WHY I LIKE TO PRAY ALONE?
Prayer is personal and private. I have been brought up to pray alone and I prefer a lonely place. Our Lord, Himself, frequently withdrew to be alone and only once did his disciples hear Him utter words (Jn. 17). The only time, He wanted them to watch with Him, they fell asleep (Mk. 14:37). There are four such prayers. The first one, Jesus prayed alone and it set the stage for His life and work. In the second one, He sought insight. In the third one, He needed assurance. And in the fourth prayer, Jesus wrestled with change.
The Synoptic Gospels tell us of four different concerns that drove Jesus to be alone in prayer. He sought the lonely place before He began His larger ministry (Mk. 1:35-39), prior to the choosing of the Apostles (Lk. 6:12-16), at the end of a hard day (Lk. 5:12-16), and before He faced a crisis (Mt. 14: 22-27; Mk. 6:45-48). In each of these instances, the place is either a hill or a deserted area. The contents of Jesus’ prayers were never disclosed. He held that private and personal prayers belonged in a closet (Mt. 6:6). At the same time, the reasons why Jesus prayed were quite apparent. We have been left with four such reasons.
The first reason Mark, the Evangelist, recorded as follows, “Very early, while it was still dark, he arose, stole away to a deserted place and there he prayed.” Most translators identify the Greek “proseuxeto” with “prayer”. To me, the word “prayer” does not fully describe the meaning of the Greek. It is not just a mouthful of words, which utter a petition, a request or a wish; rather, it indicates a prostrating posture, an attitude of reverence or a submissive and grateful state of mind. Jesus was not a man of many words, but a man of action. God did not require a list of human needs, nor did He need reminders of His role. That is why Jesus, even in his most dreadful moment in Gethsemane, never went beyond a simple, “Thank you Father and Your will be done.” For the same reason, He wanted his followers to avoid long prayers. Somehow, Jesus felt that long prayers did not impress God. They certainly made the common man feel very undesirable.
What we are indicating is that our frame of mind and physical disposition have a lot do with the way we honor our Maker. Humility, respect and reverence have a far greater percentage of succeeding than an overabundance of words. Hence, when Simon and those with him found Jesus, they did not hear any words; yet, the way Jesus had prostrated Himself before his Heavenly Father, left absolutely no doubt as to what He was doing. May I suggest that Jesus may have been on his knees, buried his face in hands and rested his elbows on a rock? He could have looked up and raised his hands to heaven. However, due to the fact that it took the disciples some time to find him, it is unlikely and physically unsustainable. The reason Jesus was fellowshipping with his Father had something to do with His mission. Our Greek states, “Simon and those with him, searched anxiously and found him and they said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ But he said to them, ‘Let us go to the neighboring places in order to preach there also; for, that is why I came.’ And he went preaching all over Galilee, in their Synagogues and casting out demons.”
This was a critical time in Jesus’ life. He had just made many friends. He had found a new town and home after He had been rejected in Nazareth. Now, was He to stay in Capernaum with his friends in a friendly environment or to leave a newly found comfortable setting for a hostile itinerary work? Here, everyone wanted and needed Him. But what about those who could not get to Him? What about the people who were not of the same mentality, race or creed? Yes, this was a difficult choice and He needed the help of his Father. And the only place where He could commune with heaven was away from a noisy environment. Like with Elijah of old, God’s presence was not in the enormous display within nature or in a crowded meeting place, but in a quiet and deserted spot under heaven. It was in this quiet deserted spot that the reason for His coming became very clear to Jesus. He had not come to default humanity again by identify Himself with a small group and isolate that little flock from the rest of the world. God’s Good News was not to be bottled up in one town, like in the Jerusalem of old; but it was to be shared by the whole world. The new people of God were to come from all over the world and not be confined to the tiny land of Israel. One wonders, if the Israel of old had heeded her universal mission, whether there would have been any need for Christianity or Islam? Of course, this question is hypothetical. Nevertheless, any movement for it to become extinct, regardless of how important it might think itself, needs but isolate itself from others.
There is one more item which deserves our attention and that is the fact that Jesus could clear His own mind without the interference of human clatter. It stood in the way of His mission, like Peter for instance, not wanting the Master to be delivered to the authorities. Counsel is good, but not when too many interests are at stake. One can only hold on to one plow at the time. Only a lonely place could help Jesus clear His mind and sort out His concerns. Our prayer in a lonely place will have the same affect on us. Visitors at the Power Plant of Niagara Falls were taken into a room that was very quiet. The guide said, “This is ‘The Still Room.'” One visitor asked, “Why? Nothing is going on here?” The guide smiled and explained, “This is the most important place in the whole building. The entire system depends on what is done here” (La. 291). It is vital that when we face important decisions that we do them with clear minds and divine approval. Like our Master, we shall find both in a lonely place. When slavery in this country was out of control, and before President Lincoln declared it illegal, he made this confession, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go” (Wa. 231).
Most of us do not have a lonely place, but we do have separate rooms or closets where we can be alone with God. Jesus told his disciples, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is in heaven. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:6-8). Did not Jesus also say, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). Before He said that, Jesus said that they needed to have a common cause. Most of the things we struggle with are personal and private and not for public humiliation. Gatherings are not for airing our laundry, but for agreeing to do good or help where it is needed. Prayer, for Jesus, was not to be used for public confession or self–praise. We seriously need to take to heart Jesus’ Parable on the Pharisee and Publican. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed about himself; ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all the other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week and give a tenth of all I get.’ The Publican stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this taxman, rather than the Pharisee, went home accepted by God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:9-14). Yes, we are very prone to be more like the Pharisee than the sinner. We can come to terms on that issue in our closets. It definitely does not enhance our standing before God or Christ in public, especially when the One, who has access to God is left out. I do pray alone because our Lord wants to hear from me personally.