“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” – Luke 5:16 (ESV)
My religious and spiritual formation took place in a religious home with Christian parents. As a child, I remember a friend of mine who told me his mother had purchased an alarm clock for him. The reason was to make sure he got out of bed in time (he had a tendency for always being late to school). I remember thinking: That would be a wasted expense in my home! I did not need an alarm clock. Every morning at 5 A.M., the sound of my dad’s voice reverberated throughout our house, as he prayed!
Recognizing that savoring a few more precious moments of sleep was impossible, I would climb out of bed, descend the steps from my upstairs bedroom, and see my dad on his knees. His prayers were mostly for others; church members, family (immediate and distant), and for missionaries around the world. It appeared that my dad had a list (although none was visible).
His words seemed to flow naturally. He did not seem to be embarrassed by his emotions, frequently displayed in tears and great sobs. Even the early morning hour did not dissuade my father from praying. His prayers were earnest.
I recognized early in my life that I would always struggle with praying. First, my personality is not loud or boisterous. If prayer has to be loud, that just leaves me out! On more than one occasion, I remember thinking: “Seriously, Dad... God isn’t deaf!”
Second, the posture was troubling. When joining my father in prayer, it was assumed that you, too, were to be on your knees. This position was ok for a couple of minutes, but much longer my knees would begin to hurt. Also, the position allowed me to lower my head into my arms, and (at 5 A.M.) I would drift off to sleep.
Another hurdle was that I did not know what to ask of God. Oh, sure, I could parrot prayers: God bless all the children of the world who have no food; bless mom and dad and my brothers and sister, and the missionaries. But wasn’t God already aware of those needs? And, is God simply a divine source that dispenses everything we ask of Him? Even at an early age, I thought: There has to be more to prayer than this!
I’m not questioning my father’s sincerity. Nor, am I suggesting he was doing anything wrong. The fact is that prayer was an important practice in his life, and he was disciplined by the process. That is admirable.
For Jesus, praying is a routine practice. Before selecting his disciples, Jesus spends all night in prayer, in a desolate location (Luke 6:12-16). He emphasizes the importance of prayer to his disciples, going as far as giving them an example in a parable to motivate them to pray always – and everywhere – so they would not become fearful (Luke 18:1-8).
Observing the stories of how – and why – Jesus prays, has caused me to re-examine my motivation (or lack of impetus) to pray. Is it possible that prayer is more than a religious obligation? Is it conceivable to believe that prayer is more than just asking?
In his book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, Alan Fadling writes: “Jesus practiced a pattern of disengagement in order to be with the Father.” The word, “disengagement” spoke to me. I was able to recognize that Jesus frequently disengages (withdraws) to engage with the Father. Luke’s gospel reminds us:
“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:15-16, ESV).
Praying is essential to Jesus. Taking time to separate from the pressing demands of Kingdom work (healing infirmities, casting out demons, and teaching his disciples) is part of the rhythm of Jesus life. And, that’s a significant pattern for each of us.
Somehow, I believe Jesus is aware that pulling away from the demands of Kingdom work – is also Kingdom work. It is when Jesus retreats from the difficulties of ministry that God the Father is pleased, and Jesus is equally delighted to be with His Father.
Is it time to disengage from the demands of a busy life and engage with God?
I can’t imagine that God is concerned with the volume of our voice. Our heavenly Father isn’t worried about our physical posture, or whether we have a long list, short one, or no list at all. Even if words escape us, somehow God finds great delight in our desire to be with Him. That’s prayer!
 Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, IVP Books,
Downers Grove, IL, p 95
● What keeps me from praying?
● How do I envision God when I’m praying?
● Is it possible to pray without words? What would that be like?
● How might my prayers become more conversational with God?
● When I pray, am I giving sufficient time to listen?
● What is it that I want God to know about me?