August 21, 2019 • Life for Leaders
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.
As a young Christian, I often heard mature believers describe their personal prayer lives. Inevitably, they got up early in the morning to pray. Some prayed for more than an hour before the sun came up. I admired these Christians and hoped to be like them.
Unfortunately, I was not a “morning person” like my father. I was a “night person” like my mother. So my best efforts at early morning prayer, usually following a week at camp, lasted for a few days at most. Inevitably, I’d end up sleeping through my appointed prayer time and feeling ashamed about my lack of discipline and zeal for Jesus.
Every now and then, my sense of spiritual failure was exacerbated by Christian leaders who taught that early morning prayer is essential for Christians who really want to follow Jesus. After all, Jesus himself got up “very early in the morning” and “went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Doesn’t that clinch the case for the necessity of early morning prayer?
Well, not necessarily. Those who required early morning prayer in imitation of Jesus rarely “went off to a solitary place” when they prayed, which would seem to be as essential as the time of day if the example of Jesus is to become the absolute rule for all Christians. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers that they always have to pray before the sun comes up. In fact, he seems to have let them sleep when he went out on his own. Moreover, we have evidence from the gospels that Jesus prayed in the afternoon and evening (Matt 14:22-23) as well as all night (Luke 6:12). At one point he told a parable to his disciples “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). It’s likely that Jesus engaged in the Jewish practice of praying three times each day (at least): morning, afternoon, and evening.
So, as followers of Jesus, we should not be caught in the legalism of early morning prayer. Daily prayer can happen at different times, depending on how we’re wired and the patterns of our lives. Surely, beginning our day with prayer is an excellent discipline. But some of us are best suited to opening a conversation with the Lord in the morning and devoting more time to that conversation later in the day. I know some deeply devoted Christians who enjoy their most intimate time with the Lord in the night before bed. Personally, I am now able to pray most mornings, though not before the sun comes up. My best times of prayer, however, come later in the day.
Whether you’re best in the morning, at midday, in the evening, or at night, whatever you do, devote time to talking with the Lord when you can give your very best to him.
Something to Think About:
During what time of day are you able to give God your best in prayer?
What helps you to be fully attentive and engaged in prayer, no matter what time of day it is?
Do you have a pattern of regular prayer?
Gracious God, thank you for the example of Jesus, who teaches us to pray. Help us to imitate his example in ways that are wise. May we learn to communicate with you – indeed, to commune with you – regularly and deeply. May our conversation with you begin in the morning and continue until we go to bed.
Help us, Lord, to encourage each other in prayer and to do so with grace and love. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Mark 1:21-45.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.