August 23, 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.
In the devotions of the last couple of days, we considered the question, “If I really want to follow Jesus, do I have to get up early to pray?” I believe that the biblical answer to this question is “No,” though I would never discourage anyone from the excellent discipline of getting up early to pray. Yet, those who insist that all Christians must get up before the sun to pray are wandering into legalism that doesn’t fit with the example or message of Jesus.
In my experience, the well-intended folk who insist that we must follow Jesus’ example by praying in the early morning do not often demand that we go “off to a solitary place,” even though that’s what Jesus did (1:35). The NIV translation somewhat misses the nuance of the original language. The Greek work translated as “solitary” (eremos) actually means “isolated, desolate, deserted.” It’s the standard Greek word for “desert” or “wilderness.” So, the point of Mark 1:35 isn’t just that Jesus found a place to be alone. Rather, he went out into the wilderness near Capernaum in order to be isolated and to be in a place where people often encounter God with particular intimacy.
Now, ironically, this is something I personally could get excited about, even suggesting that all Christians do likewise. Why? Because, though I’m not genetically wired to be a morning person, I am a lover of nature. If I want to spend an extended time in conversation with the Lord, I will go to my own version of the wilderness. These days, my “wilderness” is the mountainous region just to the north of Pasadena, California, where I live. (See this photo, which I took at dusk a few months ago.) For me, hiking in the mountains is a perfect place for deep prayer. (During a recent trip to New York City, I was able to find a bit of semi-solitude in one of the city’s wonderful parks.)
For me, that is. I recognize that this would not be everyone’s cup of tea. (I’m actually glad for this, because if thousands of Christians were hiking and praying in my “wilderness,” it wouldn’t be an ideal place for prayer anymore.) My point, once again, is that we should surely imitate Jesus by finding times and places to be alone with the Lord. But we miss the point if we focus on the details.
So, whether you head for the hills or find a quiet corner in your own home, by all means follow the example of Jesus by taking time to be alone with God in prayer. You need it . . . and God desires it.
Something to Think About:
Are there certain places that you find particularly conducive to prayer? Why do you think these places help you to pray?
Have you built into your life a regular pattern of solitary, extended prayer?
Could you put such a time into your calendar right now, so that you might get alone with the Lord in the next couple of weeks?
Gracious God, thank you once again for the example of Jesus, who helps us learn how to pray. Though we may not be able to go to the wilderness, we can find places to get alone with you. Our souls need this! So help us, Lord, to find such places and set aside the time for a deeper relationship with you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online: Prayers for the End of the Working Day.
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.