Prayer and Keeping Focus
Part 3 in a series on Prayer by Tim Bias
“The beginning of prayer is silence. If we really want to pray we must first learn to listen, for in the silence of the heart God speaks. And to be able to see that silence, to be able to hear God we need a clean heart; for a clean heart can see God, can hear God, can listen to God, and then only from the fullness of our heart can we speak to God. But we cannot speak unless we have listened, unless we have made that connection with God in the silence of our heart.”
– Mother Teresa
I believe it is that connection with God that the disciples saw in Jesus. I don’t think they were asking Jesus for a specific way to pray but for a reorienting of their lives. They were seeking to desire God just as they had experienced that desire in Jesus.
In response to their request, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer by living a life of prayer. For Jesus, prayer was as natural as breathing. Prayer not only strengthened his life but became the basis of the transformation of the world in which God had sent him to live.
Jesus Prays to Keep His Focus
In the Gospel according to Luke, we see Jesus praying at particular points in his life and ministry. It was his pattern to desire what God desired by engaging in ministry and retreating to a lonely place to pray. The story of his temptation reveals this pattern. Jesus prays to keep his focus. Why? What does prayer have to do with it?
The Temptation of Jesus
4:1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. 3 The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.
515 News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. 16 But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.
Jesus’ Life of Prayer
This is the second reference to the prayer life of Jesus. It is early in his ministry. It is immediately following his baptism that the Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness. “Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
This story reveals Jesus’ pattern for praying. He would withdraw to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. He would then leave his place of prayer, engage in ministries of feeding, teaching, preaching, healing, and return to the desert or lonely place to pray. For Luke, the desert is the place of struggle and temptation.
It was in the desert that Jesus sought to keep his focus upon the call of God in his life. He has received clarity and affirmation. Now he has to keep his focus.
Tempted to Do Good
He encounters people who are hungry and he is deciding whether his ministry is to provide food for them. So, he goes to the wilderness, a desert place, a lonely place to pray. He is tempted to turn stones into bread, not only to care for himself but to care for the social problems of the day.
He is tempted to work for the greater good. To provide food for people who are hungry is a good thing; a very good thing. But is feeding people and addressing the social problems of the day the focus of his ministry? It is through prayer that he keeps focus upon the purpose of God’s call upon his life. He responds, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
Tempted by Power
He encounters the Roman government who is oppressive to the poor. Jesus is deciding whether his ministry is to gain political power to care for the oppressed. God is the ultimate ruler, but the present age is dominated by evil powers. So, he goes to the wilderness, a desert place, a lonely place to pray.
He is tempted to switch his allegiance from God to the realities of the power of the government to work for the greater good. He is tempted with the thought of what good he could do for the people if he had the political authority to do so.
Having such political power to work for the common good is a good thing, but is having such authority and power the focus of his ministry? It is through prayer that Jesus keeps focus upon the purpose of God’s call upon his life. He responds, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
Tempted to Focus on Self
He encounters the people who challenge his identity. “Since you are God’s Son…” or “assuming you are God’s Son…”, Jesus is tempted to show how he understands himself in relationship to God. So, he goes to the wilderness, a desert place, a lonely place to pray.
He is tempted to provide a public demonstration that he is God’s Son instead of trusting God’s affirmation and confirmation, received at his baptism, of who he is and what he is called to do. He is tempted to make it about himself. It is through prayer that Jesus keeps focus upon the purpose of God’s call upon his life. He responds, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
Pattern of Prayer
So, this is his pattern of prayer. He comes to the desert to pray. He prays to keep his focus on what God has called him to do. In chapter 5 we read, “News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” We have Jesus coming to the wilderness, the desert, a lonely place to pray. Why?
He retreats to the desert during a time of popularity. Is it to renew his own energy and power? Is he seeking and searching for purpose? He has started his ministry. He goes back to the desert repeatedly. Jesus is still wrestling with something. He is doing what any minister or person should do when he or she experiences immense popularity. It has been my experience that more ministers leave the ministry when they find themselves “at the top” rather than out of the bottom of their ministries.
Popularity is often a way to avoid reality. So, Jesus might be struggling with “ego.” When everyone wants to see him, where is he? He is in the desert praying. He seeking to keep his focus upon what has called him to do. His temptation? To stay with the crowds. So, he goes out to the desert again and again. He goes when everyone wants him and is looking for him. Why? His temptation, “do I go with the crowds or do I go to the cross?” It is through prayer that he keeps focus upon the purpose of God’s call upon his life.
What Does Prayer Have to Do with It?
So, what does prayer have to do with it? It is through prayer that you and I keep our focus on God’s plan and purpose for our lives. It can be easy to give into doing good things, even if it is for all the right reasons. God’s call on our lives can fall from focus. Or maybe you’ve experienced how easy it is to switch your allegiance from God to work for the “common good.”
It is easy to lose your identity even in midst of spiritual activities and social action. It is easy to give into the “this must be right” feeling when the crowd agrees and difficult to speak up and act when it is against the crowd. The power to focus upon and live out God’s plan and purpose come through prayer.
There is a difference between a prayer life and a life of prayer. It will be the life of prayer that will keep you focused on God’s desire for you and all of creation.