When you have small children, there are not many moments of rest. They wake up; you are then up. From that moment, your day is filled with needs, questions, discipline, encouragement, and a wide array of tasks. Even when they might be resting, you still have to prepare for the next stint in the race, clean their clothes, etc. There is always a need before you. The child is dependent upon the parent. They might be left for a moment without burning down the house, but eventually, they require your attention. Jesus’ ministry has been filled to the brim, the whole region of Capernaum has heard of his power and preaching, and they have flocked to him (Mark 1:32-34). His schedule is packed, like calling a popular mechanic or doctor and the receptionist explaining that we cannot see you for another three months. However, through all of this ministry, we see Christ’s ministry is not only public but private. His ministry is not only preaching and powerful works of might but also humble reliance on God. His ministry is also one of prayer.
I. Period of Prayer
The first thing we notice is the hectic chaos surrounding Jesus’ ministry, everyone bringing their sick and others possessed by unclean spirits to him. Yet, we turn in the next verse to a quiet and dark scene. There is no hustle and bustle. But “rising early in the morning.” Not many people love waking up early in the morning. You do so out of necessity, to get to work, to get to the airport, or to work out. Yet here Mark points out Jesus’ rising early in the morning, for a particular purpose, which we will look at. But I want to point out that he gets up early in the morning. He not only gets up early in the morning, but very early in the morning, the Greek word might mean more like exceedingly early. Not only very early, but he also points out how early. While it was still dark, again, the Greek says while it was still night. How early? It was so early you might not even call it the morning but the middle of the night! Mark lists three prayers in his Gospel account; One following the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:46) and in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-39). All of these accounts of prayer in Mark happen at night.
David McIntyre, in his fabulous book on prayer, The Hidden Life of Prayer, says, “The equipment for the inner life of prayer is simple, if not always easily secured. It consists particularly of a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” Prayer is simple yet not easily secured. When we think of our prayer life, it is often sporadic and not scheduled. We explain ourselves away, “I am more a pray as go,” or “Pray continually person.” It is not to turn prayer into a legalistic mindset of merit earned. However, shall we not pray that grace may abound by no means. For Jesus, he needed to find a quiet hour, which meant in the middle of the night. To find this time, he did not carve time out of his day (Although I am sure he did pray when the sun was up), but he found this time in darkness. He found this time in the chill of the night. We might not find a quiet hour of a sixty-minute block, but we at least should seek to find a period of time to pray.
O brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friends than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper – and sleep too – than not pray. And we must not talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest. The Lord is near. He comes softly while the virgins slumber. – A A Bonar
II. Place of Prayer
Secondly, mark explains that Jesus not only got up early, but he also went out. Mark explains twice that he departed and went out. Again, emphasizing the actions of Christ, not only he heeded a quiet hour, but also a quiet place. He withdrew from the house where healing took place, and he went out to a desolate place. This is the same word used in the rest of chapter one, referring to the wilderness. He withdrew to the wilderness, the location of John preparing the way (Mark 1:4), but also Christ’s temptation (Mark 1:12). The wilderness is tied to the period of testing for the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings, a place of repentance, restoration, and fellowship with God. Mark again empathizes the isolation of the secret place of prayer in Jesus’ Ministry, each of the three occasions Jesus does so in isolation. Luke explains Jesus frequently withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16). You think being up in the middle of the night would pull you away from the distractions, yet we know all too well, distractions are plenty when you seek to pray.
The place of prayer does not mean you need to drive out to the desert. In Matthew, just before the Lord’s teaching on the Lord’s prayer, Jesus explains that “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door” (Matt 6:6a). Your place of prayer might not be a specific room with the use of prayer, but it might be a chair and table, a lazy boy, a closet. Susanna Wesley had nine children who survived infancy, two of which we know, John and Charles Wesley. Susanna would seek to find two hours in her day for reading the Bible and prayer. Her ‘room’ was located on a stool, where she would sit down and put her apron over her head, and have her Bible on her lap. This example is not used to give everybody a guilt trip but as a source of encouragement. The beautiful thing about prayer is that it is not location-specific. We can pray anywhere because God is everywhere. We find our quiet place because we are the ones that get distracted. They are good distractions, Christ’s ministry is important, yet he withdrew to find that place of solitude.
III. Privacy of prayer
In the middle of the 17th Century, the Church of England was going through a reform, where we get the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. However, along with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, they also addressed worship. They created a directory of Public worship and a little booklet called the Directory For Family Worship. This booklet is only about 2500 words long and addresses the nature of worship not within the church on the Lord’s days. The Directory was written about Family worship/devotions and what they call ‘secret worship.’ They explain that “Besides the public Worship in congregations, mercifully established in this land in great purity, it is expedient and necessary that secret worship of each person alone, and private worship of families, be pressed and set up; that, with the national reformation, the profession and power of godliness, both personal and domestic, be advanced.” They explain that it is ‘expedient and necessary for believers to gather together on the Lord’s day and alone and with their families for worship. These three types of ‘worship’ will lead to national reformation, profession, and power of godliness, on a level of personal sanctification but also affecting the home. The three types of worship will permeate nationally, domestically, and personally.
Matthew continues after explaining to go into the room and close the door, “pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6). In the passage we are looking at today, Mark explains that Jesus was hard to find (vs. 36). The word searched for him has the connotations of hunting or searching urgently. You only look for something that is hidden, that is hard to find. The two-fold nature of prayer is public prayer and private prayer or secret worship. The Directory of Family worship explains, “secret worship, it is most necessary, that everyone apart, and by themselves, be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit whereof is best known to them who are most exercised therein.” The reward in Matthew 6:6 is referred to the unspeakable benefit, which is “communion with God” and “right preparation.” I have seen in my life the many men and women who I admire as heroes of the faith. I see their character, their love of Christ and his church, I see their devotion to their family, and even hear their prayers. Of all these people I look up to, I realize that they have a ‘quiet hour, quiet place, and quiet heart.’ They do not boast of this time or point to it as a sense of their holiness or righteousness. It is always in passing or hearing from others.
IV. Purpose of Prayer
In all of this, we should be cautious to then attribute the scope of our prayer life to our salvation or means of meriting our salvation. We look to Jesus as our example of what a Christian life should look like, and we should seek to be like Christ in every way. We will fail. This is why we need Christ, for all those times we have not risen early, where we have not gone out to our secret place, for all the times we have not prayed, we are reminded that Christ lived the life that we should have lived, and he has given that life to us. The grace of the gospel is that we have the account of Christ to teach us how to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but also when we fail and fall short, which we often do, we look to Christ as our perfect example and our savior and redeemer.
The reverse is also a challenging thought because Christ is sinless and still prayed. How much more should we be dependent on God? John Calvin explains, “But if he, who was full of the Holy Spirit, (John 3:34) implored the Father, with such ardor and earnestness, to preside in the election, how much greater need have we to do so?” We go to prayer not only to place our petitions before God but also go to pray before the throne of grace. We should go to church weekly for worship, but we should also go to the throne of grace daily and do so in prayer. Jesus’ response to his disciples is that the reason he came out to a quiet place to pray is that he would be prepared for ministry. Jesus’ ministry is powerful and effective. It is unique, and we need to ensure we understand that his ministry is one of a kind because he is one of a kind. Yet his ministry is word and prayer. This ministry continues under the apostles in the book of Acts and is still valid for the church today. This passage should convict us when we do not pray, comfort us for the times we have not prayed, and challenge us to find that secret worship with a quiet place, quiet hour, and quiet heart. Let prayer be the engine room of this church that we all together, and individually, as the people of God, seek the Lord in prayer and pray for mighty powerful works in this building, town, state, nation, and world.