The Gospels: Mark 1:35-39 – A Lesson About Priorities

What’s important? We usually consider whatever is the most urgent to be the most important. When we need to use the bathroom, for example, that need becomes both urgent and important, something that must for the moment take priority over everything else. Many things take a priority spot in our lives. Sometimes it might be a movie or television show we’ve been waiting to see. It might be a trip we want to take, or a special event we want to arrange or attend. Sometimes it might be something we want to buy, maybe some new music, a pair of jeans, a computer, a car or a house. The priority might be a relationship, a job, a project. It might be an illness, a tragedy or a difficult ordeal.

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!”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.

Prayer a priority

Prayer is the kind of priority that lies at the root of all the others — at the root of life itself. It’s a lot like eating; if we rarely eat, our physical health will suffer. We’ll be weak and sick. It will affect our ability to carry on the activities of life. In a similar way, if we rarely pray, our spiritual life will lack vitality. We’ll approach the challenges and successes of life on our own, as though we’re not totally dependent on God even for life itself.

Without prayer, we fall into fear, anxious worry and even despair.

Without prayer, we begin to take credit for the good things in our lives, chalking them up to our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work. We begin to forget that all our skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work are gifts of God—he gave us the mind, body and circumstances of life that enabled us to have and develop those attributes.

On the other hand, without prayer, we fall into fear, anxious worry and even despair at the failures, frustrations and bad events in our lives. We become unsure of God’s love for us, unsure that he stands with us in our problems. We feel alone and afraid, doubtful about our ability to cope with what life is heaping onto us.

Prayer is the grease, we might say, that keeps the gears and wheels of life in good working order. Without prayer, we see ourselves as alone against the world, left to fend off the storms of life on our own wits and brawn. It is in the course of prayer that we learn to see the true state of things — that we are creatures within a creation, creatures dependent on our Maker and on all the other parts of the creation, and as such, never alone.

Hard to find time

It’s a crowded, hectic world for most people. Opportunities for time alone, much less for prayer, are limited. Life has its immediate demands, its already scheduled priorities lined up to overwhelm us and keep us forever playing catch-up—jobs, classes, homework, housework, yard work, kids, church, health problems, car problems, home repairs, accidents, ants, traffic, crowds, lines, appointments and, oh yes, sleep.

Of course, there might well be a considerable amount of time that we could devote to prayer that we use on other things — things that don’t really have the kind of priority that prayer should. For example, most of us have our favorite television show, and that’s fine. But how often do we find ourselves sitting in front of the television — watching shows we don’t really care about — just because nobody got up and turned the infernal thing off?

We make priorities out of things we care about. It isn’t that we don’t care about prayer, it’s just that it often seems like just one more chore on top of all the other chores, and since God doesn’t cry when he doesn’t get his dinner or send collection agents out to repossess the washing machine, we tend to put prayer farther down the priority list.

It might be helpful to see prayer in a different light from that of one more chore to get done before (or after) turning off the light at night. Time with God is different from other time. It refreshes and rejuvenates. It relaxes the mind and body to release to God our worries, our anger, fear and anxiety. It’s a better antidote to frustration than nibbling on donuts or chocolate bars. It fills our need for intimacy better than affairs or pornography. It’s a far more productive way to handle anger than exploding at our spouses and children. It lasts; those alternatives don’t.

Therapy, not duty

It’s easy to view prayer as a duty, an obligation. When we do that, prayer becomes hard, something to put off, a burden and pressure all by itself. What a tragedy. We’d hardly consider talking to our best friends a duty. We talk to them because we like them. It’s a lift to talk to them. It helps us feel better, reminds us we’re not alone in this world, gives us strength to carry on.

It’s harder with God. God’s invisible. And he doesn’t say much. Sometimes we wonder if he’s even there at all. We have the Bible, but a book isn’t the same as an oral conversation.

Talking to God takes place, you could say, in our heads, by faith, not by sight, touch or sound. We can’t look God in the eye, smell him, shake his hand or pat his back. Instead, we “sense” his presence in some spiritual, unseen way. We believe. We trust. The Holy Spirit, also invisible, tasteless and odorless, communicates God’s reality to us on a level other than our five physical senses. We don’t understand it; we can only experience it.

Spending this time with God is great therapy. Therapy is remedial treatment of a bodily disorder, whether physical, emotional or psychological. When we think of prayer as much needed therapy, rather than as “our Christian duty,” it puts prayer into a clearer perspective, I think. When we go through our daily, weekly, monthly routines without acknowledging God as the root and core of our lives (which he is), our attitudes, emotions, psyche, even our bodies, suffer the ill effects of trying to live as though we are self-existent — not dependent on God and his creation for our life and being.

To hand over our concerns to God, whether for ourselves or for others, reminds us that our lives and future are in God’s hands. Even our past, with all its baggage of sin, selfishness and ignorance, is in God’s redemptive hands. The act of acknowledging God as the loving, wise and powerful Being that he is is remedial treatment for fear, worry and frustration. It’s like an expert massage, removing tension and stress from our muscles, only better. Who wouldn’t like a great massage every day?

Prayer is the perfect therapy for our tense, knotted and stressed spirits, and it’s free! We can take a moment for a quick spiritual “rubdown” in the form of silent prayer just about any time we want during the day. And we can set aside time for a good, long session at times that work with our schedules. Think about it: if you had a certificate for a free full-body massage every day, you’d likely find a way to work it into your schedule as often as possible — even if you had to get up before everybody else and hightail it down to the gym at 5:30 a.m. You’d do that because you know what good therapy it is and how good it makes you feel. (If you are one who doesn’t like or can’t tolerate massages, please forgive the analogy.)

Not a substitute for action

There is another thing we can learn from Jesus’ early morning hike to a solitary place for prayer. When it’s time for action, it’s time for action. When your child or your spouse needs your attention, it is not the time to go off and pray. When you need to repair a faucet, or make a call, or prepare a meal, it’s not the time to disappear for an hour in a closet. We can and should be able to pray any time, any place, while we go about our business. The time to go to a solitary place for extended prayer is a time when we don’t have other duties, responsibilities and obligations.

How did Jesus do it? In the instance cited in this passage, he got up early, before the regular day’s activities began. You might find that other times work better for you. The point is, see prayer as a priority that will make all your other priorities more manageable and less stressful. Let your prayer time be a time to relax, to let God’s love bathe and salve your frayed nerves, your taut emotions, your exhausted and frightened heart. Let prayer time be your time to rest in God, to let him renew your strength, brighten your hope, sharpen your faith.

Has prayer slipped to the bottom of your “to do” list? Why not set aside some time today for an overdue therapy session with the Master Therapist?

For reflection:

  • Does prayer seem like a chore to you? Why or why not?
  • Do you have trouble thinking of things to pray about? Have you thought of sitting quietly with God as a valuable part of your prayer time?
  • What are some of the ways prayer has helped you?
  • How would you describe “answered prayer”?
  • What is your favorite place for prayer?

Suggested Reading

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster

Author: J. Michael Feazell, 2003, 2012

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