By Dave Cover
It’s easy to miss when you read the Gospels. But if you pay attention, you start to see it everywhere: Jesus slipping away by himself to pray.
I love the very imaginable picture Mark describes here:
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!” (Mark 1:35–37)
It makes you feel exhausted for Jesus just reading it. Like the mom of four kids who’s happy to use the bathroom just so she can shut the door for a minute.
But it wasn’t to get away that Jesus got up and left the house while it was still dark. It was to draw near to his Father all alone, just the two of them.
But why not just lay there in his bed to pray? Why get up and go “off to a solitary place”? The gospel writer Luke describes a similar scenario:
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.
“Often.” “Withdrew.” “Lonely places.” “Prayed.”
What did Jesus know about prayer that I don’t seem to know?
Alone with God
No doubt Jesus was speaking out of his own personal experiences when he said:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Notice the imagery Jesus uses to emphasize how getting alone to be with your Father is its own reward. “Go into your room” and “close the door” to “pray to your Father who is unseen” but who “sees” “in secret.”
To Jesus, prayer is when the infinite God is alone with me — looking at me intently and intimately as if it’s just him and me, all alone “in secret.”
When I zoom out and think of the God who created and still sustains this universe with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing their hundreds of billions of stars, each having their orbits of planets, each planet having its moon(s), and each moon having its craters and mountains and rocks and dust — and I realize that God is right there, 100% looking at that rock.
And I zoom back out and back in again to how, according to Jesus, that same God 100% intently and intimately and infinitely “sees” me “in secret” and wants me to call him “Father.” No wonder Jesus, “while it was still dark…got up, left the house” and “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” That time alone with God is incredible!
Connecting with God
After Jesus performed the miracle of feeding over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, Matthew tells us that Jesus dismissed the crowd. And he sent his disciples off ahead of him in a boat.
Then we read, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).
It’s easy now with things like Google Earth to zoom in on these mountains from space and actually see where Jesus prayed.
I imagine him talking with his Father much like a husband and wife reconnect at the end of their eventful day. Lots to talk about. To process. Remember and laugh about. Concerns that might need further action.
But the point is to connect. To be alone with. To have a private conversation.
We’re told that Jesus would often “look toward heaven” when he prayed (Matthew 4:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 17:1). But there were other, more sobering times of prayer, where he “knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41). And even “fell with his face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus’s bodily expression in his prayers must have made a memorable impression on the disciples that they would give detail to it in the Gospels.
I want to pray like that. To often withdraw to lonely places and pray.
That’s why I host a unique kind of podcast called A Bigger Life.
With a new episode every Tuesday and Thursday, I invite you to withdraw from your busyness and distractions. And to close the door and get alone with your Heavenly Father who sees you in secret. Once there, we can listen and pray like Jesus did.
Never miss an episode. Subscribe to A Bigger Life on your favorite podcast-streaming platform.