I am a fill-in-the-blanker. I'm the one who has to every blank completed at the end of the sermon. I love trying to guess what that first letter stands for. And if you want to just downright excite me, make the fill-ins all start with the same letter. That is just all kinds of goodness to me. Why am I telling you this? Because of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer. I realize that there are people who are intimidated by prayer. And while there are books, classes and entire Bible studies on it, even those can feel overwhelming. And let’s face it, once you feel intimidated, it doesn't matter if the task is easy or hard, the motivation is lost. But prayer is important. So I thought I’d share four simple prayer tips. And guess what? They all start with the letter P.
Mark 1:35 is our starting point. We find the first three P's there. I’m sharing from the NASB version of the Bible, but feel free to use the translation that is most familiar and comfortable to you.
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
The first P we find is in the first 10 words or so. Priority. I am a non-repentant night owl. I don't know if, in his human body, Jesus had a preference or not. But when I read “early in the morning” and “still dark”, I think this means whatever he was doing was a priority. No one gets up early for something unimportant and insignificant. Now, for us night owls, I'm not saying we have to get up in the morning. There is nothing wrong with doing that, but I'm not saying it’s a requirement. What I am saying is that if we want to imitate Christ in our prayer life, we need to make prayer a priority.
The next part says He left the house. I don't know about you, but if I'm going out early in the morning before daylight, I've planned it. I don't do impromptu things in the wee hours when I could be enjoying some sweet sleep. Not that Jesus couldn't or didn't do impromptu things. This just wasn't one of them. Look at Mark 6:46. It says “After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” This was after feeding a crowd of more than five thousand. He was intentional in sending them away. Why? Because He had plans to pray. We can do the same. When we've taken the first step of making prayer a priority, we're led right into planning. Questions I ask myself, that you may also want to adopt are:
What time and place works best?
Does that need to change based on the day of the week?
Do I need tools, like a notebook to write down those rambling and intruding thoughts?
After Jesus departed, where did He go? He went to a secluded place. Secluded = Private. Jesus talked to the Father out loud sometimes (see John 17), but He also spoke to Him in private. Besides Mark 1:35, we also see Jesus going to a private place to pray in Matthew 14:23 and Luke 6:12 . Matthew 14:23 says this: “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” After planning to pray, Jesus went to the mountain top by himself. That is intentional, well planned private prayer.
We've learned from Mark 1:35 the first three P's. Where do we find the fourth P? Head back to Luke 6:12. “ It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. “ It's the last part of the sentence that contains the final P. Not only did Jesus pray, He was persistent. He “spent the whole night in prayer to God.” All night. Not for a few minutes or even a few hours. All night. That’s persistence. This was not a one time occurrence. In Luke 5:16 it tells us, “ But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Often says this was a habit. Habits come from doing something over and over. Persistence. Let's also look at Matthew 26, verses 39, 42 and 44. Jesus was about to be handed over to die on the cross for our sins. But before it all happened, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Verse 39 was the first time he prayed that night. Then verse 42 says, “He went away again a second time and prayed”. And then verse 44 says, “And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.” He prayed three times about the same situation. He only stopped there because the events of His crucifixion were about to unfold. Persistence. We need to adopt that same habit with our prayers. Not once, but until there is resolution -- an answer, one way or another.
So our game plan for imitating Christ through prayer is as follows: Make prayer a priority by planning private time to pray persistently. That doesn't even sound hard now does it? We can do this. Say it with me. “I can do this. I will do this.” Now get to it newly commissioned prayer warriors!