The Gospel this Sunday speaks to us of the priority of personal prayer. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus sent the apostles out two by two to proclaim the Kingdom. Now they return, eager to report their progress and the graces they encountered.
As Jesus listens, He urges them (perhaps because they are so overjoyed) to come away and rest awhile, for they have labored long. In so doing, Jesus also teaches us about prayer. Let’s consider four teachings on prayer that are evident in today’s Gospel.
I. The Practice of Praise-Filled Prayer – As the text opens, the apostles are with Jesus, joyfully recounting all they experienced on their missionary journey. In a similar text in Luke (10:17), the apostles return rejoicing, saying that even demons are subject to them (through Jesus’ name). Thus, their first instinct 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 Him 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. When Jesus began His instruction on prayer, He 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.”
Praise the Lord. Thank Him for what He is doing and tell Him everything that 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. How? Take a psalm of praise. Pray or sing the Gloria from Mass. Sing or recite a hymn. No matter how you do it, praise Him!
II. The Peace of Personal Prayer – Jesus invites the apostles to come away by themselves to a quiet place and rest for a while. Most people don’t think of their personal prayer as a privileged invitation from 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 famous person. Why not from the Lord? An old song says, “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
Note the description of this time as “rest.” Most people think of prayer more as a task than as a time of rest. Yet to pray is to rest, to withdraw from this world for a brief time and enjoy the Lord’s presence. 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).
An 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, when He soothes, strengthens, refreshes, and blesses us.
III. The Primacy of Prioritized Prayer – The text says that people were coming in great numbers seeking the attention of the Lord and the apostles; they could not even get a moment to eat!
There is no doubt that the people had critical needs. They needed to be taught, healed, fed, and cared for in many ways. Yet despite this Jesus said, in effect, “We have to get away from all this for a while.” He directed the apostles 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. There, the crowds could not follow them, and they could be alone and quiet for a short time.
Jesus made prayer a priority. Scripture says of Him, But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). Scripture also speaks of Him rising early to pray (Mark 1:35), praying late into the night (Matt 14:23), praying all night long (Luke 6:12), and praying in the mountains (Matt 14:23) and other deserted places.
Understanding prayer as rest helps us to understand why prayer must be a priority in our lives. If we are going to engage in the work to which God has called us, we need to be replenished and refreshed daily by spending time with Him.
If we were to engage in physical work without ever stopping to rest, we would collapse. The spiritual life has a similar law. Resting with God in prayer fills us with His presence, grace, and strength so that we can be equipped, empowered, and enabled unto the tasks that He has given us.
No one can give or share what he does not have, so if we aren’t praying and experiencing God’s presence, how can we share it? To share grace, we must first receive it. To speak the Word, we must first receive it. To witness to the Lord, we must first know Him.
Jesus often had to hide in order to pray. Sometimes the only quiet place He could find was out on the lake, but He did make time for prayer. He invites the apostles and us to do the same, not only despite the busyness of life, but because of it.
A Brief Story –
A priest friend of mine told me that back in the 1970s he once gave spiritual direction to a religious sister. At that time, it was common for people to say, “My work is my prayer.” When this priest inquired about the good sister’s prayer life she answered, “Oh, I’m too busy to pray, but that’s OK because my work is my prayer; that’s my spirituality.” He replied, “Sister, if you’re not praying, you don’t have a spirituality.” He got her to start praying for one hour a day. Some years later, he ran into her 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 replied, “I am very busy!” He cringed, but then she added, “I’m so busy these days that I have to spend two hours a day praying!”
Now there’s a smart woman! When we’re being foolish we say, “I’m too busy to pray.” When we’re smart we say, “I’m so busy that 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 Jesus spent this time alone with the apostles on the boat, they reached the other shore. Sure enough, the crowd was there waiting for them, but Jesus and the apostles had been refreshed and were now well-rested. Jesus, renewed and refreshed, saw the vast crowd and began to teach them at great length.
Prayer has that effect. In drawing close to God, who is love, we are better equipped to love others. Jesus, though He never lacked love for them, models this renewal for us. The text says that upon seeing the crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them. The Greek word translated as “pity” is σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai), which means “to be moved with compassion.” The word “pity” often carries with it a condescending tone, but what happens here is that Jesus sees them, loves them, and has compassion for their state. The religious leaders in Jerusalem have largely abandoned them, considering them “the great unwashed,” but Jesus loves them and teaches them at great length.
It often takes many years and a lot 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 multitudes, grows deeper, more compassionate, more patient, and more merciful. This takes great prayer and long hours of sitting at the Lord’s feet learning from Him.
Here is the power that prayer bestows: we are more fully equipped for our mission, more zealous, and more loving. The rest afforded by prayer rejuvenates our better nature and helps it to grow.
So, here are four teachings on prayer. Jesus found time to pray; He made it a priority. How about you?