“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1.35-39
Imagine starting your own business (perhaps some of you have). After an incredible amount of preparation and diligence, you set sail hoping for the best. And let’s imagine that your small business is an instant success in your community—meeting real needs and getting rave reviews.
How would you feel if the Mayor suddenly came to you and said, “Thanks for all your hard work but unfortunately it’s time to move on…”
Chances are that you’d feel just like the early disciples must’ve felt when Jesus said the same thing to them. Despite their huge ministry gains and successes, he broke the news to them that it was time to move on and start over somewhere else.
As we continue following Jesus through the pages of the Gospel of Mark we come to this exact scenario. Just when things are coming together and everyone is excited about the state of the future, Jesus says it’s time to pull up tent stakes and move on. We haven’t even gotten out of chapter one yet. In business terms it’s like Going Out of Business just after your Grand Opening.
Sometimes we enter seasons of life where we feel as if Jesus has let us down. We have expectations of life (and ministry)–and just when we feel like we are gaining traction and momentum, Jesus changes direction on us. Following him is an adventure in trust–for our trust in him will either be ruthlessly pruned to grow stronger–or it will languish in the valley of unmet dreams and expectations.
The sudden decision of Jesus to switch gears on his disciples and move along is directly tied into his prayer life connection with God. Mark shows us the dogged determination in which Jesus seeks this ongoing union with his heavenly Father. Notice the four verbal phrases that describe his pursuit of prayer: (a) “rising” (b) “he departed” (c) “and went” (d) “and there he prayed.” Mark wants us to see that like the four walls of a house, Jesus’ spiritual architecture was a cathedral of connection to God. And when Jesus switches gears on us we can rest assured that his decisions are made in the highest counsels of Heaven on our behalf.
Take note of the three descriptions of the circumstances of Jesus’ prayer life: “very early in the morning,” “while it was still dark” and “out to a desolate place.” None of these speak of comfort or convenience, do they?
Instead they describe lonely, dark places where few would want to go. Perhaps there’s a lesson hidden here for us: True life transforming prayer finds fertile soil in the most acidic of soils. Jesus prayed when few were willing to do it and where few were willing to go. This was because he would stop at nothing to reach you and me. The disciples’ expectations were to stop in this place and build a ministry empire. But Jesus had more heart-work to do on them–and the only way to access those deep parts would be to move them forward out of their comfort zones.
Think about the interior places of your life—the secret places of your heart. Could they also be described as “dark” and “desolate”?
Of course Jesus went to these places to pray in order to avoid the crowds.
But he’s also sending a message to us: It doesn’t matter how far down a person has gone. Jesus’ love, warmth, and light are deeper still. He’s not afraid to go to those dark and lonely places in your heart and life—and bring the transforming love of his Father to you.
May he be found in your desolate places today—shining his light that immediately begins to transform everything it touches.
1. Do you think Jesus prayed this way every day, or was this just a special occasion?
2. If you were one of the early disciples, how would you have felt about moving on with Jesus to other places and “starting over”? How has Jesus crushed your expectations (and in so doing, brought growth to your soul)?
3. Have you invited Jesus into the dark and lonely places of your heart? Are you fearful of what he might see? Or, are you more afraid of what he might show you?