I’ve often heard people recognize that throughout his life Jesus made a habit of taking time to get away by himself to pray and spend time with God. This is very true, there are numerous times when the writers of the Gospels note how Jesus went off on his own to pray. I agree wholeheartedly when this observation is used as a reason to show how we as followers of Christ need to be spending time in solitude and prayer ourselves. However, I wonder if there is more to learn from Jesus example than just the goodness of engaging in these spiritual disciplines. There is the fact that Jesus did this, yes, but there is also the manner in which he took time to pray alone with God and the timing of when he does it that can also teach us about Jesus relationship with God and in turn our own walk with the Father. Often we view solitude and prayer as a bonus, something that is great to do on not-so busy weeks when we can actually carve out a few moments to be alone with God. Or else we label it as “devotions”, this special little time that is set aside each day for reading and praying. This is not a bad habit, but I think we can see a much more integrated approach from Jesus.
Jesus engaged in times of solitude and prayer specifically in the thick of life and ministry, not just when he had the spare time. I would like to look at a few examples from the many mentioned in the Bible that show how Jesus did not just enjoy a little quiet time, but depended on these intimate times he spent with his Father in solitude and prayer.
So when did Jesus engage in solitude and prayer?
When Making Important Decisions – Luke 6:12-13 – “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside 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 also designated apostles.” Jesus is about to make this important decision on who will be his twelve disciples – the guys who will walk with him for the next three years, who will hear his stories and see his miracles, who will remember and record the details of his life for future generations. These are the guys who will struggle with his teachings, but then see him resurrected and take his good news out into the whole world. These are the guys who will almost all be willing to die for him one day. And the day before Jesus appoints them, he spends the entire night alone praying. No flow charts or lists of pro’s and con’s. Just time with His Father, seeking and listening, until the break of day.
When Needing Margin– Luke 5:15-16 – “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.” Margin is the space needed in and around good things to maintain balance. Jesus gave himself completely through his teaching and through ministering to the people with healing and loving. But he also balanced this with regular time alone with God. Jesus did not always need a nice place to stay or food to eat, but he needed time with his Father. He kept this sacred, he took care of this connection, and I am sure the crowds benefited.
When Grieving – Matthew 14:12-13 – “John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place…” When Jesus found out that his cousin John, his friend and forerunner in ministry had been murdered, Jesus took the time and space he needed to grieve (until the crowds caught up with him…) He did not deny his grief but engaged in it in a healthy way, going to his Father once again to process his emotions.
When Facing His Final Hour – Matthew 26:36 – “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.'” Jesus encountered all of the same things we face in life – hardship, grief, tough decisions, temptation, rejection, and this moment on the eve of his death was the pinnacle of it all. It was also the pinnacle of his purpose on Earth. This was it, the hardest, most heart-breaking, glorious and sacrificial choice of Jesus’ life. He needed the strength given to him by his Father in those precious moments in the garden. He needed once again to be alone with God, seeking and listening, preparing himself for his final day. This was not just a simple quiet time of solitude and prayer. This was anguish and grace, love and pain, flesh and spirit colliding between Father and Son, and carrying Jesus through until He had finished his mission by giving himself on that cross.
Solitude and prayer are practices designed for real, messy, up-to-here life moments, not just quiet times or holidays. The core of both of these practices is an on-going, intimate relationship with God. Without that connection, it is just logging the hours and listing the prayer requests, but with a deep connection to God, solitude and prayer are life and breathe, refreshment and water for your soul. If Jesus spent all night praying before big decisions, withdrew to be with God when grieved or overwhelmed, and desperately needed God’s presence before going to the cross, how much more do we need to take time to be alone with God in the big and small moments of our lives?
Perhaps you do not know, but God loves you. He is for you. He will meet you if you draw close to Him. He will speak if you are in a place to listen. He will strengthen you, journey with you, and transform you with His love.
In what ways have you been able to engage in solitude and prayer in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.