Commitment to Undistracted Prayer Is Key to Thriving Spiritually

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12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for you cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Luke 5:12–16 ESV)

Prayer formed a central activity of Jesus’ life and ministry. Luke devotes greater attention to Jesus’ teaching and healing, but he regularly sprinkles his narrative with comments about Jesus praying all night (6:12) or choosing to go into the wilderness to pray (5:16). This week we will look at Jesus’ practice of prayer. Even more so we will examine how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. For that teaching contains Jesus’ instructions to us as well.

After reporting that Jesus had healed a man with leprosy, Luke informs us that Jesus regularly went to “lonely places” in order to pray. In other words, Jesus could stay among the crowds where his popularity was soaring. He could continue healing and teaching, both vital to his mission. But Jesus chose to go where no one was watching so he could devote himself to prayer.

We learn several truths from Jesus’ practice of prayer in this passage. First, Jesus chose to pray. Jesus didn’t just happen to find himself in “lonely places” as if his GPS told him to take a wrong turn near Lake Gennesaret (5:1). Rather, he determined to go there specifically to pray. Walking there was no easy task. And such a journey may have been dangerous given the presence of thieves along roads in ancient Galilee. Still Jesus determined to do so.

Second, Jesus chose to pray where there would be no distractions. The transition Luke chronicles here is one from Jesus surrounded by great crowds to Jesus surrounded by . . . nothing. When Jesus chose to pray, he chose to pray where he could do so without interruption. It’s as if Jesus was trending on social media, then shut off his phone.

Third, Jesus’ choice to go away and pray in the midst of effective ministry indicated he knew he needed to pray. Prayer isn’t some decoration on top of an otherwise successful ministry. Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, and restoring required prayer or he would not have made the effort to pray the way he did. Carrying out his call within the mission of God necessitated prayer. Jesus’ practice of prayer tells us he knew it to be true.

Fourth, by the construction of his Greek here, Luke tells us this was not a one-off event. This was Jesus’ customary practice. The ESV rightly captures the sense: Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (5:16). The TNIV says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Both translations accurately convey Luke’s emphasis. Regular, deliberate, undistracted prayer was Jesus’ customary way of going about life within God’s mission.

Finally, Jesus’ prayer life tells us that Jesus was no lone ranger in life and ministry. For all that Jesus did to lead the way within God’s purposes, Jesus didn’t do what he did on his own. Jesus consciously lived in relation with the Father. Prayer expresses communication within a relationship. Jesus needed time away to hear from and talk to God.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Can you identify issues that keep you from praying? Misplaced priorities? Social media? What distracts you?
  2. What steps could you take to create undistracted time to pray?

Jesus sums up the entire biblical message as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). But what does that love look like where we live? Where we work? With the people we do life with everyday?

In answer to such questions, Jim Miller draws practical lessons from Luke’s Gospel in order to help us live a life modeled after the example of Jesus Christ. This involves his pattern of prayer, relating to others, establishing holy priorities, and a host of day-to-day issues that together establish what Jesus himself called the abundant life. Get the Bible study from our store here.

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Dr. Jim Miller is Professor of Inductive Biblical Studies and New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and Director of the Center for the Study of World Christian Revitalization Movements.

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