times, through the middle of the night, He spent time with His Father. When facing the cross, bearing the sins of the world – He needed time with His Father. Jesus was bearing the sins of the world in His body – what does your day hold that is more important and requires your attention?
The fact is, the Gospels are full of examples of Jesus praying. He prayed alone, He prayed in public, He prayed before meals and before important decisions, like choosing the Twelve. He prayed before healing and after healing, before exorcisms and after exorcisms. He prayed early in the morning, at night, through the night. He prayed constantly for the Father’s will to be done. It appears Jesus did nothing without praying. There are at least 38 times listed in the gospel accounts of Jesus praying. There are even times later in the epistles that Jesus prays – what do I mean? Well, if prayer is communion with God, we find Him making intercession for us to the Father. Jesus actually continues to pray for us. Is prayer important?
Jesus prayed so much the disciples observed it, and asked Him, teach us to pray. Teach us to pray like you do. That’s my hope for us today – that we will pray like Jesus prayed.
- By the way, before going to our second point, the last thing I’ll note about Jesus praying is He did not allow the tyranny of the urgent to keep Him from praying. I’ve referenced this already. In verses 36 and 37, we find the disciples looking for Him, and the implication is, because He went to a secluded place, it took them awhile to find Him. Actually, the word searched for Him is actually pursued Him – the word is often used of hunting something. They were diligent in their search. And when they found Him, they said, Everyone is looking for You. Implied is, what are your doing, Jesus? We don’t have time for prayer – we have the work of the kingdom to do. People are sick. People are possessed. Everyone is looking for You. You don’t have time to talk to God – You have spiritual work to do.
So what is it – what demands of life do you have – even good demands – family demands, work demands, fitness demands, church demands, kingdom work – that keep you from your appointed times with the Father? I think it’s interesting to note that Jesus did not ignore His responsibilities – but He made time to commune with the Father – even if that meant getting up early – while it was still dark. Even if it meant praying all night alone on a mountain. He made the sacrifices necessary to not sacrifice prayer.
Are you convicted? I am, so let’s move quickly and briefly to our second point – the results of Jesus Praying in verses 36-39. First, kind of hidden and related to what I said a moment ago is this – not everyone will understand the need to pray. In verses 36 and 37, Peter and the other three disciples look for Jesus, and when they find Him, they inadvertently seek to distract Him from praying.
What I mean is this – there will be people who don’t understand your need to spend time alone with God. And they may inadvertently try distract you from the discipline. They may try to remind you of your more pressing responsibilities – spouse, family, work, etc. Not only do you need to make the sacrifices necessary to pray, you need to allow others to make the sacrifices to pray. I would even say this – it would be good for you to encourage your husband, or wife or kids or parents to take time to pray. Even if that means sacrificing time with you. Don’t distract them – encourage them, remembering that prayer is as necessary to life as breathing.
Second, the more clear results of Jesus praying is effectiveness in ministry. Think about it, earlier in this chapter, it was after the Holy Spirit filled Him that Jesus entered His public ministry – began preaching the gospel, teaching in the synagogues, casting out demons, and healing people of various diseases.
And here, after an early morning period of prayer, Jesus says, now I’m ready. Let’s go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for. Notice, I’ve been saying it, He doesn’t ignore His responsibilities. He knows why He came to earth – to bring the good news of the gospel. He does what He expects His followers to do – to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. But He first sets the example of the necessary spiritual preparation of prayer. Having prayed, He now says, I’m ready.
The point for us is we should not enter any day of personal responsibilities – to include spiritual responsibilities – without proper preparation. Jesus, the very Son of God and God in the flesh, had His priorities in order. One of my commentaries has this section titled, Journey Inward, Journey Outward. That is the proper order – we seek communion with God, who then enables for His work.
And as a result – verse 39, He found great success. They went to the synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons. This is another one of Mark’s summary statements – but it’s important to note it comes on the heels of prayer. Jesus was now equipped, through communing with His Father, for the work that lay ahead. And as I said earlier, prayer was a regular regimen of His life.
Please notice in this summary, Mark says Jesus went around preaching and casting out demons. He doesn’t say anything about healing – certainly Jesus healed – we saw it last week, we’ll see it next time we’re in Mark. But in this summary, after praying, Jesus continued to cast out demons. Mark is reminding us there is a cosmic battle going on – Satan and his evil forces are being defeated – through the power of God Incarnate filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by communion with the Father. I don’t think it beyond the text to suggest that your battles with the forces of evil – since our battle is not against flesh and blood against demonic forces – our success in battle will be found first on our knees. After all, James said, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. How do we do that? Next verse – draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.
My brothers and sisters, draw near to God in prayer. Make it a priority in your life. Make whatever sacrifices are necessary to pray. And He will empower you to faithfully live the Christian life and accomplish His glorious purposes. It is true, prayer is as necessary to spiritual life as breathing.