Luke 5:16

‘But He withdrew Himself into the desert, and prayed.’
(Luke 5:16)

It’s interesting that Jesus prayed, given that He’s God. Although ‘the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh, and lived among us’(John 1:1-14), as the man Jesus. So He was both God and a human being. He’s God, but the Son not the Father, and as such prays to the Father, even though they are ‘“one”’(John 10:30; Deuteronomy 6:4). This is a profound mystery, but it means that we can learn much from the man Jesus in prayer.

This verse comes from an early period in Jesus’ ministry, but the Greek tenses used imply that this was His regular practice throughout. He’d been busy ministering to the sick, and teaching, and ‘great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed’(Luke 5:15). Even so, despite being so busy, Jesus ‘withdrew Himself into the desert, and prayed’. This shows the importance He attached to prayer, and to maintaining a right balance in life between things like prayer, word ministry and practical service.

It also shows that He practised what He preached, i.e. ‘“when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father… in secret”’(Matthew 6:6). Perhaps Jesus frequently chose the open countryside instead because He had ‘“no place to lay His head”’(Luke 9:58)? Anyway, God’s creation is certainly a good place for prayer, alone, which is the key point. Jesus seems mostly to have prayed ‘by Himself’(Matthew 14:23), even when with others withdrawing ‘a stone’s throw’(Luke 22:41) away. Prayer is primarily something to be done alone, partly to help maintain a focus on God, including, in our case, to avoid any risk of a display, to be ‘“seen by men”’(Matthew 6:5).

Of course we’re not actually alone in prayer though. Like Jesus we’re with ‘“‘Our Father’”’(Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:9). In fact we approach the Father as the Son, in Christ, in whom ‘we have boldness and access’(Ephesians 3:12). This is what it means to pray in Jesus’ ‘“name”’(John 15:16), like being in the ‘“vine”’(John 15:5). The Holy Spirit is involved too, since ‘the Spirit also helps’(Romans 8:26), and we’re to pray ‘in the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:18), ‘by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”’(Romans 8:15). So it’s very Trinitarian, three in one, all with us in prayer. It can even be appropriate to address Jesus in prayer, perhaps as ‘Lord’(2 Corinthians 12:8, cf. Acts 7:59), perhaps sometimes to mean both the Father and Son together even, or to call on the Holy Spirit, for example to draw/feel near.

Aside from such very focused times of prayer, Jesus also enjoyed a warm dialogue with His Father throughout the day, like when He spontaneously ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth”(Luke 10:21). Obviously flash concerns are welcome too. Yet as even Jesus demonstrates in that verse, brought with appropriate reverence – a ‘hallowed’ yet intimate approach, like in ‘the Lord’s prayer’ in which Jesus taught us how ‘“to pray”’(Luke 11:1, cf. Matthew 6:9).

That concise prayer, although likely in part a summary outline, perhaps also demonstrates how prayer needn’t be verbose, involving ‘“much speaking”’(Matthew 6:7), even if it’s for long periods, like ‘all night’(Luke 6:12). That particular night-time example, again apparently alone, was immediately before Jesus chose His disciples. Likely much of the time would have involved thinking things through in the presence of His Father, perhaps covered by simple prayers like ‘Father, guide my thoughts’, even repeating ‘the same words’(Matthew 26:44) like in Gethsemane. Prayer can be like that for us too, as we seek ‘wisdom’(James 1:5). Our prayers ought to reflect Jesus’ focus on such ‘Kingdom’(Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2) concerns. Surely He’s interceding for us all even now, ‘“sent”’(John 17:18) as its ‘ambassadors’(2 Corinthians 5:20).

Nevertheless, His advice and example show that prayers for sustenance and protection are appropriate as well, e.g. ‘“our daily bread”’(Luke 11:3; Matthew 6:11), always giving ‘thanks’(John 6:11), both for the physical and it’s spiritual equivalent, as Jesus surprise ending to the Luke passage emphasises, ‘“the Holy Spirit”’(Luke 11:13). Right ‘motives’(James 4:3) matter too – consider the efficacy of Jesus’ prayers, and His lifestyle!

Last but not least, we must make ‘intercession’(Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) in/with Christ about forgiveness, for ourselves and others: ‘“forgive”’(Luke 23:34 & 11:4; Matthew 6:12), importantly followed by a heart for sanctification, just like David in his psalm, ‘Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right sprit within me’(Psalm 51:9-10). Such things, in a sense, might go without saying for the believer, but not without praying.

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