Jesus at Prayer - His Pattern and Priority

Mark 9:29, Luke 5:15-16

15 May 2011

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service


This evening we're starting a little series of three on the prayers of Jesus, and my theme is his Pattern and Priority.

Why should we be interested in Jesus' prayers?

Well, I'm going to kick-off by reading a passage that might seem an unusual choice, but we'll find it quite relevant. [Read Mark 9:14-29.]

There it is, verse 29: This kind can come out only by prayerref.

Jesus has been away being transfigured on the mountain, along with three of his disciples. Left to their own devices, the remaining disciples had had a go at driving the evil spirit out of this boy. But they were unable to do so.

However, Jesus, with a few words, simply commanded the spirit to come out, which it did.

Well, the disciples were puzzled. Why hadn't they been able to do the same? Why had all their activity been ineffective? Why had they failed where Jesus had so easily succeeded?

So they ask him privately in verse 28—a bit embarrassed to ask him in public—Why couldn't we drive it out?ref And Jesus replies This kind can come out only by prayerref

There's something peculiar about this statement. Do you notice anything odd about it?

Well, it is conspicuous in the passage that when Jesus casts out the spirit, he does not pray! He simply commands it, and commanding demons is not prayer. No doubt the disciples had commanded it equally as much without any result.

So what can he mean, This kind can come out only by prayer? We don't see him praying.

Well, we don't see him praying here. But what I'm convinced he means is that he, Jesus, was effective because he had made the effort to build a deep prayer relationship with his Father. The disciples were ineffective because they had not.

Are we ineffective as Christians because we simply do not pray? Or, at least, we do not pray as Jesus prayed.

Let's look at Jesus' pattern and priorities and see what we can learn from him.

I want to look at these from a different text, which is in Luke chapter 5, verses fifteen and sixteen. Page 1032 in my Bible.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.ref

First, let's look at Jesus' priority in prayer from verse 15, and then his pattern in prayer.

Jesus' priority in prayer

Look here at the priority Jesus gives to prayer.

It's early in Jesus' ministry, but word is getting out. Crowds of people are coming to find him. They are coming with good motives: to hear him preach and to be healed. And Jesus' stated mission was to preach the good news and heal the sick. There is so much to be done! Enough to keep him busy day-in and day-out.

But Jesus prioritises prayer: he often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

In spite of the immense demands on him, Jesus makes time to pray. No. Because of the immense demands on him, Jesus makes time to pray.

Jesus knows that he needs to pray to do what has to be done. He is surrounded by real needs: people hungry for the gospel, people in desperate need of healing. But unless he prays, he knows that he will become as ineffective as his disciples.

Jesus makes a choice. He could quite easily have said, Look, I'm too busy to pray, and I guess we'd have been quite sympathetic. But, actually, he realises that he is too busy not to pray (in the words of the well-known book title).

This is something that many, many Christians down the years have finally come to realise. For example, Martin Luther reportedly used to say, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer". Do you ever approach your day like that?

So, we find that, for Jesus, prayer is a priority.

Luke's gospel account is the one most interested in Jesus' life of prayer. In there we find Jesus praying at many of the major events of his life. He prays at his baptism. He prays all night before choosing the twelve apostles. He is praying just before Peter's confession that he is the Christ. He is praying just as the transfiguration takes place. He teaches the Lord's prayer because his disciples see him praying so much and ask him to teach them. He prays for Peter that, after he's denied Jesus, his faith may not fail. And, of course, he prays in Gethsemane on the eve of the crucifixion.

It's clear that Jesus utterly depends on prayer, isn't it? And if the Son of God himself needs to pray, then how much more do we?

Let me share with you, briefly, an insight from the world of business.

This is a famous chart from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Everything we do is placed in one of four quadrants according to two criteria: how important it is on the one hand (up the side) and how urgent it is on the other (across the top).

So, activities in Quadrant I are both Urgent and Important (crises, deadlines, some meetings). In Quadrant II are Important but not Urgent activities (preparation, planning, development). Quadrant III has Urgent but not Important stuff (interruptions, other meetings) and Quadrant IV neither Urgent nor Important (trivia, most television, other time-wasters).

Covey's great observation is that highly effective people spend far more time in Quadrant II than most people do: 20%, 30% or more of their time. Rather than always responding to urgent demands, or wasting time on trivia, they make the time to plan, to prepare, to prevent and so on. And this is really hard to do! It means saying "No" to a lot of urgent-looking stuff in order to carve out time to do things that could just be put off indefinitely.

In our text, Luke 5:15-16, this is exactly what we see Jesus doing. Prayer is a Quadrant II activity: we know it is important, but it doesn't seem urgent so we easily put it off. But not Jesus. Sometimes he rejects the urgent demands simply to invest in prayer. Crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayedref. Jesus effectively says no to some people who need healing, some people who want teaching, in order to prioritise prayer.

In his book, Covey challenges us to "Identify a Quadrant II activity you know has been neglected in your life—one that, if done well, would have a significant impact in your life, either personally or professionally. Write it down and commit to implement it." [7 Habits p179] I wrote down prayer when I first read the book. Now I just need to implement it!

Jesus' pattern in prayer

So we've seen the priority that Jesus gives to prayer. Now let's look briefly at his pattern, which also comes from these verses. We see in verse 16 that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.ref.


First, Jesus did this often. The study notes in my Bible say this: The Greek construction indicates a continual practice and could also be translated "was regularly withdrawing and praying".

When Jesus told his disciples that This kind can come out only by prayerref, he clearly didn't mean "by saying a prayer when you cast the demon out", since he didn't do that. He must have meant "by cultivating a life-time habit of prayer". That is, "only those who pray a lot can be truly effective".

If we want to be effective as Christians, we need to cultivate a regular habit of prayer. John Wesley was very strict about this and used to spend one hour every morning and one hour every evening in prayer. I believe you will struggle to find any truly effective Christian who does not regularly spend good time in prayer.

Don Carson opens his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation with the statement, "Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray". Prayer is a Quadrant II activity: it is important but not urgent, so we so easily just put it off. Unless we actively plan to pray, much praying will not be done.

But Jesus doesn't fall into this trap: despite the immense demands, he prays often; he prays regularly. If Jesus needed to pray often, how much more do we?

When do you pray?


Second, Jesus withdrew to pray. Jesus took himself away from the crowds and the demands and spent time praying in private.

Of course, we are to pray at all times, and to pray arrow prayers, and prayers of thanks as we go about our daily business. And, of course, there is a place for public prayer, and praying together. But we must not do these at the expense of private prayer.

William Wilberforce, who is famous for leading the campaign in parliament to abolish the slave trade, once said, "I must secure more time for private devotions. I have been living far too public for me. The shortening of private devotions starves the soul. It grows lean and faint."

Following a failure in Parliament, he remarked that his problems may have been due to the fact that he spent less and less time in his private devotions in which he could earnestly seek the will of God. He concluded, "God allowed me to stumble."

Jesus withdrew to pray. If Jesus needed to spend time one-on-one with his Father, how much more do we?

How do you pray?

Lonely places

Third, Jesus would withdraw to lonely places. Literally this means "desolate" places. He sought out places where he would be uninterrupted. It wasn't easy!

Apparently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have finally left for their honeymoon at last. Tabloid newspapers are in a frenzy of speculation about the location. Photographers are packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. St James's Palace will say only that "it is abroad".

Well, finding privacy was no less difficult for Jesus. At the end of chapter four we read that At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.ref In Matthew's gospel we read that, after the death of John the Baptist, Jesus he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.ref Five thousand of them in this case.

But Jesus persists in finding solitary places to pray. In Mark chapter 1 we read, rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayedref. So one tactic for finding peace and quiet is to get up early to pray. This is what I currently try to do. On my better days, I try to get up an hour before anyone else in the house to read my Bible and pray. But it does mean I have to go to bed early: the battle starts the night before.

In Mark chapter 6, Jesus goes up on a mountainside to pray, and likewise in Luke 9 before the transfiguration.

Not many mountains around here! But the point is that Jesus went to great lengths to seek out solitary places to pray. He did not allow the noise and bustle and business of his life become an excuse. He took it in hand and made a place to pray as well as a time to pray. If Jesus needed to find solitary places to pray, how much more do we?

Where do you pray?


Of course, there is plenty more to say on the subject of Jesus at Prayer, and we'll be looking further over the next two Sunday evenings.

But, for now, we've looked at the priority which Jesus gave to his prayers, and something of the pattern of prayer in his life.

Ultimately, I think we can say that, in prayer, as in everything, Jesus shows his utter dependence on the Father.

Our prayerlessness is an accurate measure of our self-reliance. Our prayerfulness is an accurate measure of our reliance on God.

If we are self-reliant, and therefore prayerless, we will always be frustrated. We will rarely experience God's power at work in our lives. We will be eternally ineffective and constantly frustrated.

It is as we learn to depend on God in everything that we will know his power at work in us and through us. That, I believe is what Jesus meant when he said to the disciples, about the demon they had trouble with, This kind can come out only by prayer. They needed to depend on God.

Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go." May our experience be the same.