Feburary 8, 2015


Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. – Mark 1: 35

   The previous day had been exhausting, & Jesus knew that the day to come would be just as hectic. The demands & challenges were overwhelming, & He knew what He needed most to face them: prayer! An anonymous poet has written:

“I rose one morning early, & rushed into the fray. With so much to accomplish, I had no time to pray. Troubles tumbled ‘round me, & heavy was each task. But where was God to help me? God said, ‘You didn’t ask.’ I tried to see the bright side, but things turned grey & bleak. I asked God for the reason, He said, ‘You didn’t seek.’”

   Prayer is not a method of keeping God informed about our needs.  He already knows. Prayer, at its root, is listening for God’s voice. Petition is legitimate enough, but not the whole pie. More important than asking what God can do for us is asking what we can do for Him.

   As a people, we pray incessantly in times of great tragedy or impending disaster. When threatened by war, we storm the heavens with our peace petitions: “Lord, give us peace.” But such prayers have a hollow ring when the question is asked, “Where were we as a people when Jesus told us “Blessed are the peacemakers?” Did we respond by listening to God for direction on how we should work for peace?

   For example, we are faced with a deteriorating marriage. We can get down on our knees & ask God to heal the relationship, or we can be still & listen for guidance: “Lord, what would you have me do to make my marriage whole again?” One possibility would be to sign up for Retrouvaille, a variation on Marriage encounter that deals specifically with marriages that are in trouble.

   A man was on trial for murder. He approached a juror & offered to pay him a large sum of money if he would hold out for a verdict of manslaughter, in which case the sentence would be much less severe. The juror accepted the bribe, so the accused man said, “Remember, whatever happens in that jury room, don’t be swayed…hold out for manslaughter.” When the trial ended, the jury returned its verdict: manslaughter! Later outside the courtroom, the convicted man approached the juror & asked, “Did you have a hard time holding out for manslaughter?” The juror replied, “Yes, I did. From the beginning all the other jurors wanted to bring in a verdict of Not Guilty!”

   We are often tempted to bribe God: “Lord, if you do this for me, I will do that for you, & remember, whatever happens up there, don’t be swayed. Do it my way.” But God cannot be bribed. God’s will cannot be bent, nor His purpose defeated.

   Once upon a time, a stately tree realized that its strength was beginning to wane. When the wind was strong, the once proud tree shook ominously & made creaking sounds. With great effort, the tree grew some fine new branches & began to feel secure once more. But when the next gale came, it felt some of its roots snapping & had it not been for the support of a friendly neighbor, it would have fallen to the ground. When the tree recovered from the shock, it turned to the one who had saved it & asked, “How is it that you were able not only to stand ground but to help me also?”

   The other tree replied, “When you were busy growing new branches, I was strengthening my roots.” It we are ever to grow in our spiritual journey, our life in Christ must be constantly nourished & strengthened at its roots, which is prayer.  Lent is a time for deepening our prayer – learning to be still & listening to His voice deep down inside us. When God breaks the silence, often in unexpected ways, we respond faithfully, hopefully & lovingly: “Let it be to us according to your word … not as we will, but as you will.’

   In that lonely place in the desert, Jesus prayed to know His Father’s will for him that day. He prayed there before going out to meet the crowds again. Can we do less?  AMEN!