“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46)
Down through the ages, Christians have (unsurprisingly) looked to Jesus’ practice of prayer for guidance on how we ought to pray. Just a couple of months ago, Mark Dever (one of my favourite Christian authors and preachers) published a brief, insightful essay over at The Briefing, looking at prayer in the life of Jesus.
It’s well worth reading the whole essay, but as a brief summary, Mark walks us through Jesus’ prayer in Mark 6, showing not only what it teaches us about our own prayers, but also what it teaches us about Jesus himself:
Where We Pray
Jesus showed that where we pray can be important by removing himself from distractions. But more than this, by going up on a mountainside (just as he did at other key times in his ministry, and just as Moses and Elijah had done before him), Jesus hinted at his relationship with God and showed that the Law and the Prophets bore witness to his identity.
With Whom He Prayed
Jesus prayed alone – not exclusively, but this is certainly the emphasis in Mark’s Gospel. “Prayer alone is no less real than prayer with others.… Private prayer in that sense saves us from insincerity and hypocrisy, because there’s no human to impress.” But again, this says more about Jesus than about us. By praying alone, Jesus showed that he was dependent on no one but God, and directed by no one but God. It showed the disciples ‘who Jesus was working for’.
When He Prayed
Mark’s Gospel records Jesus praying at three critical times: the beginning of his ministry (1:35), the middle of his ministry (Mark 6:45-46), and the end of his ministry (14:32-39). Mark Dever highlights the significance of this for us:
Jesus is a model for us in this, too: we should pray at crucial times. Like Jesus, we should be defined by God’s call. Prayer reminds us of who we are—God’s adopted children in Christ. It also reminds us of what we’re about—doing God’s will, as we serve him and serve others. I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize enough the importance of being defined by your relationship with God more than by any other characteristic. Prayer reminds us of this relationship, and encourages us to keep defining ourselves by this relationship.
What about its significance for Jesus? By praying at crucial times, Jesus showed that he (of all people!) was utterly dependent on God, and that his life continued to be defined by God’s will.
If even Jesus, the God-man, prayed constantly, surely we can agree with Martin Luther’s words: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus’ example in prayer. Thank you that his choices about prayer show us much about our own practices, and that they show us more of his identity and glory. Help me to model my own prayer life after my Lord’s, and to come to you in complete dependence on Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.