One of the striking things about the life and ministry of Jesus is the value that He gave to prayer. The gospel accounts show that He prioritized getting alone with the Father on a regular basis and that He also taught us to do the same (see Matthew 6:6). Below is an excerpt from Restoring the Ministry of Jesus that shows us how to grow in prayer by following the example of Jesus:
Not only can Christ’s closeness to the Father be seen in His being led moment by moment, it can also be seen in His prayer life. A survey of the gospels will show the prominent place that Jesus gave to prayer.
One example is Mark 1:35 which reads, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” What makes this verse so amazing is the context in which it is stated. In the preceding verses (21-34) we read of an intense day of ministry including teaching and casting out a demon in a synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and ministering healing and deliverance to crowds of people who came to Him in the evening. Before having children, my wife and I had the tradition of taking a Sunday nap each week after church. But I don’t think that Jesus had time for a “Sabbath nap” that day—He was up well into the night in exhausting ministry. But “in the morning…a long while before daylight…He prayed.”
While many people view prayer as a last resort, this passage shows that Jesus saw it as a top priority. He needed to be in prayer; interceding, receiving direction, and just being in the presence of His Father. Luke 5:16 sums it up well: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” This was not a once-in-a while event but a regular practice. In the midst of the demands of a busy traveling ministry, Jesus could often be found alone with God. This is a great example for all of us. The secret to a life of intimacy with God is spending much time in the secret place of His presence. This is one element that cannot be ignored, and the fuller our schedule gets, the more intentional we must be. An expanding public influence with a shrinking secret place is a recipe for disaster.
The disciples were also called to a place of intimacy. Take a close look at the calling of the twelve apostles: “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15, emphasis added). Their first assignment was to be with Jesus. Their training for ministry was not Bible school or seminary; it was the presence of Jesus. All other ministry was to flow out of that relationship. We too must learn to constantly spend time in the presence of God.
While it takes discipline to have a consistent prayer life, discipline is not the goal. Instead, discipline becomes the gateway to an intimate relationship with God. Intimacy is the goal and the highest purpose of prayer. This principle of discipline applies to human relationships as well. My wife and I have certain things, such as regular date nights and times of praying together, which we do on a consistent basis to help maintain and grow in intimacy with each other. We have learned that as our lives get busier, we have to become intentional and disciplined in order to continue these practices. Again, discipline is not the goal but a means to deeper relationship.
Prayer is spending time with God, and you cannot get to know someone with whom you do not spend time. I encourage you to spend quality time with God every day in prayer and reading His Word, not out of a legalistic performance but out of a desire for God Himself. We should come to God in prayer not to become accepted by Him but because we have already been accepted by Him. These two practices of prayer and Bible study are the foundation for all other spiritual growth and lead to increasing intimacy with the Father.
Along with focused time with God, learning to converse with Him throughout the day will also increase intimacy with Him and will heighten our awareness of His presence. Quality time with God can be compared to having dinner with your spouse. Communing throughout the day with Him is like having short phone calls or sending text messages to your spouse. Both quality time and constant communion help cultivate intimacy.
Everywhere Jesus went, people were miraculously healed, set free from evil spirits, and transformed by powerful teaching and preaching. Restoring the Ministry of Jesus calls us back to the foundation of walking like Jesus walked and doing what Jesus did. It shows how to bridge the gap from our current condition to walking in our inheritance in Christ. As you read, your heart will be stirred to seek God’s face and go after all that He has for you and the church today!