In the fifth chapter of the gospel of Luke, we’re treated to a series of short narratives about Jesus. What I love about this chapter can be summed up in one word: action. In every verse of this short chapter, Christ is taking action. (It’s a wonderful example for us, isn’t it? And a good reminder: don’t just pay attention to what He said. Pay attention to what He did and how He did it.) In this short chapter alone, Christ called four of His disciples, healed two men, preached to crowds, and debated with Pharisees. But it’s the action Jesus takes at the end of Luke 5:12-16 that never fails to surprise me.
In this particular story – almost a vignette, really – Christ is making his way through a city when “a man full of leprosy” sees him. The leper falls on his face before Jesus, begging: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus responds by touching the man and saying, “I will; be clean.” The man is healed, and although Jesus charges him to tell no one about the incident, the story spreads far and wide. Great crowds begin to gather to hear the word of God from the son of God and to be healed by Him. But what does Jesus do? Luke 5:16 is our answer: “But [Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
This isn’t the only time Jesus withdraws to pray by Himself. We see Him withdraw to pray multiple times in the Gospels. Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12, and John 6:15 are all moving examples of Jesus’s preference for solitude when He prays. It’s that very preference that makes this image so powerful in my mind. Jesus went to these lonely places to pray because He wanted to, not because He needed to.
Jesus was the son of God. Likely, He was already in constant communication with the Heavenly Father – whether He was alone or in the middle of a great crowd or hanging on the cross or working in Joseph’s carpentry shop. No matter where Jesus was, He was hand in hand with God in a way that we humans can only imagine. So when Jesus withdrew to private or lonely or desolate places to pray, it wasn’t because He needed the solitude in order to communicate effectively with God. He prayed alone because He wanted to pray alone. Jesus valued being alone with God enough to withdraw from others to pray many times, even knowing that His time here on earth was short and that He had crowds to minister to and people to heal and disciples to shape. On a regular basis, in the midst of a busy life, Jesus set time aside just to be alone and talk to His Father.
If you’re a Christian, you probably saw this question coming: how often do you withdraw to pray by yourself? Is it daily? Weekly? Monthly? Is it once a year? Or was it only once, six years ago on that Bible retreat for a “solo exercise”?
Next question: do you wish you prayed alone more often?
I’m no expert on prayer. No one is. The good news is that no one has to be an expert at talking to God in order to talk to Him. (What a relief, right?) But something I’ve discovered in my own prayer life is that the more time I spend praying alone (emulating Jesus), the better I become at praying with others or in front of a group. Partly, it’s due to the practice (and yes, prayer requires practice – I think we can all safely agree on that). Mostly, it’s due to getting comfortable with being on speaking terms with God. If you talk to Him like He’s that relative you see once every ten years at the family reunion, that’s going to be reflected in your prayers. But if you talk to Him like you talk to your parent or your sibling or your best friend, your prayers are going to take on new dimensions. It will become easier to pray at the drop of a hat, no matter your circumstance. In grief, you’ll know Who to turn to for comfort. In celebration, you’ll have a Friend to share in your joy and thanksgiving. When you need help, it will become second nature to call on Him. Ultimately, when prayer becomes your go-to action in private, it will become your go-to action in public. And soon, praying earnestly for yourself and for others – whether you’re alone or in a crowd – will become an even greater way for you to serve God by caring for His people.
If you find yourself struggling with your prayer life, consider withdrawing to pray alone more often – whether that’s simply retreating behind a closed door, going outside to sit in the yard alone, or visiting a designated prayer room at your church. Don’t worry about what words to use or how you’ll sound or what so-and-so would say if they could hear you. It’s not about that. It’s about God. He just wants to hear from you because He loves you.
- Allison Rehnborg, WHTN Traffic Manager
Need prayer? If you’re in Middle Tennessee, you can call us for prayer at 615-754-0039 from 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Thursday, or from 8 am to 2 pm on Fridays. You can also submit your prayer requests online through our prayer request page.
Other prayer lines include:
CTN Prayer Line: 727-535-7729
You & Me Prayer Line: 727-531-4888 or 800-716-7729
700 Club Prayer Center: 1-800-823-6053
Life Today Prayer Line: 1-800-947-5433