The Priority of Personal Prayer – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 16th Sunday of the Year

The Gospel today speaks to us of the Priority of Personal Prayer. You may recall that in last week’s gospel Jesus had sent them out two by two to proclaim the Kingdom. Now they return and want to eagerly report the progress and the graces they encountered.

But Jesus as he listens, urges them, perhaps because they are overjoyed, to come aside and rest awhile, for they have labored long. In so doing Jesus also teaches us about prayer. Lets consider four teachings on prayer that are evident in the Gospel:

I. The Practice of Praise-filled prayer. The text opens with the disciples gathering with Jesus and joyfully recounting all they had experienced on their missionary journey. In a similar text in Luke 10 the disciples return filled with joy and rejoice that demons are subject to them (in the power of Jesus) (Lk. 10:17).

Thus the first instinct of the disciples is joyful gratitude before the Lord.

Is your prayer filled with praise and thanksgiving? Are you grateful to God for all he has done? Do you tell God what is happening in your life and give his thanks for all he has enabled you to do?

Too many people think of prayer only in relation to petition. But praise is also an essential component in prayer. When Jesus began his instruction on prayer is said, When you pray say. ‘Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name!’ (Mat 6:9). In other words, “Father your name is holy, you are a great God, a wonderful God, you can do all things and I praise you! Thank you Father, your name is holy and you are Holy.”

So praise the Lord. Thank him for what he is doing and tell him everything you are experiencing. Scripture says, that we were made for the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:16). So praise the Lord in your prayer. Don’t know how? Take a psalm of praise, pray or sing the Gloria from Mass, sing or recite a hymn, but praise him!

II. The Peace of Personal Prayer. Jesus invites them to come away by themselves to a quiet place and rest a while. Most people seldom think of their personal prayer as a privileged invitation by the Lord, nor do they think of it as rest.

Yet consider, that the Lord invites us to come aside and spend personal and private time with him. Most people would relish personal attention from a great celebrity or famous person. Why not from the Lord? An old song says, “what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.

Note also the description of of this time as “rest.” Most people think of prayer more as a task than as rest. Yet to pray is to rest, to withdraw from this world for a brief time and enjoy the presence of the Lord. Scripture says, For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved,  In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is 30:15)

And old hymn says:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Learn to think of prayer as quiet time, as rest with the Lord where he soothes and strengthens us, refreshes and blesses us.

III. The Primacy of Prioritized Prayer. The text tells us that people were coming and going in great numbers seeking the attention of the Lord and the Apostles, they could not even get a moment to eat.

Now there is no doubt that the people had critical needs. They needed to be taught, healed, fed, and cared for in many and critical ways. And yet even Jesus said, in effect, “We’ve got to get away from all this for awhile.” He directed them to go off in the boat to a deserted place.

Indeed, one of the few places they could “get away” was out on the water. So out they went where the crowds could not follow and hem them in. Alone and quiet for just a brief while….

Jesus made prayer a priority. Scripture says of him, But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). Scripture speaks of him rising early to pray (Mk 1:35), praying late into the night (Mt 14:23), praying all night (Lk 6:12), in the mountains (Matt 14:23) and deserted places. Yes, Jesus made prayer a priority.

Understanding prayer as rest helps us to understand why prayer must be a priority. If we are going to engage in the work to which God has called us we need to be replenished and refreshed daily by time with the Lord.

If we engage in physical work and never stop to rest, we will collapse. The spiritual life has a similar law. Resting with God in prayer fills us with his presence, his grace and strength so that we can be equipped, empowered and enabled unto the tasks which God has given us.

No one can give or share what he does not have. And if we aren’t praying and experiencing God’s presence how can we share it? To share grace, we have to receive it. To speak the Word the we have to receive it. To witness to the Lord we have to know him.

Jesus often had to hide in order to pray. Sometimes the only quiet place they could find was out on the lake. But Jesus did make time for prayer and he invites the apostles and us to do the same, not only despite the busyness of life, but because of it.

Story – A priest friend of mine said he once gave spiritual direction to a religious sister back in the 70s. At that time it was common for people to say “my work is my prayer.” When this priest inquired of the good sister’s prayer life she answered: “Oh, I’m too busy to pray, but that’s OK, my work is my prayer, that’s my spirituality.” And he said, “Sister, if you’re not praying you don’t have a spirituality.” And he got her praying one hour a day. Some years later he ran into at the airport. By now she had moved on to become a major superior in her order. “How are you doing Mother,” he asked. “Oh,” she said, “I am very busy!” (and he cringed), but she added, “I am so busy these days, that I have to spend two hours a day praying!”

Now there’s a smart woman. When we’re stupid we think, “I am too busy to pray,” When we’re smart we say, “I am so busy, I need to pray more.”

Jesus made prayer a priority. Prayer is the rest that strengthens us for the task, it is the refreshment that gives us new vigor and zeal.

IV. The Power of Pious Prayer. The text says that after spending this time alone with the apostles, the boat came to the other shore. And sure enough, there was the crowd. But Jesus, and the apostles had been refreshed, and were now rested. Thus Jesus, refreshed and renewed, seeing the vast crowd and began to teach them at great length.

Prayer has that effect. Drawing close to God, who is love, we are then equipped to better love others. Jesus, though he never lacked love for them, models this renewal for us, for the text says that seeing them, his heart was moved with pity for them.

An aside – The Greek word σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai) means more fully, to be moved with compassion. “Pity” in English often has a condescending tone. But what is happening here is that Jesus sees them, loves them and has compassion for their state; for the religious leaders in Jerusalem had largely abandoned them and considered them the great unwashed. But Jesus loved them and taught them at great length.

For us, it often takes many years and lots of prayer to equip our hearts in this way. One of the signs that grace and prayer are having their effect is that our love for others, even for the multitude grows deeper, becomes more compassionate, patient and merciful. This takes great prayer and long hours of sitting at the Lord’s feet and learning from him.

But here is the power that prayer bestows: that we should be more fully equipped for our mission, more zealous and more loving. The rest of prayer rejuvenates our better nature and helps it grow.

Four teachings on prayer. Jesus found time to Pray, he made prayer a priority. How about you?