‘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. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”’ verses 35-36
‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Why did they say that? I think there could have been two things going on in the minds of his disciples. After all the excitement of the previous day, they could have thought how great it is to be with Jesus - what is he doing out here by himself? He should be out working the crowds. We’re going to be famous just being with him!
They could also have been thinking something very different: what is Jesus doing with this early morning prayer thing? Are we second class Christians because we don’t get up early and pray? Isn’t our afternoon prayer meeting good enough for him? And what about breakfast?
We know the disciples were worried about their status: they were preoccupied with who was the greatest. Do we ever think that some Christians are better than others? At the bottom there might be Category 5 Christians, for ‘terribly ordinary plodders.’ Then at the top there might be Category 1 Christians, for ‘terribly enlightened near-to-God’ people. I reckon I’m a plodder. I have known some wonderful Christians who, when I was with them, I felt very much like a heathen. They seem to live and breathe their faith like I never do.
If there are such distinctions, it can be very unsettling for those of us who are plodders. For the superior ones it could also be a serious issue, but for different reasons: they might be tripping up on pride. They might need to think whether they are worshipping God or themselves.
Reflecting on this incident from the personal spiritual life of Jesus can be very helpful. It shows us his priorities, which could become our priorities.
We read in the gospel of Mark that Jesus had had a long day. It had begun with him and his disciples going into the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, where he stood up and taught the people. Anyone who has been a teacher will know that it demands a lot of personal energy to stand and teach. To top it off for Jesus, he was heckled by the man who was possessed, or as we might say, the man who was mentally unstable. As we heard last week, Jesus healed that man. Nevertheless the whole situation would have been physically draining for Jesus.
Then Jesus went to the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. He may have been looking forward to putting his feet up and resting. But the lady was in bed with a fever. Jesus was asked to visit and to pray for her. He healed her in the wonderful way God heals, in that she was restored to her place in the household, and was able to serve Jesus and his mates.
News must have got round the village. That evening, the natural time for most of us to rest after a long day, everyone turned out to see Jesus, and they brought all the sick people to him. So he must have gone to bed rather late.
I find that after a long day’s work, and especially if I have a night meeting as well, my energy levels are depleted. My spiritual reservoir can also be low, and I just want time to unwind.
This very full day described by Mark may be a just a sample drawn from many days that were like that for Jesus. Living such a demanding life, he turned to the one source on which he knew he could depend, his heavenly Father. He didn’t just do this as a demonstration for his disciples; he did it as well, if not primarily, for himself. Why should the Son of God need to pray? Keeping close to his Father was the root and branch of his life. His need of prayer shows his true humanity and his source of strength.
Prayer can be like any other form of meditation, taking away our stress. It also has the positive effect of drawing on the source of all life. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
God gives strength to those who are tired.
He gives power to those who are weak.
Even young people become worn out and get tired.
Even the best of them trip and fall.
But those who trust in the Lord
will receive new strength.
They will fly as high as eagles.
They will run and not get tired.
They will walk and not grow weak.
A Christian writer named CS Lewis said, ‘I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.’ Jesus of course didn’t need to be changed. What he needed was that strong love of the Father.
The question we have to ask is, was Jesus a super Christian? Was he one degree above the rest? The answer is yes, as God’s Son, he is far above us; but no, as far as his humanity goes, he is also one of us. In his humanity he was actually, really and totally dependent on God his Father.
So to come back to the question of whether there are grades of Christians: with Jesus as our model, there must be those who know their need of God more than others. Or, they are aware of what’s on offer and know where they can get it, as Jesus was aware.
We don’t always tap into everything that God would like to give to us. Sometimes that is related, maybe even mostly related, to the kind of life history that we have had. In infancy and early childhood our life experiences shape our ability to know what love is and who can be trusted. Negative experiences early on can be carried into adult life. But as in all things, the power of God is greater. He is given the title by Isaiah of ‘wonderful counsellor.' The Holy Spirit calls us to prayer, and opens for us the same loving Father whom Jesus knew.
The other thing that may keep us from prayer is our need to accomplish something. Jesus created quite a sensation in the village that night at Simon's house. The disciples must have thought, what a great move by Jesus, to heal all those people. We can build on his popularity. We can start a movement, we can build a great temple or cathedral in this place.
Jesus didn't see it that way. He saw beyond immediate success to the greater goal, a goal which could only be achieved in the Father's strength. Jesus was planning for eternity. He wanted to leave Capernaum and go to all the villages he could reach in Galilee. Our need for immediate gratification draws us away from prayer. We also need to plan and live with eternity in mind.
Jesus knew where he needed to turn, when the affairs of life pressed in on him from all sides. The same loving God beckons, disturbs, invites, and even teases us to draw on him for our daily bread. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. We don’t need to wait until we run dry. ‘Those who trust in the Lord will receive new strength.’