Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
February 8, 2015
We have been following Jesus as he laid the foundations for launching his ministry. In Mark 1:29-39 we learn from Jesus to tap into God’s power by praying. One Sabbath, Jesus cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the Capernaum synagogue.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1 reports Jesus ministry going public. John 2:11 says that turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana was Jesus’ first sign. That was a private event that may have occurred between Mark 1:20 and 21. The Sabbath in Mark 1 began with casting out the unclean spirit in the synagogue, then the curing of Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever, ending with many healings and demons cast out.
Interestingly the synagogue and Peter’s house in Capernaum have been found. The distance from door to door only several feet, thus “as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house.” (v. 29)
At first Jesus’ only disciples seem to be these two pairs of fisherman brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John. They will show up together on several key occasions, sometimes without Andrew, for whatever reason.
That Sabbath Jesus was poised for high demand popularity. But he snuck off to pray and then moved on. Episcopal priest Rick Morley asks, if he had been a senior pastor could he have gotten away with praying when so many were demanding his attention? Pondering that question can lead us to grasp how we learn from Jesus to tap into God’s power by praying.
After that Sabbath of physically and spiritually draining ministry, Jesus wisely withdrew to rest and recharge, to reconnect with the power of his heavenly Father.
I don’t imagine Jesus praying for those he delivered from sickness and demons to stay whole, or for better attendance or contributions for the synagogue, or even for the safety of Roman soldiers or Jewish police. Rather, as he prayed his heavenly Father confirmed his calling to proclaim the message throughout Galilee.
The whole city gathered around the door of Peter’s house because of the healings and exorcisms, but Jesus focused consistently on proclaiming the message of his ministry.
We don’t need to accept inadequacy of our simplistic prayers. We can learn from Jesus to tap into God’s power by praying.
The Swiss physician Paul Tournier had a patient who was an old pastor who, at the end of each visit, always prayed with extreme simplicity that seemed a continuation of an intimate conversation with Jesus. Dr. Tournier and his wife asked God for the same close fellowship and found Jesus was always with them, a friend who shared their joy, pain, hopes, and fears. Simple prayer is not simplistic prayer but accesses the power of God. (William Barclay, Mark, 1975, p. 38)
Fourth century Desert Father, Abba Agathon wrote of praying with power, “There is no labor greater than that of prayer. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he preservers in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, tr. Benedicta Ward,1975, p. 22)
Isaiah 40:28-29 celebrates the power of God as endurance that does not grow weary and is given to the weak who wait for the Lord. We gain endurance as we wait. Such waiting is the prayer that receives the power of God.
Praying with power is not out-of-reach for all but a handful of spiritual giants. Powerful prayer is simple and accessible to every disciple of Jesus, though hardly simplistic. You can learn from Jesus to tap into God’s power by praying.
Nevertheless, praying with power eludes many of us. Reciting our anxieties too easily drowns out the whispers of the Holy Spirit deep in our hearts. Impatience to connect requests and results too easily short-cuts waiting for the Lord long enough for God to renew our strength. Craving for signs and wonders too easily distracts us from proclaiming Jesus’ message. As counter intuitive as it sounds, the secret to personally praying with power is letting go of our agendas and waiting for God’s power. To pray with power, we only need to quiet our hearts long enough to be attentive to the heart of God.
The interim journey tests a congregation’s patience. We rightly pray for discernment for Search and Call Committee and the candidates they consider. We rightly pray for God to prepare the congregation and the new pastor for each other. What is at once harder and simpler is to relinquish our plans and anxieties for the future and patiently open ourselves to God’s power.
Prayer that taps into God’s power is a matter of intent and not correct technique or eloquence. Paul wrote in Romans 8:26-27, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Starting with the simplicity of Jesus teaching the Lord’s prayer, through the centuries the Church’s giants have explored many ways that can help us let go of trying too hard when we pray. We will have an opportunity to try some of these at the Stone Soup Suppers we will share on Wednesday evenings in Lent.