Priorities (Mark 10:17-31)

 

mark 10v27 everything is possible 01

A couple of times in my life I have really wrestled with Jesus’ words in the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. I was looking for God’s direction in my life and wondering if following a particular path would mean selling everything I had. That was hard to contemplate because I like my stuff – my books, musical instruments and motorbike – and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell them in order to follow where God might be leading me.

So I can identify with the rich young man of the story and sympathise with him as he walks away sad. He couldn’t give away his possessions, and I’m not sure if I could either.

But maybe that’s the point of the story.

There are two main dangers we can face when we try to unravel this story. The first is taking Jesus’ words about selling everything we have too literally, and thinking that we have to do it to enter into eternal life. Monks and nuns have been doing that for centuries, but I’m not sure how many of them got closer to God by doing it. The second danger is not taking Jesus’ words seriously enough and ignoring what he’s trying to teach us. We can get lost collecting more and more stuff in a meaningless consumerism and miss out on the grace Jesus has for us in this story.

The third strategy of the Growing Young research from the Fuller Youth Institute is to take Jesus’ message seriously. As Christians who want to follow Jesus faithfully, taking Jesus’ message seriously might sound kind of obvious. But when it comes to stories like this with the rich young ruler, how do we do that?

Maybe taking Jesus’ message in this story might mean looking carefully at our priorities in life. When Jesus challenged the man to sell all he had, and when I was challenged with the possibility of selling everything I owned to follow God’s call, it challenged us ask to think about what matters in life. Is Jesus the most important thing to us? Or are the things we own more important? Do we love Jesus enough to be willing to give everything we have up for him? Do we trust him to provide for us each day? Or do we want to hang on to our possessions because we find a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and some sort of meaning for life in them?

Jesus is challenging us to reorganise our priorities around him, our love for him and our trust in him, rather than in the things of this world. There may be times when that might mean giving everything away, but it could also mean that we look for a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and what gives our lives meaning in our relationship with Jesus rather than the accumulation of material possessions.

This challenge from Jesus also teaches us something about ourselves. We all like to think that we’re good people. However, if Jesus’ standard of ‘good’ means giving everything away to help others and totally trusting in him to provide for us on a day-to-day basis, then who of us can live up to that? Remember that the man’s question at the start is what he did he have to do ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17). He was thinking that he could somehow work his way into eternity. However, Jesus showed him, and us, that if we want to work our way in to eternal life, then it will cost us everything.

Can we do that? If we’re trying to work our way into eternal life as ‘good’ people, are we able to be so ‘good’ that we give away everything we have to others to provide for them in their poverty, and rely on God giving us what we need from one day to the next? Like the person in the story, I think this would probably be the point that most of us would walk away too.

But, as I’ve said already, maybe that’s the point.

The disciples were perplexed by what they witnessed as well, so they asked Jesus, ‘Then who in the world can be saved?’ (v26). And Jesus gives us the good news when he said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God’ (v27).

Jesus is telling us that it is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life. However, what is impossible for us is possible with God. Only God has the power to give us a life that is stronger that death which will last literally for ever.

This is one way we can understand ‘grace’: that it is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life, so God does the impossible for us by doing what’s needed and then giving it to us as a free gift.

This is the good news of the story: that Jesus came to do the work of salvation for us. While it was impossible for us to sell all we have and give it away, and when we recognize that it is impossible for us to live up to Jesus’ standard of being a ‘good’ person, then God did the impossible by sacrificing everything for us in the person of Jesus to save us and give us eternal life as the ultimate act of grace. We can find it hard to give up our stuff, but Jesus gave up his place in heaven, the thing every religious person in the history of the world is trying to gain. Jesus gave up all of his heavenly glory to be born as a humble and helpless baby in a manger. He gave up all his possessions to live homeless and unemployed. Jesus did the impossible when he gave up everything, including his life, and went to the cross to die in our place. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God did the impossible make it possible for us to live forever as his children in perfect relationship with him and with each other.

As people to whom God has gifted the eternal life of Jesus, we are left with the question of how to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. I’m going to leave that up to you to work out with Jesus. It might mean selling what we have to follow God’s call on our life. It might mean reprioritising our lives so we find who we are, what we’re worth and the meaning of our lives in our relationship with Jesus instead of our material possessions. It might mean seeing what we have as the way God wants us to serve others, such as our families, friends or church community. It might even mean accepting that we’re not as good as we think we are and trusting the goodness of God’s grace to us in Jesus.

No matter how we might interpret this story, one way we can all take this teaching of Jesus seriously is to live every day in the faith that with God, nothing is impossible.

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Doing the Word (James 1:17-27)

James 1v22 02

We all know how important it is to follow the directions when we need to take medication. If we are sick, it doesn’t help us to go to a doctor, get a prescription, listen to how we are to take it, but then put it on the shelf and forget about it. If we are going to get better, we need to trust that the medicine will do what the doctor promises, follow the directions and take our medication.

When it comes to medicine, it makes sense to both listen and do. It is the same for us as followers of Jesus. One of my greatest concerns as a pastor is that it can be easy for us to turn up to worship, hear a message, thank the pastor for the message at the door, but nothing changes after that. I have actually had a couple of people tell me over my years of ministry that they don’t want to think too much or be challenged in their faith. All they want is to come to church and hear a nice sermon.

Seriously.

That’s why James’ words about not just listening to God’s word but doing what it says are so important for us. We all carry an illness called sin. While it may not be popular to talk about sin in our contemporary Western culture, the reality I see is that we’re all suffering from the effects of sin in our lives in one way or another. We all suffer from broken relationships, illness, death and other maladies which come from carrying sin in us like an infection that we can’t get rid of.

Like a medication prescribed to give us health and life, God’s word is the remedy for sin. Every story in the Bible, from the creation of the world in Genesis 1, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the fulfilment of God’s salvation in Revelation, points us to a God who brings light and life to the world and everything in it through his word. The centre of these stories, the person of Jesus, makes new life possible by carrying all our sin in himself to the cross, putting it to death once and for all, and giving us the gift of new life through his resurrection. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s way of giving us healing, wholeness and life in a similar way that medication gives us healing, wholeness and life when we face a specific illness. That’s why James writes that God’s word has the power to save us (v20 NIV). God’s word isn’t just information about God. It is the power of God to heal us from sin and give us life that is stronger than death (see Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

If God’s medication for our condition is the good news of Jesus, then his directions for taking that medication is faith. One of the mistakes we can make is to think that God’s word is a long set of moral rules and ethical commands, and that doing what the word says means keeping all these rules. Instead, the directions Jesus gives us is to trust the good news of his sin-conquering, life-giving love. I tend to interpret the words of the Bible through what Jesus says in John 6:29. Some people had come to Jesus to ask him what the works were that God wanted them to do. Jesus replied, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (NIV). If the good news of Jesus is the medication, his directions are to trust him. That’s it. The rest of the Bible tells us what this faith looks like, and how it can make a difference in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

If we listen to James’ words about being both hearers and doers of God’s word from this perspective, we can understand them saying that it is vital that we not only hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but that we live like it’s true. When we find God’s love in the gospel, then ‘doing the word’ means loving others, even when it’s hard or we don’t think they deserve it. When we encounter God’s grace, ‘doing the word’ means being grace-filled in our relationships with others. When we experience God’s mercy, forgiveness and peace in the gospel, ‘doing the word’ means being merciful, forgiving and peace-making towards everyone we meet. Following Jesus isn’t just about finding his goodness for ourselves. Being ‘doers of his word’ means extending the goodness of God we find in Jesus towards everyone in our lives through all we do and say.

This week, I want to challenge you to be hearers as well as doers of God’s word in your lives. If you’re not a regular reader of the Bible, doing God’s word might start with making time each day to listen to the good news God wants to speak into your life. It really doesn’t matter how we’re reading our Bibles. What’s important is that we’re listening for God’s promises of grace, love, forgiveness and new life in his word for ourselves. If you need help doing that or not sure where to start, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Being a doer of God’s word might also mean praying regularly. Last week we heard Paul write, ‘pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere’ (Ephesians 6:18 NLT), so prayer is an important part of doing the word. We can also ‘do the word’ by being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry’ (v19 NLT). You might want to practice this during the week by listening more than talking in your conversations with others. Try it and see what a difference it can make. Or, if you’re looking for a more serious challenge, listen to what Jesus says about telling the difference between our human traditions in the church and God’s commands (Mark 7:5-8), and imagine how prioritizing what God wants over what you want for your church might look.

In whatever ways we endeavour to be doers as well as listeners of God’s word, what is essential is that they are acts of faith in God’s life-giving love for us in Jesus, not attempts to try to get his love. That love is already yours, for Jesus’ sake.

The medication, God’s remedy for sin, is already ours as an act of grace from the God who loves us. We wouldn’t receive medicine from a doctor and leave it on the shelf. We’d follow the directions so that it can make us healthy and whole again. In the same way, we can’t just listen to the word of God that gives life and then do nothing with it. That doesn’t help anyone. By being doers of the word, listening to God’s promises and living like they are true, extending his grace and love to others by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can find healing, wholeness and a life that is stronger than death.

The Way of Love (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

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I have to be careful where I step at the moment.

We have had a lot of rain in Adelaide recently and there is a fair bit of mud around. When I walk from our home to the church, it is easy to walk through some muddy puddles and then carry it on my shoes wherever I go during the day. A few weeks ago when I arrived for worship on Sunday morning I had actually walked in something on my way over to the church. I’m going to assume it was mud, but I really didn’t to smell it to find out for sure. I had to clean the bottom of my shoes before the service started because I didn’t want to leave muddy footprints all around the sanctuary.

That’s the thing with mud – it sticks.

Usually we think of mud sticking as a bad thing. When I was contemplating these words from Paul in Ephesians 5:1,2 though, I started wondering whether we can think about mud sticking in a good way.

The words the NIV translate as ‘walk in the way of love’ and the NLT interpret as ‘live a life filled with love’ are simply ‘walk in love’ in the Greek New Testament. Both the NIV and the NLT translations are good, but I really like the picture of ‘walking in love’ the way that we might walk in mud.

One reason is that if we are going to walk in God’s love, we actually need to get into it like a muddy puddle that’s full of God’s goodness and grace. Last Saturday afternoon, my two young sons and I pulled on our boots and spent some time walking through and jumping around in some mud outside our house. Maybe that’s what Paul is saying God wants us to do with the love he has for us in Jesus. Maybe God’s love isn’t something to theorize or theologize about, but to walk through, jump around in, splashing in its goodness so we’re covered in it. It’s a similar idea to what we looked at a couple of weeks ago from Ephesians 3:18 – that God’s love for us in Jesus is so wide, long, high and deep that we can spend our whole lives exploring its goodness and never reach its limits.

To walk in God’s love starts with having both feet in his love. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next aspect of walking in God’s love is that we carry it with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Just like the mud we were walking through stuck to our shoes and boots, when we walk in God’s love it sticks with us. It covers us and even becomes part of who we are. Paul says we are God’s ‘dearly loved children’ (5:1 NIV). Through Jesus, God has given us new identities as people he has adopted into his family and who he loves. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we go and do as people whom God loves enough to give his Son for us. Like mud that sticks to our shoes or boots, this truth sticks to us our whole lives as we live it out in our relationships with others.

The entire Bible points us to the reality of God’s love so we can walk in it with our relationship with him and with others. In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us some specific ways in which we can walk in God’s love with others:

  • Putting off falsehood (v25) – not just telling lies but living in open, honest and authentic relationships with others
  • Not letting the sun go down on our anger (v26) – whether we take this literally or metaphorically, it means working our issues out with others
  • Doing something useful with our hands so we can give generously to others (v28) – this gives us whole new way to think about our work as a way to love others
  • Using our words to build others up and benefit them (v29), not knock them down
  • Getting rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice (v31) – I wonder why our congregation laughed when I said that these never happen in our church
  • Being kind, compassionate and forgiving to others (v32)

It’s worth spending some time contemplating these and asking God to show us where he wants to challenge us in our lives and in our relationships. Living in a congregation like this would be great, but I don’t think many of us actually live up to the love Paul describes.

When we are challenged by Paul’s words, we need to go back to the muddy puddle of God’s love for us. Too often we try to do better by ourselves and then get frustrated or guilty when we keep doing the same things. Instead, Jesus teaches us to remain in his love (John 15:9). Using the image of God’s love being a muddy puddle, when we’re falling short of being the people and community God wants us to be, we need to go back to the love God has for us in Jesus to walk through and jump around in some more. As we get covered more and more with the sticky mud of God’s love for us in Jesus, it will cling to us and we will naturally carry it with us in our lives.

Ephesians 5:1,2 is one of my most favourite discipleship texts because this is what following Jesus is all about: walking in God’s love for us in Jesus so it sticks to us and we carry it with us into every circumstance of life. Especially as we talk about and plan the future of our ministry to young people, it is good for us to be keeping Paul’s words in mind. Our culture is teaching us and our young people to live in a way that is all about us and what we get, the exact opposite of the way of love Paul points us to. Jesus tells us that if we live this way, our destination is destruction, but if we walk in the way of God’s love, then we find life to the full (Matthew 7:13,14; John 10:10). Where will our young people learn to walk in love if it’s not from us?

So, which way are we walking? Do we walk our own ways, heading in our own directions, trying to find our own way through life? Or are we walking in love, stomping around in God’s infinite and perfect love for us, and carrying it everywhere we go, in everything we do?

Walking in love brought Jesus to life that is stronger than death. This is the path he leads us to as he calls us to follow him. When we get lost along the way, then maybe it’s time to jump in muddy puddles, remembering that when we walk in the love God has for us in Jesus, it really sticks!

Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people

Already But Not Yet

I came across this article from Caleb Roose of the Fuller Youth Institute today entitled Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people. It’s worth a read if you know a young person (or anyone really) who has tough questions or going through a challenging time in life…

Growing (Ephesians 1:15-23)

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I’m not the world’s most dedicated or skillful gardener. However, I like to have plants around our home that are healthy and look good. At times, some plants don’t seem to be doing as well as I had hoped, so I’m faced with a question: is this plant still alive or is it time to take it out and put something else in its place?

My way of trying to work out if a plant is still living is to look for signs of growth. If it is growing, I will continue to look after it and try to help it grow. If it isn’t growing, however, then it’s time to take it out so something else can grow in its place.

It’s a simple idea: growth is a sign of life.

Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul prays that the early Christians is Ephesus ‘might grow in (their) knowledge of God’ (v17 NLT). Just like the plants in my garden, growth is a sign of life. He prays for them, and as we hear these words also for us, because when we are growing in our ‘knowledge of God’ then something is alive in us that is producing that growth.

It’s important to understand, though, that when Paul talks about ‘knowledge’ he isn’t talking about something that is primarily intellectual or academic. In this information age, we usually understand ‘knowledge’ as facts, figures or data about any given person or topic.

For pre-modern people, however, ‘knowledge’ was much more relational. It is the difference between knowing a whole lot of information about a person and actually having a relationship with them. For example, I can know everything there is to know about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but that won’t get me an invitation to their wedding. For that to happen, I would need to know them and be in relationship with them. This is how the Bible understands ‘knowledge.’ It is much more a relationship with people than just information about them.

What Paul is praying for, then, is that we are growing in relationship with God. Essentially, the Christian faith is relational. God welcomes us into relationship with him as his children and he asks us to call him ‘Father.’ Jesus, the Son of the Father, became one with us, died and is risen from the dead to restore the broken relationship with God. Jesus’ command to love others in the same way he has loved us is at its heart relational – we can only love God or other people when we are in relationship with them.

My relationship with my wife, children, other family members and friends will grow and change over time as we go through life’s challenges and joys together. In the same way, Paul is praying that our relationship with God will continue to grow as we journey through life in relationship with him. As we go through the ups and downs of life with God, giving thanks for the good times and looking for his grace in the tough times, we will be growing in our relationship with him as we learn to trust him in all circumstances of life.

Paul continues his prayer by asking that this growing knowledge of God would show itself in the lives of God’s people in two ways. The first is hope (v18). In a world where people are struggling for a lot of different reasons, we could all benefit from a greater sense of hope. Paul’s prayer is that we might grow in hope through a growing relationship with God.

The second is understanding ‘the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him’ (v19 NLT). Paul describes this as the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and raised him up to share in God’s authority in his ascension. This is the power of God to bring light into dark places, to lift us up when we are at our lowest points, to bring us out of isolation into restored relationships with others, and to give us life when everything around us is trying to rob life from us. This power of God can show itself in lots of different ways, depending on what’s happening in our lives. It makes me wonder how God might display this power in your life…

We grow in our relationship with God the same way that we grow in any other relationship. We grow in our knowledge of God by making time for him in our busy lives, as we listen to his words of promise and grace in the Bible, as we talk honestly with him in prayer, and as we grow in our relationships with other Christians in community and especially in worship together. As we exercise these and other spiritual disciplines, and as we learn to love brothers and sisters in the faith and be loved by them, our relationship with God will grow as we participate in the body of Christ, which is the church (Ephesians 1:23), and journey through life together.

Our growth in knowing God is vital to our life as his people, so we included it as the second element of our congregation’s discipling plan. Because growing is a sign of life, we want to help people grow in their relationship with God. I pray, along with the Apostle Paul, that the members and friends of our community of faith, along with all who read these words, would be growing in their knowledge of and relationship with God, so that together we might also understand more and more the hope to which he has called us, and the incredible greatness of his power for us who trust him.
So, how can we help you grow?

Losing it All (Mark 8:31-38)

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For the last couple of years our congregation has been talking about simplifying our busyness and activity around a clear discipling focus, and being more effective in our ministry to our young people. Pretty early in these discussions, some people began to realise that if we are going simplify what we do and how we do it, and if we are going to prioritize ministry to young people, then there will be things in our congregation that will change. And that has made some people uncomfortable.

I came across an idea a few years ago that what worries people most about change isn’t the change itself, but what they could lose through the change. This idea makes sense to me because, in a congregational context, we connect with a particular church because we like what that church has to offer – its style of worship, its programs, or the way it does things. To think about changing any of that can be unsettling because why would we want to change something when it’s what we like? It makes sense that our natural reaction will be to resist any changes which could result in losing what we like or what we value, what matters or what’s important to us.

But then we come to Jesus’ teaching about following him in Mark 8:31-38. As we have discussed discipleship in our congregation over the last couple of years, I’ve been side-stepping the words of Jesus in verse 35 because they are extremely confronting and challenging. However, maybe it’s time that we listen to what Jesus has to say to us here. If we are serious about living as Jesus’ disciples and making disciples of others, and if we want to take Jesus’ message seriously (Growing Young, pp126-162) then we need to hear what Jesus is teaching us in these words.

I really struggled with these words all last week. I understand how they applied to early Christians who risked being killed for following Jesus, or how they apply to our sisters and brothers around the world today who face serious persecution for their faith. However, in our affluent, consumer culture, what does it mean for us to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel? Does it mean we need to join a monastery or convent to spend all day, every day in prayer and meditation? Or do we need to give everything up to become pastors in the church?

Our problem is that we tend to look for life in places that don’t actually give us what we need. We look for our sense of identity, belonging and purpose in things that don’t last or aren’t reliable, such as possessions, relationships, social media or experiences. Even in congregations, we can try to find our identity by belonging to a church organization, our belonging by having a pigeonhole in the church foyer or a shared family connection, and our purpose by being on a committee or a roster. If we try to find our lives in what we do for the church, then we will resist change if it looks like we will lose what’s important to us.

However, if we are willing to lose what we value, or what’s important to us, or what matters to us, if we are willing to lose where we try to find our identity, belonging or purpose, then Jesus promises that we will find something much better. In our children’s talk on Sunday, one young girl told me how she lost her Elsa and Anna dolls (the two main characters from Disney’s movie Frozen), but then she was given all of the Disney princess dolls in their place. That’s kind of what Jesus is saying to us – when we lose what’s important to us, what matters to us, or what we value, or when we lose wherever we are trying to find our identity, value or purpose, then we find something much better in him.

To ‘save’ our lives isn’t just about going to heaven when we die. Jesus promises us a ‘rich and satisfying life’ (John 10:10 NLT) in this world as well. When we are willing to lose what’s important to us, we can find a new and better life in relationship with him because Jesus has already lost everything for us.

I wonder what it would have been like to have been one of Jesus’ disciples, to see the things they saw, to witness the miracles Jesus performed and hear his teaching on the Kingdom of God. Then, for Jesus to look at them and tell them that he needed to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, be rejected, crucified and die, and be raised to new life on the third day (v31). I can understand Peter’s reaction in verse 32 because it’s our natural tendency to want to hang on to life, not lose it.

However, it is through losing his life that Jesus gives us life. He was willing to sacrifice everything for us because what matters most to Jesus, what he values most and what is most important to him, is us. Even when we are so reluctant to lose what matters to us, Jesus lost everything by giving his life for us on the cross because he would rather die than see us lost in a world that promises us life in so many shallow and superficial ways, but ultimately can’t deliver. Each and every one of us is so important to Jesus, so valuable and so precious to him that he preferred to lose his life so that we can find life in him.

Faith in this good news changes our whole lives. We can find our identity in Jesus as he embraces us in a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. We can find a place to belong as members of the body of Christ, and sisters and brothers in the community of believers. We can find purpose for our lives as God calls us to participate with him in his work of redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation. When we are willing to lose everything that matters to us in the faith that Jesus lost his life for us on the cross and in order to embrace others with the good news of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus, then we find a life that is full of God’s goodness, which is even stronger than death.

Jesus lost everything for us on the cross to bring us into a new life as God’s family and members of his body. We can find who we are, where we belong and what we’re here for in him because of what he lost for us. Then Jesus calls us to follow him along the same path, so others can find a new life in him as well.

What are we willing to lose for Jesus and for the good news?

More to think about:

  • Generally speaking, do you tend to embrace or resist change? Can you give an example of a time when you have done that? What were your reasons for either embracing or resisting that change?
  • What do you think of the idea that people don’t fear change as much as what they might lose through the change? Would you agree or disagree with that? Can you explain why?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that whoever loses their life for him and for the gospel will save it (v35)? What might it look like for you to lose your life for Jesus and for the gospel?
  • Where do you look for your identity, belonging and purpose? If it’s not in Jesus, how might finding your sense of who you are, where you fit and what you’re here for be different if you looked for them in your relationship with Jesus?
  • What would you find easy to lose in your experience of church? What would you find difficult to lose? How might losing them help someone else experience grace?

Growing in Prayer (Mark 1:29-39)

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It had been a very busy day for Jesus. It began simply enough as Jesus went to the local synagogue to teach. While he was there, Jesus drove out an unclean spirit from one of the locals. Then he went to the home of Simon and Andrew where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law from a serious fever. Word about Jesus must have spread through the village, because as soon as the Sabbath restrictions ended at sunset, people brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. What had started as a quiet Sabbath day of rest for Jesus ended up with an overwhelming flood of people looking to Jesus to help them.

What strikes me about this story is that, after a frantic day of teaching and healing, Jesus didn’t try to sleep in the next morning, or head to the local coffee shop to read the paper or check his social media. Jesus didn’t go fishing, or for a ride on his bike, or any of the things we might like to do after a busy day. Instead, Mark tells us that ‘before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray’ (v35 NLT).

There might be a number of reasons why Jesus wanted some time by himself. I’m thinking at this stage that maybe Jesus knew that he couldn’t handle the pressures and demands he was facing by himself, and he needed his Father if he was going to get through what was coming. By going out to pray, Jesus was trusting that his Father had everything he needed to do what he was called to do, and that his Father would provide him with what he needed. Jesus’ early morning prayer was an act of faith.

What do we do when life seems too hard, or there’s too much to do, or the pressures and expectations of the people around us are overwhelming us? Do we just try to keep our heads down and push through on our own? Or do we look for a break, to escape from the chaos even for just a few minutes, by going out for a coffee, checking our social media, staying in bed, or watching TV? When it feels like life is overwhelming us, do we tend to work harder or run away?

Jesus did neither of these things. Instead, Jesus’ response was to get out of bed earlier than normal, go to a quiet place, and pray.

What if we did the same? What if, instead of working harder or trying to escape from the realities of life, we took everything that’s going on in our lives to our loving heavenly Father in prayer as our first priority?

There is a crazy promise from God in Romans 8:32 where Paul writes,

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (NIV)

The promise in this text is that God has everything we need for life in this world and the next, and for the sake of Jesus we will give us everything we need! When you think about what’s going on in your life at the moment, especially if there are things that are looking to be too hard, too much or too overwhelming, what difference could it make if we trusted that God will give us everything we need? God has brought us into a new relationship with himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and wants to provide for us like loving parents provide for their children. Jesus knew that and so took what was going on in his life to his heavenly Father in prayer. As his followers, that’s what he’s teaching us to do as well – to trust God with what’s going on in our lives by bringing it to him in prayer.

Learning how to pray will need to be a key aspect of our congregation’s Discipling Plan. God is connecting with us by the power of his Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. As we are growing in that connection, we will also be growing in our willingness and ability to trust God with what’s going on in our lives. We will also need to be equipping each other by learning how to pray, just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). After giving this message on Sunday, a woman in our congregation told me that she had never learned how to pray other than the set prayers she recites every morning and at night. Formal prayers have their place – I use them regularly – however we also need to be able to talk with our heavenly Dad like we talk with our best friend or someone close to us. Good communication is a sign of a healthy relationship, both with people and with God.

This year for Lent we’re coming together with other Lutheran churches in our part of the city to offer workshops on different topics to help grow and equip God’s people. When I was asked to lead a workshop, it seemed to me that spending four weeks focusing on listening to God’s word in the Bible and talking with him in prayer might be a good idea. We need to be learning how to exercise these spiritual disciplines and make them part of our daily rhythm so our faith can remain strong. Like Jesus in this story from Mark 1:29-39, we need to be praying as our first priority, not as a last resort, because God has everything we need and will give it to us because of the new relationship we have with him through Jesus.

Jesus believed that his Father had everything he needed in the pressures and demands of life in this world. This trust led him to look to his Father for what he needed in prayer. If your prayer-life is struggling, maybe Lent is a good time to commit to finding time each day to talk with God about what’s going on in your life. When we do it and how we do it aren’t as important as that we do it. If you want some help, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Almighty God has everything we need to do what he calls us to do. Jesus believed that and took what was going on in his life to his Father in prayer. When we follow Jesus and trust God enough to take what’s going on in our lives to him, he promises that he will always give you what you need.

More to think about:

  • When life gets difficult or overwhelming what do you tend to do more: try harder to get through, or escape from the pressures or demands? Why do you think you tend to do that?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to pray? Do you have a set time or place to pray each day? Or is it a discipline you find hard to maintain?
  • Why do you think Jesus got up early, went to an isolated place and prayed? Do you find it strange that he would do that? Or do Jesus’ actions make sense to you? Can you explain why?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe God’s promise in Romans 8:32? Why do you think that is? How might your life be different if you were able to trust that God has and will give you ‘all things’ (NIV) for Jesus’ sake?
  • What’s going on in your life right now that is difficult, demanding or overwhelming? Have you taken it to God in prayer? If you find praying difficult to do, how can we, or another sister or brother in Christ, help you do that?