That Jesus was a man of prayer is without question. My guess is he spent extended time each and every day praying to his Father in order to find direction, strength and power. Luke tells us that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Mark notes at the very beginning of his Gospel what was probably a daily practice for Jesus: “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” (Mark 1:35). Sometimes Jesus spent the entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12).
It is important to note the connection between Jesus’s ministry and his prayer life. In Mark 1:32-34, Jesus healed all the sick in the town, and cast out all the demons. Mark tells us that this ministry took place after sunset. Rather than sleeping in after this amazing ministry, Mark notes that Jesus got up before the sunrise in order to pray. I’m sure that Jesus was exhausted, but he knew that his strength came from God the Father, so his prayer time could not be compromised. It is clear that Jesus’s ability to minister powerfully came from as a result of his prayer time; these two are intimately connected.
The disciples, though, did not understand that Jesus needed to pray, because verse 36 tells us that they looked for Jesus to return to the ministry. It is almost as if they are saying to him, “Quit wasting your time here in prayer. Come on back to Capernaum where you have healed the sick and demon possessed.” Things were going great in ministry, and Jesus goes to pray.
This necessity of seeking the Father for direction, strength and power is not limited to Jesus. When the disciples returned from their preaching travels later in Mark chapter six, Jesus tells them to go to a lonely place: “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). Since elsewhere in Mark the “quiet place” is a place of prayer, we can assume that Jesus is instructing the disciples that they, too, need prayer.
The disciples do not understand the necessity for the pattern of prayer. In Mark 9:9-29, when a man brings his child to Jesus to be healed from his terrible ailment, they try their hand at exorcizing the demon and fail miserably. “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” they ask (Mark 9:28). Jesus’s response is gently accusatory: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29). Implicit in his answer is the criticism that the disciples had not prayed. They had engaged in arguments with the crowd rather than engaged in prayer with God. It may explain their persistent misunderstanding and recurring failures throughout the Gospel of Mark—they do not pray. When dealing with evil so fierce and destructive, it takes prayer—a pattern of prayer.
The busy Christian today probably can identify with the disciples. The demands for action frequently interrupt the need for study and prayer. Many of us want to spring into action before preparing our hearts and minds before God. The worse thing that can happen is for us to be successful, because then we might delude ourselves into thinking that prayer and study are dispensable extras in discipleship.
How is your prayer life? Are you seeking God for strength, direction, and power? Or are you “too busy” to pray? If we follow Jesus’s example, we learn that we should never be too busy not to pray.
If you want to know more about this story, see the video teaching by Dr. David Garland in the video Bible study series, The Prayers of Jesus, as well as the accompanying study book. Most of this blog came from his teaching. It is our hope that this study might motivate both individuals and groups to prayer.