In this excerpt from our latest podcast episode, I share that God cares about the small details of life. Here’s a snippet. Listen to the full episode.
Today, my wife and I released the third episode in our podcast series, “How to Grow as a Disciple.” In this episode we talk about prayer.
Is prayer as complicated as we think? Does it always have to be a formal, scheduled time where you sit down for an hour with God? Or can it be more conversational and “as you go” about your day? What do you do when you don’t know what to say? How can God’s word transform your prayer life? We get to these issues and more in this episode.
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If you’ve been around here before, you’ve likely seen this little eBook. But here it is again. This short guide is designed to help you, well, make the most of your devotions. It’ll take you a 10 minute investment to read. My hope is that it brings a lifetime worth of change for your Bible reading and prayer times.
While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.” (Mark 1:35-36)
Jesus finally has time to slip away. He called his disciples. Cast out a demon. Healed his friend’s mother of a fever. Cared for dozens and maybe hundreds of people who had demons and sicknesses in town.
It was a rough night of sleep. Way before sunrise, he gets up off his mat on the hard floor to go pray. He wants to talk to his Father. He needs a quiet time. Recharge time. He needs to set some boundaries. So he finds the most lonely place, desolate even.
No one will find me, he thinks. This is perfect. But, really, he knows.
He prays for several minutes. An hour goes by. He wants more time. Needs it. Then, the unthinkable happens.
“Master, what in the world are you doing?” his friend Simon asked. “A quiet time now? The whole town is looking for you. They are hungering for you.”
A question passes through Jesus’ mind. How in the world did you find me?
Jesus looks at Simon. There’s a temptation barreling over Simon’s shoulder, poised to smack Jesus right in the face. That prayer time wasn’t long enough, he hears. It was supposed to be my morning off. Ministry-free time.
But he dodges the temptation-train. His gaze toward Peter is filled with compassion and understanding, not frustration or anger. “Alright then,” Jesus says. “Let’s keep on moving. After all, I came here to tell people about God’s kingdom.”
* * *
This episode in Mark has always struck me, particularly for its simplicity. But also because it rebukes me deeply. Here’s why.
There is a lot of discussion and teaching out there about personal boundaries and self-care. Particularly for people like me who have an occupation in ministry. Just google “self-care” and you’ll have 3,160,000,000 results in 0.55 seconds.
Boundaries and self-care are not bad things. Indeed, they are good and even necessary things. It’s important to get alone and learn how to say, “No.” Jesus was trying to do that, after all.
But personal boundaries and self-care are not ultimate. And Jesus’ actions in Mark 1 remind me of that.
He was far away from his disciples. They searched for and found him. They basically disregarded the boundaries he had set up and said, “You need to get back to work.” Imagine that. But he didn’t object. He didn’t say, “Today is my day off.” There was a need and Jesus was willing to set aside his prayer time to meet it.
Now, please hear me again. There’s nothing wrong with a day off. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a boundary. I take days off. I love days off. I try to hide in desolate places. I need this. So do you.
But here’s the big question that confronts me in this text: am I willing to set aside my perceived-right to boundaries and self-care to lay down my life to be able to see and care for the needs of someone else?
The Master was not only willing. He actually did. And we know, eventually, he gave it all up when he surrendered himself to die on the cross.
I want to be willing and ready like him.
What about you?
The first prayer-proper in the Psalms (Ps. 3) is a not a praise or thanksgiving. It’s a cry for help, “O Lord, how many are my foes!” In the Psalms–the prayer book of God’s people–enemies are everywhere. Out of 150 chapters, there are only 7 confession or penitential psalms. There are upwards of 68 psalms of lament or complaint and many, if not most, have to do with the enemies of God’s people.
The entirety of the Bible is clear that our biggest problems are inside of us, not outside of us. Sin condemns us. But because of sin, the world is a scary place. The enemy-psalms aren’t there to make us paranoid. They are there, however, to ensure we don’t become naive. Not everyone in the world is singing kumbaya and trying to get along. Some people actually are out to get God’s people.
Who is an enemy? Simply, anyone who doesn’t have your best in mind and who actively seeks your hurt.
There is some horrifying stuff in the Psalms when it comes to enemies. Like Psalm 137:9, “Blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your babies and dashes them against the rock!” That seems un-Christian to pray, right? But it’s not.
These psalms teach us that when God feels distant because of enemies, we must go to God as we actually are, not as we think we should be.
Therefore, when we pray because of enemies, we seek to be accurate, not nice. Many of us were taught to pray sweet little angel prayers to Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. But if so many of the psalms seem more like war than precious devotional moments, we should take note.
Second, we need to cry out for God’s justice. Be honest. Be raw. Call down for God’s holy wrath on injustice. If we aren’t angered by sin and evil, something is wrong with us. We’re not seeking personal vengeance here. We’re asking God to show up. Appealing to God’s justice is the most powerful resource in the world to keep us from violence against others.
Finally, we need to walk the line between God’s justice and loving our enemies. Jesus has the last word on enemies. He told us to love our enemies and pray for them. On the cross, he cried out, about those enemies who were killing him, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
He was praying for you and me. At one time, we were at enmity with God. If God can save us, he can save those who are against us.
So now we pray the same. And we love our enemies. Why? Horrible and real as they seem and are, they aren’t the ultimate enemy. Satan and his dark realm is (Eph. 6:12).
Yet, truth be told, Jesus doesn’t call us to love our enemies even mainly for their sake. It’s for ours. “Love your enemies…so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45).
Jesus had the privilege of loving his enemies even unto death. He gives us the gift of enemies so that we have the opportunity to share in his sufferings and become like him.
We might even say that we are never more like Jesus than when we are loving our enemies.