Departing to a Desert Place Long Before the Crack of Dawn: The Importance of Personal Prayer

What is true of the life of every young adult, and every child of God of any age for that matter, is that we are all busy, very busy. There are seemingly more things to do than time to do them. Another school year looms before us and promises to demand our time. Strikingly, what is true of our situation is not all that different from the circumstances of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In fact, not only were his works more important than most of our endeavors, but Jesus was busier than we will ever be. In such conditions it is especially important that we make time to pray. Jesus did. Amid everything else he did, Jesus made time for private, personal prayer. That comes out in Mark 1:35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” Jesus’ own life teaches us the importance of personal prayer. Let no one suppose the pace of his life is so frantic that to pray would be unreasonable and too demanding. Personal prayer is necessary and a busy life only increases our need for it.

Nowhere in Mark 1 is there explicit reference to the importance of prayer, nevertheless verse 35 in its context reveals that personal, private prayer is vitally important. Read Mark 1 and you will be impressed by how busy our Savior was in his earthly ministry. Consider what Jesus was involved in during the course of one day. He entered into the synagogue and taught so that the people were astonished at his doctrine (vv. 21, 22). Jesus was not simply reading from the Old Testament like any scribe could do, but he was preaching new doctrines—blood, sweat, and tears kind of teaching that drained a man. Then he cast an unclean spirit out of the man who was ridiculing him, and again the people were astonished at his authority (vv. 23-27). The crowds were gathering and Jesus’ fame was spreading. Immediately, Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew where he healed the mother of Simon’s wife (vv. 29-31). By this time it was evening—when the normal man retires for the day and rests, but not Jesus—and the whole city had gathered at the door (v. 33). They brought “all that were diseased” and those “possessed with devils” (v. 32) and Jesus healed them. Imagine the commotion and chaos of a house surrounded by demon-possessed men, the paralyzed, those coughing, groaning, and crying out in pain, the lame, deaf, dumb, and blind. This was certainly not a scene one looks forward to after a long day of work. Into the late hours of the night Jesus was busy about the work the Father sent him to do (works of mercy the Father sent him to do even on the Sabbath (v. 21)). He must have labored to the point of exhaustion.

To emphasize the point and make sure that we do not overlook the very active ministry of Jesus, Mark recorded this history, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, using a little Greek particle that gets translated into the KJV as “immediately, anon, forthwith, or straightway.” Reread the history of Mark 1 and notice all the appearances of these four particles each conveying the idea of Jesus immediately moving on from one thing to the next with not a moment to spare. Never was Jesus idle.

Then come the astonishing words of verse 35. Notice what Jesus did the morning after a long and arduous day of labor. He did not “sleep-in” or even sleep until sunrise. He arose early, literally “exceedingly early by night,” and went out to a solitary, or desert place and prayed. Jesus was all alone in the dark, quiet desert place where the throngs could not distract him. How very important prayer was for Jesus! If Jesus saw the need to get up early in the morning, leave the house and go to the desert to pray in peace, apart from any possible distraction, what a valuable lesson this is for us. Jesus is the model. His life is exemplary. How do you compare? Did you designate time for your own personal devotions this morning? Did you even pray this morning? The temptation for many is to set the alarm clock for the latest possible second in which one will have just enough time to race into the shower, grab a bite to eat, and fly off to school or work. Before one knows it, it is evening and there were so many things one wanted to do, but now the eyelids are heavy and the day is over. What about prayer? To be sure, we pray as families in the home, and in the school, and at many other occasions, but the Word of God is not satisfied. Did you pray today, by yourself, alone, just you and your God? God grant us the grace, for improvement and progress are always possible.

Why is personal, private prayer so important? What drove Jesus out into a desert place long before the crack of dawn? We can reflect on our own lives and look at what motivates us to frequency and fervency in prayer. Often the child of God, like David (Psalm 32), is burdened by the crushing weight of a particular sin and plagued in his conscience, so he is driven to pour out his soul before God in penitential prayer. Other times, when the giver and taker of life takes a loved one away, prayers are offered like never before. When an unforeseen disaster strikes and shakes the very foundations of our life we feel the need to pray often, in fact, even non-praying people start to pray. After the horrific flooding near Cedar Rapids, Iowa in early June, a local sheriff told the press, “We’re just kind of at God’s mercy right now so, hopefully, people that never prayed before this, it might be a good time to start, we’re going to need a lot of prayers” (AP). There are many situations in life that would propel us to the prayer closet for earnest beseeching of God. Yet, none of these pressing concerns moved Jesus to pray. What did? Surely Jesus recognized the need to pray to God for strength for all his labors but such prayers could have and would have been offered right along with each healing or teaching exercise. Why the dark, quiet desert when the others are fast asleep?

I submit to you that prayer was so important to Jesus because of what it was and what it meant for him. Prayer is the divinely appointed, holy, sanctified, means of covenantal communication between covenant friends. It is fellowship between God and man, between God and the man Jesus Christ. When two people love each other, there is a strong desire for fellowship. Fellowship is at the heart of love, and true fellowship is impossible without communication. That is not hard to understand. Suppose a young lady calls up her boyfriend and he is gone so she leaves a message for him to call her back. She waits, and waits, and waits. He has rec-league softball one night, he typically hangs out with his friends the next night, and he needs to work on his car the following night. Soon half the week has passed and no call because he is preoccupied with other interests. You immediately respond: “Why, he doesn’t love her at all!” How much more is this not true of our relationship with God? Do you love God young people? Do I? Or are we like the young man so that our life is so busy we never find time to speak to our God in prayer, because in the end it’s really not so important to us. If we truly love God we will never neglect prayer because, like the psalmist, “there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25).

What drove Jesus out into the desert was his great love for God. Jesus craved the sweet, spiritual, covenantal fellowship of his heavenly Father and would not let his busy earthly ministry distract him from the object of his love. So demanding and time-consuming was his labor that the only way Jesus could escape distraction and engage in the vibrant prayer that brought him close to God was to get up before his disciples and settle in a desert place. Does our love for God motivate us to such measures? Does your “flesh and heart fail” apart from God? If so, you will go out into a desert place to be all alone with God in prayer. Get up early if you must. Find a “desert place”—a quiet room or outdoor locale of solitude. We must not squander the opportunity and privilege of grace granted to us by the eternal Son of God who was sent from the fellowship of the Triune God, became flesh, sacrificed his own life by shedding his blood, rose again, and ascended into heaven that we might have access to the Father by his Spirit. The norm for a young adult in 2008 seems to be the need to stay connected to everyone and everything through cell phones, iPods, Facebook, etc. Let’s disconnect our connections for a time and find a desert place to draw near unto the God who first drew us to himself.

But notice this too: out of fellowship with God in prayer we draw strength and renewed vigor for the day that lies ahead. It is like a young woman engaged to be married to a man hundreds of miles away. She longs for that phone conversation in which she can speak to her beloved. Her long days in the office or behind the counter are endured in the hope of speaking to her fiancé. When the phone call comes she pours out her heart. Having retold all of the events of her life since they last spoke, and having heard his voice, she has her strength renewed. She is full of vigor, and zeal. Anticipation of the consummation of their relationship motivates her to press on with energy each day. The same is true for us in our relationship with God. We long for that day of perfect fellowship, but until then we draw our strength for the new day out of our fellowship with God in prayer. In the fellowship of prayer we draw nigh to God by utilizing all the elements of prayer we know so well. We praise his name, give him thanks, confess our sins, and make our requests known—especially grace and strength for our labors. Without private, personal prayer we become spiritually weak and begin to falter.

Be encouraged young people. When you begin your day in prayer by entering into covenantal fellowship with God the Father through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, you will be strengthened. God will give you grace sufficient, for another active, busy day of service in his kingdom and for his glory. That was true of Jesus. We read that Peter and the disciples followed after him and found him, saying, “all men seek for thee” (vv. 36, 37). Notice how Jesus does not respond: “Peter, have a little compassion would you? You saw how exhausted I was yesterday. You saw everything I did and what I had to endure. I need some time alone, some rest. Come back tomorrow.” Not so. Jesus responds, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, for therefore came I forth” (v. 38). “There is a world of darkness out there,” said Jesus, “that needs to see the light of God’s gospel, and this is what I came to do. Let’s go.” Praying to the Father encouraged Jesus and gave him a sense of commitment and determination. God will do the same to us.

Arise early! Go to the desert! Pour out your soul in fellowship. God will strengthen you and give you grace sufficient. Go forth in his service and strong in his might to conquer all evil and stand for the right in the home, in the school, in the workplace, and in all the busyness of life.