Tag Archives: prayer

Talking to Ourselves–Mark 1:35

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.

†In the various movies of recent decades in which God has made an on-screen appearance–I’m thinking here of George Burns in Oh God and Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty–we discover among the rather commonplace morality that Hollywood can espouse the inevitable oddities of language that would naturally follow when God himself speaks. When George Burns is sworn in to court, he finishes the oath by saying, “So help me me.” You have to wonder if God, in their mind, would text “OMM.” But then how can an omniscient God be sufficiently surprised to want to text such a thing?

Obviously, those who write such scripts either never read or didn’t pay close attention to Job. Somehow the smug Morgan-Freeman God doesn’t quite seem like the one who asked, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”†If those writers were creating a scene surrounding Jesus in today’s verse, they’d have something like this:

Peter: Hey Jesus, what are you doing out here?

Jesus: Just talking to myself.

Peter: Whoa! That sounds crazy. Next thing you know you’ll claim to be God!

Happily, they haven’t written that script, but the question does arise: If Jesus is, as we claim, God Incarnate, then why does he need to go out and pray to himself? Like the trivial oddities of language that the oh-so-clever Hollywood writers deploy in their comedies, the oddities that come when you suggest a character as fully man and fully God simply demand attention.

In reality, I can’t understand the behavior or plumb the thoughts of my own wife after 30 years of marriage. How could I ever hope to understand the God-Man in all his complexity. Answer? I can’t. But I do observe that Jesus, “being in very nature God,” did roll out of bed early in the morning and head out to pray. Perhaps he need the prayer time to keep him from simply obliterating the petty and self-serving people who claimed to be his biggest fans!

This morning, I rolled out of bed with the alarm, went immediately to the bathroom and performed my morning routine. What I did not do was brave the chill to spend a few minutes in prayer. You’d think, needing it so much more than Jesus did, I would follow his lead more carefully, but I didn’t. How about you?

Get the Word Around–Mark 1:32-33

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.The whole town gathered at the door.

Last Sunday†evening, my church performed a Christmas musical, directed by your humble correspondent. We had offered this work twice on the previous Sunday morning in lieu of our normal preaching services. Both of those morning services had been well attended. Had we been depending on our normal Sunday-morning attendees–just the ones who hadn’t made it the previous week–to fill the pews for the evening, we might have had a hundred or so people present. Instead, we saw a nearly full auditorium with many faces that I’d never seen before.

The idea, apparently, had worked. After those morning performances, we told the congregation to invite their friends and family to pack the place next week. Sure we could have squeezed a few more people into the seats, but we sang and played to a nice crowd Sunday evening.

Let’s consider the goings-on in Capernaum on that Saturday early in Jesus’ ministry. In the morning, Jesus went and taught in the synagogue. After that, perhaps at noon, he walked over to Peter’s house and healed the mother-in-law. After that, after sunset had come and the Sabbath had ended, the word got around town. Before long, everybody with a stomach ache showed up at the door ready to be healed.

Today, I’m not as interested in what Jesus did as in what these people did. They responded to the blessing that Jesus brought onto Peter’s house by coming and seeking a blessing of their own. They didn’t wait for Jesus to come to their house. Instead, they sought him out and brought their petitions with boldness.

How often do Christians see the blessings that come into other lives and sit back wishing those blessings would visit them? Perhaps we see a life enriched through service or prayer and wish that somebody would ask us to do some neat job or that we could be prayer warriors.

God’s blessings, for whatever reason, do not fall on all believers equally. Perhaps after this life, we’ll understand why that is. But I am convinced that many blessings that you and I should enjoy go unclaimed because we don’t go to the door where Jesus is staying and ask for them.

 

Wild Animal Encounter–Mark 1:13

and he was in the wilderness forty days,†being tempted†by Satan.†He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. –Mark 1:13

The idea of Jesus hanging out in the wilderness for forty days evokes images for anybody who has spent time in Sunday School. Painters love to create images of a rather sad and pensive Jesus kneeling on the barren ground, usually in the vicinity of a large stone, presumably the one that Satan offered to turn into bread. Another popular image is Jesus standing with Satan atop a mountain surveying the kingdoms of the world. For the third temptation, of course, Satan pulled Jesus out of the wilderness and to the “pinnacle of the temple.” None of that gets presented in Mark’s fast-paced account. Instead we simply learn that there was temptation by Satan at some point over that forty-day span.

What I’d like to focus on today is not the temptation but the wild animals. Why does Mark mention the presence of the wild animals? Mentioning the presence of the tempter and the ministering angels makes a great deal of sense, as those are not what you experience daily. But wild animals? My guess is that there wasn’t much else to mention.

Having recently concluded deer season, I spent a good bit of time out in my own private wilderness. Let me just say that passing two hours sitting in wait for the approach of a †whitetail seems like forty days. In the process of waiting, you look around. You pray, since that seems like a good time for the activity. But the prayer seems to lose focus for me. I’ll stay on task for a couple of minutes and then I’m thinking, literally, of a squirrel.

When you’re in the wilderness, there’s not much else to focus on than the wild animals. You can worry about the predators or you can be startled by the small game. Since Jesus did not have a deer rifle, I’m fairly sure that he didn’t take any whitetails during his forty days.

Being tempted does not require forty days. I can be thoroughly tempted on a range of matters inside of forty minutes. Surely Jesus could have gotten through his three big temptations in a day, but instead he passed forty days in the wilderness hanging out with whatever birds and rodents populate the Judean desert.

Why? Why would the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth squander nearly six weeks of his three-year ministry–that’s about 4% if you do the math–hanging out with Thumper and Bambi? The answer to that question is simple but not completely satisfying to the inquiring mind.

The Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism. In obedience Jesus went. Although we’re not told, it’s reasonable to presume that in obedience Jesus stayed for those forty days. To what end? That’s something God would know and didn’t feel compelled to tell us.

If you want, head out for your own forty days in the woods and see if God provides you with an answer.

 

Finding Himself?–Mark 1:12

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness. –Mark 1:12

Once upon a time, college graduates exited their education, most of them finding gainful, relevant employment within a few months of taking their diplomas in hand. The few of them who opted not to take up their positions within corporate America or working in some long-sought profession were seen as bizarre outliers. The idea of Jimmy spending a year “finding himself” or Tina traveling Europe to “figure out who she is” struck most people as self-indulgent nonsense. After all, once all of that tuition had been paid, after the credits had been earned, it made no sense not to begin cashing in on the fruits immediately.

Has there ever been a person more completely prepared for his “professional” life than was Jesus of Nazareth? By passing through the waters of baptism with John the Baptist, Jesus effectively graduated at the top of his class of one from the University of Judea with a degree in Messiahness. Hadn’t God the Father just said, “I’m well pleased with him”?

Why then did Jesus head off into the wilderness for what would prove to be a forty-day visit? As if to demonstrate that Jesus did not simply decide to take some time off to work on his tan, Mark explains in today’s verse that “the Spirit sent him.”

Had it been some type-A graduate of one of America’s business or law schools, we would have probably seen something different on the banks of the Jordan. Those stellar graduates often have jobs lined up before graduation–or at least they did back when college graduates could get jobs. These people might take a couple of weeks off to clear out their college apartments and perhaps enjoy a bit of down time. Then they start work on June 1, impatient to get started making a difference in the world, overeager to begin seeing that education pay dividends.

Again, has anyone ever completed an education more ready to get to work than was Jesus? I hardly think so, yet the Spirit saw fit to send Jesus into the wilderness. He didn’t say, “Jesus, one of these days, you ought to spend a little time out in the wilderness.” He sent Jesus “at once.”

And what possible good could come from a forty-day stay in the wilderness. To the best of our records, Jesus didn’t carry a rucksack full of scrolls. He didn’t have wifi access. He didn’t meet with anyone out there. All he had was himself and the other two persons of the Godhead.

If Jesus–fully God and fully man–needed to spend time alone with God before getting to work, how much more do you and I need to do that? We don’t need to “find ourselves,” but we do need to find God and locate ourselves in relation to him.

Push the Button (Hebrews 5:7)

During the days of Jesusí life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those “Easy” buttons? Perhaps we already have one.

In my Composition II class at the seminary, we read a book by James Sire, Habits of the Mind. In this book, Sire relates a vexing truth about prayer for most of us. He describes an activity that involves asking participants to list all of the things they believe about prayer. What would you write? I might jot down such things as this:

  • Prayer is effective.
  • God hears our prayers directly.
  • Prayer can help me in difficult times.
  • I can bless others by praying for them.
  • Prayer often leads to healing.

If I were involved in this activity, I’d then turn the paper over and write down how much I actually pray. Think about that. If you knew that you had a direct and effective line to God, wouldn’t you use it all the time? So if we don’t use that line all the time, it suggests that either we don’t really believe that prayer is a useful thing or that we’re really stupid.

When Jesus prayed, he didn’t do it for show. This wasn’t a get-up-in-church-and-use-your-$5-words kind of prayer. We’re talking “fervent cries and tears.” Let’s think about that. If God in human form felt it worthwhile to pray earnestly and often, how much more should you and I be hitting our knees?

It’s like hitting the “Easy Button” in those Staples ads. If you had one, wouldn’t you use it? In prayer, we have an even more effective easy button, one that even Jesus himself used. Push the button.