Jesus was a man of prayer; He prayed in the company of other people (Luke 3:21), and He prayed by Himself (Matt. 14:23). He offered praise (Matt. 11:25), gave thanks (John 11:41), and made petitions (John 17:6-26). According to the writer of the book of Hebrews Jesus prayed with great intensity; He prayed “with fervent cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7 NIV). He prayed during the daylight hours, such as at His baptism and at the tomb of Lazarus. However, there is one thing I would like to point out to you about Jesus’ prayer life, He also prayed at some rather different and inconvenient times. Scripture tells us that He prayed at a very early hour when it was dark (Mark 1:35). It also tells us that He prayed all night (Luke 6:12). These are not times that a lot of people would typically choose to pray because many people sleep during these hours. So why did Jesus pray at these times?
I think there are a couple of different answers to that question. One is that He was quite busy during the day. He was a controversial figure and many people came to see Him. In some people’s minds He broke the Sabbath (John 5:1-16), He impressed others because He spoke with authority (Mark 1:22) and He ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the masses (Matt. 4:23; 8:16).
In addition to these activities He sometimes traveled (John 4:1-6), He also was involved in instructing His disciples (Mark 9:30-31). The second reason I will mention is closely related to the first one. I think Jesus prayed during “off hours” because He wanted to give undivided attention to prayer; He did not want to be interrupted. Prayer was so important to Jesus that He withdrew from people who usually occupied a good part of His waking hours. I believe He purposely withdrew from people so He could communicate with His Father.
Mark 1:35 says “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” (NIV). It was an intentional act. I think the word “solitary” is very telling, He wanted to get away from people, He wanted to be alone. At the hour He went out He would likely not meet too many people. Luke 6:12 also describes a retreat from the crowds. He went up a mountain by Himself and spent the night in prayer. Not many people would be around at this time either. In these passages Jesus is clearly taking time to pray, indeed, He is making time to pray.
We too need to give ourselves to uninterrupted prayer, being as free from distractions as possible. This may mean praying at odd hours as Jesus did in the texts mentioned above. One thing I like to do is pray early in the morning sitting in the dark. This incorporates two of the dynamics that Jesus experienced in Mark 1:35 and Luke 6:12. He was alone and He was in the dark.
Now, I am not laying down a law or setting forth a pattern that every Christian should follow. I am merely stating something that I like to do and have found to be beneficial. I also pray during daylight hours. During these times I take other precautions in order to minimize interruptions. I typically leave the apartment where my wife and I live. I do this to get away from distractions and interruptions. These include the phone, the TV, and the computer. When I am praying I do not want to be found or interrupted. It is very difficult to focus on prayer if you are distracted. You may need to take similar or other actions, but as much as possible we should seek to minimize distractions when we pray.
Jesus sets a good example for us with regard to prayer. He shows us the place that prayer should occupy in our lives. We need to make time for it and we need to guard that time. We should not let the demands of life and ministry squeeze prayer out. We should try to create the best possible conditions for the times in which we seek the Lord. People sometimes speak about spending quality time with their families (which is important), should we not do the same for the Lord?
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.