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Mark 1:35-39, 6:45-46, Luke 6:12-13
When the Lord chose the twelve to whom He would become Rabbi and mentor, He did something very important before He did the choosing. It isn’t described in Mark, who only says, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:13, 14). But more detail is given to us in Luke as to what He was doing up there in the hills.
“One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he designated apostles” (Luke 6:12, 13).
It boggles my mind that someone as busy as Jesus had time to come apart to pray. He was always on the move, hardly ever away from His disciples and hardly ever away from the demands of the crowds that followed Him. He taught, healed, and traveled from morning to night.
Luke tells us that He prayed through the night, and implies that that prayer was about the men He was going to choose as His inner circle, His intimates.
He prayed about who He needed to be with, and who needed to be with Him.
Now as we come to Mark we find Jesus after a very busy day. It’s the day after the Sabbath, Sunday morning. On the Sabbath He had taught in the synagogue and cast out a demon. Then He had gone to Peter’s house, healed his mother-in-law, and spent time with her, James, John, Andrew, and Peter. By the time the Sabbath was over at sunset that evening, Mark says “The whole town was gathered at the door” because everyone had brought the sick to Him to be healed. We have no idea what time He went to bed that night. Mark simply says: “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” (Mark 1:35). He prayed before He chose His inner circle of disciples. But what was the focus of His prayer this time?
A whole town had brought their sick and demon-possessed to Him. He could have put out His shingle and stayed there—surely there would have been plenty for Him to do. Mark goes on to say: “Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” (Mark 1:36, 37).
There was much more that could have been done in the city of Capernaum. But it appears that Jesus might have been praying to His Father about the next steps in His ministry. There was, and always would be, a need in Capernaum. Jesus may have surprised His men with His reply to their implied request: "Everyone is looking for you." Everyone was looking for Him, needed Him, wanted Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:38, 39).
No doubt He talked to His Father about the people of Capernaum, but in His intimate conversation with the Father, the next step was clear—there were others who needed to hear and so He must go to continue the mission He had come to fulfill.
He prayed about where He needed to be to best fulfill the mission God had sent Him on.
When we get to Mark 6, we find another incident where prayer is a major part of the story. Jesus has just spent the day hearing reports from His disciples and then has taught and fed several thousand people.
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went into the hills to pray” Mark 6:45, 46.
What was He praying about now? No doubt He prayed for all the people to whom He had been ministering that day, but there was something else about to happen that I am sure He was talking about with His Father.
Mark continues: “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake and he was alone on land. He saw his disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; they hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:47-52).
The fourth watch of the night is the time just before dawn. Jesus knew what was going on with the disciples. He saw them straining at the oars in the evening, but He left them struggling until almost dawn. Then He came to them. My guess is that He was praying for them all that time.
He prayed for His “peeps” as they are called today: for perseverance, for strength, for courage, not just to face the wind on the lake, but for everything that they would have to face as His followers.
Why did He wait so long? We don’t know, though perhaps He was waiting for them to call for help from Him instead of trying to do it all themselves—which is one of the most basic of needs met through prayer. They would never know the strength of their faith until it was tested. They would never know how utterly they depended on Him until they were faced with situations that they could not handle.
Jesus modeled both our dependency on prayer as well the constancy that needs to characterize prayer. What He did is what He wants us to do as well.
In Gethsemane, as we are told in Mark 14:35, 36, He prayed for Himself. And we need to do that too!
The Lord never asked for an easy path for Himself or His followers. He chose difficult men to become His inner circle. He chose to stay on mission when He could have stayed put. He chose to challenge His followers and thus, build their faith. He chose a cross for Himself.
We might pray for an easier path. But the Lord knows that easy is not necessarily the way to get the best from us. Jill Briscoe shares this little poem in her book, Prayer that Works.
Am I like a tea bag
waiting to know,
what flavor I am
when in hot H2O?
Am I like a tea bag
soggy and wet?
Am I asking the Lord
just how hot it can get?
I want to be able
to give out for sure
a fragrant aroma
that makes folks want more.
But that means hot water
that hurts my deep pride,
that cleans out my life
till I’m tired inside,
of a fragrant-less life
that knows not how to sing—
So dip me in water,
but keep hold of the string!
Prayer is a constant reminder of our dependence on Him. It is a renewal of our commitment to Him and our submission to His will. It is the place where courage buds and faith blooms. It is not only a good place to be, but an essential place to be. It was a place where Jesus went often and from His example we have much to learn.