IN THE STEPS STOPS OF JESUS…INTERRUPTED WHILE PRAYING!
September 10, 2017
We often talk about walking in the steps of Jesus. But did you consider that it is in the stops of Jesus, the interruptions, where most of his ministry takes place. Last week we witnessed Jesus being abruptly awakened out of a dead sleep in the midst of a storm on the Galilean Sea. He stilled the storm and calmed the fears of the disciples.
Today, we are going to visit an occasion when Jesus is interrupted while praying.
God indeed often answers prayer in mysterious ways…
Dwight Nelson recently told a story about the pastor of his church. The pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc., but the kitty would not come down. The loblolly pine tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to the hitch of his SUV and pulled it until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.
And that’s what he did, attaching the rope, and inching slowly forward in his Ford Explorer. He then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten.
Unfortunately, as he moved the car a little further, the rope broke. The tree went “boing!” and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight!
The pastor felt terrible! He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen a little kitten. Nobody had spotted the poor little guy, so the pastor prayed, “Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,” and went on about his business.
A few days later he was at the grocery store, and ran into Marla, one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food … the woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, “Marla, why are you buying cat food when you despise cats so much?”
Marla replied, “You won’t believe this,” and then told him how her little girl Brittany had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days before, the child had begged again, so Marla finally told her, “Well, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.”
She told the pastor, “I watched my Brittany go out in the yard, get down on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won’t believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A calico kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right smack-dab in front of her!” [writeathome.wordpress.com]
Never underestimate the power of a child’s prayer, and remember God indeed has a sense of humor!
Let’s turn our attention to Mark 1:
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed…
PRAYER NEEDS SOLITUDE
Jesus virtually invents private prayer.
All throughout the Old Testament, prayer is a formal, public thing–uttered by kings, priests and prophets in the company of many. No one in the Old Testament speaks to God as Father, but Jesus comes along and does so 170 times. Jesus has this spontaneous communion with God that has no precedent….and he teaches his followers that we can have the same.
But Jesus also reminds us that meaningful prayer needs solitude. It’s true, you can talk to God anytime, anywhere–I did a lot of fervent praying in my desk at school right before an exam. But if you’re going to have a significant prayer life, you need to find an undisturbed, still place and time.
My wife and I are busy people. And both of us know that when we need to have a serious conversation about something–be it finances, family issues, whatever, we have to intentionally set aside a time and place to have that conversation–it can’t be done on the fly or in emails or text messages.
If prayer is a conversation with God, then we need to be intentional about setting aside a time and place to have that conversation–where interruptions are few and we can focus solely upon our Lord.
As Jesus demonstrates for us, we need a refuge where we can bare our soul to God, where we can drop our hypocritical masks and pious words and simply level with God about what is going on with us.
In the 1998 movie The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays an intense Pentecostal preacher with a big heart named Sonny Dewey.
Some of the best scenes in that movie are when Sonny is praying alone in the upstairs of his house or out in woods along a river–he rants, he raves, he goes toe-to-toe like Jacob, wrestling with God. And that’s the kind of honesty God wants from us.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye keeps up this running dialogue with God, giving credit for the good things but also lamenting all that goes wrong. In one scene he sits dejected by the side of his road with his lame horse.
“I can understand it,” Tevye says to God, “when you punish me when I am bad; or my wife because she talks too much; or my daughter when she wants to go off and marry a Gentile, but…What have you got against my horse?!” I’m sure God appreciates such honesty.
We also need a refuge where we can quiet our hearts before God, a place where we can be still and simply know that he is God. A quiet place, where we can clear our redlining, deadlining, congested, crowded souls and be in conversation with God.
For Jesus, this means getting up in the wee hours of the morning, while it is dark, to spend time with his Heavenly Father. Where is your quiet place, your quiet time?
Some of us are fortunate to have a refuge in our homes, on our property, where we can close the door on noise of the world. It’s not so easy for others. Many of you have told me that your commuting time back and forth to work is your refuge. You turn the radio off and you become still before God…that’s where your conversation takes place.
Jesus once commented, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him”….that’s interesting. Why pray if God already knows? Philip Yancey states,
Jesus treat(s) God’s knowledge not as a deterrent but as a positive motivation to pray. We do not have to work to gain God’s attention through long words and ostentatious displays. We don’t have to convince God of our sincerity or our needs. We already have the Father’s ear, as it were. God knows everything about us and still listens. We can get right to the point! [Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, p. 133]
Yes, God knows everything about us and still listens. Jesus teaches us that our prayer time invites God into our world and ushers us into God’s. So we must be intensely intentional about finding a good setting to have conversations with our Maker.
Prayer needs solitude, and…
PRAYER SEEDS SERVANTHOOD
36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was filled with compassion. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Yes, beyond a doubt, almost all of the amazing and miraculous events in Jesus’ life happen in interrupted space. Even his times of prayer are interrupted!
And yet, we never see Jesus lashing out with frustration, bitterness or cynicism. We never hear him screaming, “For crying out loud, can’t you all just leave me alone for one minute!!!” When there is a need, he gets up, he goes, he responds.
Remember writing term papers? I’ll never forget the advice of my high school English teacher, Gloria Collins: “You begin by creating wide margins on your page. Your writing will not be legible to others or yourself if you cram every centimeter of space with words… leave room on the page for your writing to breathe!”
Jesus’ prayer life creates margins of patience and compassion. Because he makes it a daily discipline to withdraw and spend time in conversation with his Heavenly Father, he is able to breathe. His soul is renewed and he finds the physical, emotional and spiritual strength to care for others. He finds room to make a difference, even when interrupted.
Yes, prayer seeds servanthood. Time apart spent with our Maker enables our souls to catch up with our bodies.
And when we have reached such heavenly homeostasis, we find that interruptions become less of an irritation and more of an invitation–an invitation to minister to the least and the lost in our neighborhoods. And we also discover that our daily molehills remain molehills, not morphing into mountains.
Several years ago, a remnant of a hurricane blew through and blew down a couple of Bradford pear trees in our yard. I put on my flannel Paul Bunyan shirt and grabbed my trusty tiny McCulloch chain saw and commenced to cutting up the pile of debris.
Yet, the longer I sawed, the longer it seemed to take. I became frustrated, pushing down on the limbs with the saw with all my might, throttle wide open, occasionally getting the chain saw pinched in the logs, saying unpreacherly things under my breath.
My neighbor, Richard Whitt, saw me struggling mightily. He came over to check on me. Wiping sweat out of my eyes, I said to him, “Richard, I guess I just need a bigger horsepower chainsaw!” He picked up my chainsaw, ran his fingers along the bar, and said, “Nope, preacher, you don’t need a bigger saw, but you do need to sharpen the chain–what you have here wouldn’t cut hot butter!”
He took my chainsaw blade, sharpened the teeth, and then I made short work of the limbs strewn across my yard!
As Jesus demonstrates, prayer seeds servanthood. It keeps us from flailing aimlessly. It sharpens the saw of our service, enabling us to focus with purpose, to see what needs to be done with clarity and to work smartly, accomplishing our Lord’s mission for others with minimum frustration and maximum efficiency.
Yes, it is in the stops of Jesus that most of his lifechanging ministry takes place. He demonstrates that prayer needs solitude. And yes, it is in that solitude of prayer servanthood is seeded. We are given the patience and compassion to deal with interruptions to our daily routine and allow God to use them as opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others.
I was watching an interview on a cable news show last week. The reporter was talking to a young man named Jeff, who lives an hour north of Houston. She called him a hero for having rescued a dozen folks from the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey. He said to her, “M’am, I ain’t no hero. I’m just a fellow with a boat. Last week I was praying, telling the Lord I wish I could do something for all those poor, suffering people.”
“And the Good Lord said to me, ‘Jeff, you got a boat. Use it!’ So I did!”