And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35 ESV)
Why is Jesus praying? Why does Jesus need to pray? What does this teach us about prayer? Let us begin by considering what Jesus is doing by going off alone to pray. The Gospel of Mark is picturing the very active ministry of Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples, they go to Capernaum and immediately cast out an unclean spirit, which spreads the fame of Jesus throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. They leave the synagogue and go to Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and Jesus heals her. Then the whole city gathers at the door, bringing all who were sick or oppressed by demons. Jesus heals many who were sick with various diseases, casts out many demons, and would not even permit the unclean spirits to speak. What a day! Jesus had a very full day in Capernaum, a day that we would surely find to be extremely exhausting. But what does Jesus do? Jesus does not sleep in. Jesus does not take a day off. Jesus does not take a vacation. Jesus wakes up very early in the morning to pray.
Jesus was not too busy to pray. Prayer was critical at this moment because of all that was going on in the life of Jesus. Prayer is pictured as the engine that drove the work of Jesus. Prayer is central to Jesus’ ministry. This is often the opposite of how we see the use of prayer. We get too busy to pray. Yet in a whirlwind of activity, Jesus creates the time to pray.
Therefore, prayer is not merely a way to get things from God. It is so easy for us to think of prayer this way. We pray when we need something. We leave God alone until we need something. Yet this passage in the life of Jesus shows us that prayer is a way to get more of God in our lives. Prayer is the way we draw near to God and have him as the center of our lives.
There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:7–8 ESV)
Calling on God’s name is the same as stirring yourself up to take hold of God. Prayer is the way we strive to take hold of God. Prayer is how we bend ourselves to be in his image, molded by his hands. In fact, prayer is a defining mark of God’s people. Listen to what Moses says to Israel and their relationship to God.
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (Deuteronomy 4:7 ESV)
Prayer assumes the priority of the inner life with God. Most people base their inner life on outward circumstances. People are depressed because of outward circumstances. People are anxious because of outward circumstances. People are relieved because of outward circumstances. For many, the inner life is completely based on external circumstances, defined by all that happens to them. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them, their social status, prosperity, and performance. Prayer sets our inner life to be defined by God and our peace comes from that constant connection with our Father in heaven. The goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God. Prayer is taking hold of a deep relationship with God that we desire to have with him. Thus, prayer becomes central to all we do because we want God with us in everything.