Too Busy Not to Pray
James C. Denison
Last Wednesday I was working on today’s message, searching for an introduction. As I leafed through some files, my eye was drawn to a plaque one of my sons gave me a few years ago:
I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day.
I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task.
“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He answered: “You didn’t ask.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on gray and bleak.
I wondered why God didn’t show me. He said, “But you didn’t seek.”
I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.”
I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day.
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.
Have you been there? Problems tumbling about you, heavier each task? The day toiling on gray and bleak because you didn’t seek? I’ve been there as well. There’s only one solution to the restlessness and fatigue of our souls. In these days of economic uncertainty, controversy in Washington, frustration and pain in Iraq, stress on our families and hearts, there’s only one thing to do.
As we watch Jesus prepare for Easter, we’ll learn today how to face our own Caiaphas and Calvary, Judas and Pilate, our own problems and fears and pain. We’ll learn how to find the peace and power of God, where we need them most today.
When Jesus prayed
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35). Jesus has just spent an exhausting day. He started the day by preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. He exorcised a demon in the worship service. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He spent the evening healing all the sick of this large town.
If I were to preach this morning, and cast a demon out of someone right here in church; then go to a member’s house for lunch and heal his mother-in-law; then spend the evening until late counseling with people from all over North Dallas who have come to me with their problems, I would feel tomorrow like Jesus feels here.
Now it’s the day after the Sabbath–Monday morning to us. Jesus gets up before dawn, around three or four in the morning. He leaves Peter’s house in Capernaum and walks out of town. He goes to a “solitary place,” literally a “wilderness place” in the Greek. Some place where no one else would see him, off the road, out in the country.
If I were to get up tomorrow morning around 3 or 4, get in my car and drive out of the city, pull off the road, and hike out into a field alone, I would do what Jesus did here.
And he “prayed.” The Greek “imperfect” tense indicates that he continued to pray, all morning long. Not for just a few minutes, but from 3 or 4 until daybreak, two or three hours of solitude with God.
What did he pray? Mark’s Jewish readers already knew. We Gentiles, 20 centuries after the fact, don’t know much about first-century Jewish spirituality. But when we learn how Jesus grew up in the faith, what he was taught to pray and how, we see how crucial the practice of God’s presence was to his soul. And should be to ours.
We’ll spend the bulk of our time this morning simply listening to what Jesus said to his Father, watching the Son of God commune with the God of the universe.
What Jesus prayed
From the time he was five years old, Jesus was taught to begin each day with the central affirmation of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). He began this Monday morning in that way.
Then, like all observant Jews, he continued to recite the paragraph: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). He prayed all of that to God on this morning.
Next, he recited Deuteronomy 11:1-21 from memory. He followed then with a recital of the Ten Commandments.
He concluded his regular morning prayers with the Shemoneh ‘Esreh, the “Eighteen Benedictions,” spoken to God while facing Jerusalem. They are part of the Jewish prayer book, recited by every practicing Jew every morning, afternoon, and evening, and during synagogue services on the Sabbath as well. Jesus had them memorized. I don’t, but want you to hear them as if he was praying them on this early Monday morning.
First, he prayed to the God of history: “Blessed are you, Oh Lord our God and God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the great, mighty and revered God, the Most High God who bestows lovingkindnesses, the creator of all things, who remembers the good deeds of the patriarchs and in love will bring a redeemer to their children’s children for his name’s sake. Oh king, helper, savior and shield. Blessed are you, Oh Lord, the shield of Abraham.”
Next, he prayed to the God of nature: “You, Oh Lord, are mighty forever, you revive the dead, you have the power to save. You sustain the living with lovingkindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, Oh doer of mighty acts? Who resembles you, a king who puts to death and restores to life, and causes salvation to flourish? And you are certain to revive the dead. Blessed are you, Oh Lord, who revives the dead.”