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The Life of Jesus: The Prayer Life of Jesus

March 2, 2014


Sermon:  The Life of Jesus:  The Prayer Life of Jesus 
Text:  Mark 1:29-37


Today in our series The Life of Jesus, we will focus on the prayer life of our Lord and Savior by considering Mark 1:29-37:

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

In Mark 1 we read that Jesus had a busy day on this Sabbath.  He had taught in the synagogue, then afterwards gone to that home-away-from-home in Capernaum, the home of Simon Peter.  There he healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill.  Later that night after sundown the entire town came to this home, wanting to hear the teachings of Jesus.  They also begged Jesus to heal them of their illnesses.  Can you imagine how long it took Jesus to work through that crowd?  In Verse 35 we read that early the next morning, before daylight, he got up and went out to a lonely place to pray.

We see prayer as an integral part of our Lord’s life.  From the very beginning of his ministry – beginning with his baptism and continuing to the very end of his life – we are told that Jesus prayed.  The Father had many things He wanted His son to know, especially during that last week of his life.  When everyone else was against him, Jesus’ Father in heaven wanted him to know the sure and steadfast promise, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”  I would submit to you that if prayer was that important to our Lord Jesus, it ought to be a central part of our lives as well.

Early in the ministry of Jesus the disciples clearly did not understand the significance of prayer to Jesus.  After seeing their Lord leaving to pray by himself, they came to him and interrupted his time with “Don’t you know everyone is looking for you?”  These men did not consider his time of prayer as valuable as his time teaching and healing.  We will see a change in their attitude later in the sermon.

How do we learn to pray?  The key to learning to pray is practice.  Learning to play chess is impossible without playing the game.  I can play the piano.  In all honesty I can only play two songs, “Happy Birthday” and the bottom end of “Heart and Soul.”  That is my repertoire.  I took piano lessons, but I did not practice.

I heard about a woman who collected all kinds of recipe books.  One day while her pastor was visiting the home, he noticed her assortment of books and said to the husband, “Boy!  Your wife must be a great cook.”

The husband answered, “No, we go out for almost every meal.  She has many recipes, but she does not cook.”

We can tear out the pages of a recipe book and try to eat them.  See how much nourishment comes from that!  It does not matter how many books we read on prayer, we will never learn to pray if we do not get on our knees and pray.  Reading about prayer will not give us the nourishment we need.  Learning to pray is impossible without praying.  We see in the life of Jesus that he practiced what he preached; he was a man of prayer.  We must also pray.

Just a few verses in Luke 11 show us that the disciples had changed their attitude about prayer.  Notice here that they did not interrupt Jesus during his time of prayer.  They waited until he had finished, then asked for Jesus’ guidance in prayer.

 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Included in this passage is Luke’s version of Jesus’ model prayer, which is thoroughly Jewish.  I have heard some very fine Jewish scholars say that any Jew can offer this very brief and very simple Lord’s Prayer with integrity.  It comes right out of Jesus’ Jewish tradition.

We know that Jesus knew how to pray for an extended amount of time.  One passage we considered last week said that he prayed all night long.  He knew how to be the night watch.  I doubt that he talked the entire time.  I am sure he spent time listening.  Jesus warns us not to think that our prayers must be many words piled on top of each other.  We are not to heap up empty phrases.  Jesus taught us to pray simply, actually pray as a little child.

Some people have difficulty when thinking about Jesus praying.  How do we understand Jesus as the Son of God talking to a Father in heaven?  Is this God talking to God?  We must consider three important concepts.  First, Jesus was setting an example for his disciples and for us with prayer.  Second, the incarnation consists of both the human and the divine.  How many times have we heard the statement that Jesus was fully human and fully divine in the last few weeks?  In his human nature he needed prayer.  In his divine nature he needed prayer.  In a sense we hear two of the Trinity – Jesus and his Father – having a conversation.  Third, the two already had a pre-existing, eternal relationship.  The Son existed long before he ever came to earth as a babe in Bethlehem.  A time of prayer is a continuation of their relationship.

Jesus participated in intercessory prayer, praying for others, because he knew of its power.  He held little children in his arms and prayed for them.  He sometimes prayed for people who needed a healing touch.  Most of all he prayed for his disciples and for every single one of us.  Read John 17, which includes such prayers.  I have great comfort in knowing that when I pray about something difficult, Jesus is also praying for me.  Still, now, Jesus prays for me just as he prayed for those disciples in that upper room.  He constantly prays for others with a prayer of intercession.

Jesus teaches us the necessity of intercessory prayer.  We often pray for someone who is grieving, someone who is destitute, or someone who has a terrible conflict in life.  The very fact that Christ has brought this concern to our attention means that he wants us to do something about it.  Jesus was not passive in his prayer life.  His prayers were active, and he calls us to be active in our concern for others.  We must actually make a commitment to be a part of the answer to our own prayer.  He tells us, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus prayed with others and by himself.  When he went to the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John accompanied him, specifically to pray.  The great event that happened there – the transfiguration – was an answer to prayer that perhaps those disciples could never have anticipated.  Luke 5:16, inscribed on the statue of Jesus in our Prayer Garden, says that Jesus also withdrew to a lonely place and prayed.  That verse serves as the theme of that garden.  Jesus prayed outside regularly.  He was moved by being in the mountains, moved by being along the seashore.

Jesus addressed prayer as a lifestyle.  The story of the healing of an epileptic boy in Mark 9 is one of my favorite examples.  Upon this young lad’s healing, the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to cure the malady.  Jesus explained, “This kind can only be dealt with by prayer.”  Nowhere in the Scripture do we read that Jesus prayed before or after performing the miracle.  What does Jesus mean that the boy’s healing “can only be dealt with by prayer” if in the context of that miracle he himself did not pray?  Prayer was a regular part of his day, a regular part of his life.

The Apostle Paul stated that same sentiment when he said that in a sense we must “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  Prayer should be so much a part of our lives that we learn to pray with open eyes.  Jesus also prayed persistently and taught us to pray persistently.  Brother Lawrence, a monk, offers an excellent example of this concept.  He said that he learned to pray among the pots and pans of the monastery kitchen.  He was able to pray just as well while cleaning out a monastery stable as he could while kneeling for the daily office of prayer in the chapel with the other monks.

Jesus’ prayers remind us of the way we pray.  Have you ever prayed during a storm?  Jesus did, praying for his disciples when he calmed the Sea of Galilee with “Peace!  Be still!” (Mark 4:39).  Jesus prayed before mealtime, just as we do.  He prayed before he fed the 5000 and prayed at the Last Supper.  Jesus actually sang some of his prayers.  If you have grandchildren, you should learn to sing your prayers.  Children will pray with a song better than they will if led in some lofty exposition.

Sometimes my wife, who is my editor, will modify my prayers when our grandchildren stay with us.  Just this morning she was feeding them breakfast when I sat down to drink a cup of coffee.

Clare said to me, “Let’s have a prayer.”

I started praying, but she interrupted, “P.K., let’s make this a prayer for children.”

She gives me a good reminder that prayers should be short and simple, especially when we are praying with children.

Jesus taught us to have confidence in the life of prayer.  He believed that prayer works, as he stated, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you” (Luke 11:9).  Jesus prayed before making important decisions, knowing that God would answer all prayers.  The truth is that God does not always answer our prayers the way we expect.  I like to compare Him to a parent responding to a child’s request.  “Daddy, can I have so-and-so?”  “No, you cannot have that.  “Daddy, can I have so-and-so?”  “Yes, you may have that.”  “Daddy, may I have so-and-so?”  “Let’s wait and see.”  Sometimes God answers no and sometimes yes.  Sometimes He makes us wait.  On occasion, God has already provided what we need, what we want, when we make a request from Him.  He was just waiting for us to ask.  God answers prayers very much like parents answer the requests of their children.

The writer of Hebrews says that during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death.  God did not always answer prayers as he wished.   On the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed that the cup would pass from him.  His prayer was not granted, however.  God heard Jesus’ prayers but answered, “No, this cup cannot pass from you.”  Jesus surrendered with reverent submission, “Not my will but Thine will be done” (Luke 22:42).  That prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane illustrates that we are not in charge.  The Sovereign God is in charge.  Jesus died with a prayer on his lips, “It is finished.  Into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

In a somewhat similar situation, Paul asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh.  God answered with “No, my grace is sufficient for you” (II Corinthians 12:19).

We see that sometimes prayer is absolute warfare.  Ephesians 6 describes putting on the whole armor of God in the way we pray.  We are to pray, as if we are preparing for warfare.  Prayer is a great resource for us.

Jesus prayed out of an honest relationship with his Father.  So often we get confused about prayer, thinking it is a monologue in which we are to do all the talking.  Prayer is a relationship with a Father in heaven who loves us very much.  Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven in a very intimate, very personal, manner by using, “Abba,” the Aramaic word for Daddy.

Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said that he never understood the meaning of Abba until he was leaving a plane at the Cairo airport.  Back in the days before the many security precautions were taken, passengers exited the plane on a stairway and walked across the tarmac.  On one journey, Pelikan was walking on the tarmac next to an Arab man when a little boy came running out of the terminal calling, “Abba!  Abba!  Abba!”  This Arabic father reached down, picked up his son, and held him to his shoulder.  The little boy began rubbing his father’s face, repeating the term of endearment “Abba!”

I heard about a father who was kicked back in his La-Z-Boy, when his teenage son came into the room and asked, “Dad, can I have the keys to the car?  I have a date tonight.”

The father reached into his pocket for his keys and flipped them to his son, saying, “Be careful son.”

Later that evening the father’s teenage daughter came in and said, “Daddy, can I have some money?  I want to go to the movie with some of my friends.”  Reaching in his wallet and giving her a $20 bill, he said, “Have a good time, but be careful.”

When the man’s little eight-year-old daughter entered the room and crawled up on his lap,  he asked, “Young lady, what do you want?”

She answered, “Daddy, I just want to be with you.”

Do you ever think of heaven as a La-Z-Boy recliner?  Do you ever think of God as a Father who is very approachable, as a Father who simply wants a relationship with us?  That example illustrates prayer as the heart’s desire to be with our Father in heaven.  When we understand that bond and begin to pray in that manner, we learn that we do not need so many words.

My grandfather and I loved each other dearly.  We could get in an automobile and drive all the way to Florida without saying four sentences to each other.  We did not have to clutter the air with talk.  Just being together was enough.  Jesus had that kind of relationship with his Father.

During the season of Lent, which begins this week, I want to call this church to a forty-day period of prayer.  During the Ash Wednesday message I will give you more detail about how we can be intentional as a church in the life of prayer.  The guidelines will not be heavy-duty.  I will simply suggest concentric circles of prayer that put Christ right at the center.  We will move outward from that center, praying for ourselves, friends, family members, this church, our community, state, nation, and world.  During the season of Lent we can learn how to pray from the Master.

This journey of prayer begins with a relationship with Christ Jesus, with a relationship of intimacy with a Savior.  He cares so much for you that he died on the cross to save you from your sins.  He conquered death through his resurrection.  Do you know Jesus as Lord of your life?  If not, we invite you to make that decision this morning.

 Kirk H. Neely
© March 2014


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