Jesus lived an unhurried life, making enough room for Him to practice the discipline of prayer in quiet and solitary places. There was no sense that Jesus was ever too busy to pray or that He moved too slowly to accomplish all the Father called Him to do. On the contrary, He practiced the “unforced rhythms of grace,” which always left enough time and energy to fulfill the Father’s will while pursuing intimacy with the Almighty in prayer.[i]
The disciples must have observed Jesus’s prayer habit on more than one occasion. Most notably, Mark 1:35 says, “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.” I take “very early in the morning” to mean before sunrise while everyone else was still sleeping.
This means Jesus prioritized time with His heavenly Father in prayer over extra moments of sleep. It also means that Jesus was an early bird, but not for the reasons you might expect. For Him, rising early in the morning had nothing to do with catching the wiggly worm, but everything to do with communing with His heavenly Father. Prayer was the vehicle that made those intimate conversations possible and meaningful.
Mark goes on to explain how the disciples awakened and immediately went looking for Jesus. “Everyone is looking for you,” Simon exclaimed. Can you hear the stress in his voice? Simon’s day was already off to the races, with the bombastic fisherman checking his to-do list from the moment his eyes caught the first ray of sunshine reaching over the horizon. Calmly, Jesus redirected Simon’s urgent ministry itinerary and said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:36-38).
Clearly, Jesus’s early morning commitment to prayer was worthwhile because that is when the Father directed His day’s priorities. In prayer, Jesus found the courage to make decisions that might have run contrary to human reason, even the expectations of the crowd, and follow the Father’s will.
Even Luke tells us, “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place” and that he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 4:42, 5:16). Circle the word often, which implies this early morning ritual with the Father was not something Jesus practiced occasionally; rather, it was a regular part of His daily life. Henri Nouwen observes, “The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.”[ii]
What pressed Jesus to rise early in the morning also kept Him up late at night, especially when making an important ministry decision. Luke writes, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).
Not surprisingly, Jesus sought the solitude of the mountain to pray and seek His Father’s will about the individuals who would become His disciples. I am sure He prayed for and about them by name: Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Among them were at least five fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, and a thief. Not one of the disciples had an impressive resume, which is perhaps why choosing the right men for the gospel enterprise required an all-night prayer meeting. I wonder how many times Jesus reviewed Judas’s qualifications with the Father?
Imagine the difference it would make if we practiced Jesus’s decision-making method by devoting an entire night to prayer. I suspect we would rise from our knees in the morning with greater clarification about the decision we faced. We would also possess the confidence, if necessary, to move in a way contrary to the many human opinions presented to us during the day.
Overall, the gospels record at least twenty-five times Jesus prayed. A short list includes at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22), before and after healing people (Luke 5:16; Mark 7:31-37), while speaking to the Jewish leaders (Matthew 11:25-26), before feeding multitudes of people (Matthew 14:19, 15:36; Mark 6:41, 8:6-7; Luke 9:16; John 6:11), on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:27-28), and when the seventy disciples returned (Luke 10:21).
There is no doubt in my mind that how, when, and where Jesus prayed provided the strong building blocks of His messianic ministry, which might have looked different had He not communed regularly with His heavenly Father. Are the foundational practices of your Christian life in disrepair? Does your prayer life need a renovation? Or do you simply need a reminder of the way to pray that fell from the Savior’s lips two thousand years ago? If you answered yes to any of those questions, read the beautiful words Jesus taught His disciples. Read them slowly and carefully, as though for the first time, lingering over each word and phrase.
“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV
This excerpt is taken from Ron’s forthcoming book, The Jesus Way to Pray: An Intimate Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer, due for release in December 2023.