I’m not 100% certain about all of the reasons why Jesus needed to pray. The thing is, once I start asking why a member of the Trinity would find it necessary to pray for long stretches of time, it makes me wonder if I’m still missing something about prayer.
Why do I pray?
I pray out of fear or a sense of need.
I pray because I feel distant from God.
I pray because I hope to intercede on someone else’s behalf.
I pray to let go of circumstances.
I pray to say thank you—that is, if I’ve managed to loosen my grip on a situation long enough to wait on God.
You could say that my prayer life is very result-focused. I have an outcome or goal in mind. Even my moments of quiet prayer have a goal of sorts in mind. That’s not necessarily wrong. We are told to make our requests known to God and to even be as persistent as a woman who wakes up an unjust judge in the middle of the night in order to plead her case.
There’s an untiring tenacity that the writers of the Bible use to describe prayer over and over again. It’s not wrong to say that prayer can be result-focused. The difference is this: I wonder if sometimes I’ve made the mistake of ONLY being result-focused with prayer.
From the 40 days in the wilderness to the all-night prayer-a-thons that pop up throughout Jesus’ ministry, we can’t possibly think he spent the entire night making requests or saying thank you for things. There’s every reason to believe that he spent significant amounts of time before God in silence, especially since the Psalms, which many Jews had memorized, instructed him to do just that when praying.
I recognize that we’re well into the territory of speculation, but it’s reasonable speculation with a Biblical precedent. It’s not outlandish to presume that Jesus spent long stretches of time simply sitting, kneeling, or standing in stillness before God.
Such prayer leaves the agenda up to God, and nothing at all may happen. Then again, everything could happen. It’s not about what we say, think, or do. There’s no special incantation or procedure that you have to get “just right.” There’s just you and God and a quiet stretch of time that is open to the Spirit.
I suspect that Jesus craved this time with God the Father so much that he was willing to lose an entire night of sleep in order to make it happen. That strikes me on one level as a mind-blowing level of commitment since I’m a sleep deprived parent of young kids. And yet, many people who work out or pursue a serious hobby often sacrifice sleep in order to make it happen in the early or late hours of the day.
The same benefit of writing or running in the still, silence of the morning can be found in a late night prayer time that commits to both speak and listen to God the Father. I suspect that Jesus craved the simple, singular focus of his attention to God the Father. He knew that his days were filled with people making requests, asking hard questions, and traveling throughout territories that were sometimes hostile. Each day presented new challenges and conversations that were no doubt exhausting physically and could leave little time to focus solely on the Father.
There was nothing in the middle of the night that could pull his attention away from the Father. While I don’t know exactly how the Trinity works or how things lined up while Jesus was incarnated on earth, the simple answer is that Jesus craved uninterrupted attentiveness to the Father.
While surrounded with so many people who either misunderstood him and his mission or outright opposed him and even plotted his death, Jesus found his rest in solitude with the Father.
As an American, I’m obsessed with growth, progress, and results. I want things I can measure. I want to work on stuff and excel.
I desperately need to imagine Jesus venturing away from the city in order to find the quiet he needed in order to meet with the Father. I need to imagine him sitting down and letting go of the questions, controversies, and needs that surrounded him nearly every waking minute. In that solitude he is attentive to the Father without distraction, and like a warm breeze drifting from the nearby sea, his Father’s love settles over him.
Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer
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