Jesus took time for private devotions to God. The devotional times of Christ are an appealing example. Of all the spiritual retreats and Bible camps that I’ve experienced, I have to say that my own private time to God is worth it wherever I go in a quiet room, hiking down a trail, or sitting on a mountain. I can relate and follow what Jesus did, and I know many other Christians can too. I wish I could do it more and encourage all my brethren to do the same.
Jesus evidently thought it was important for Himself to withdraw especially after ministering to so many people. Luke 5:16 shows Jesus, “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” That is the great part right there. When you conclude your work and need a break, withdraw and pray. Now, that’s a vacation! This is what we need to do, withdraw and pray. Giving hours to studying the words of Christ and then teaching those words is uplifting, but taking time to get away and pray is releasing. Just as the Spirit of Christ taught about prayer in Philippians 4:6-7,
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Matthew depicted Jesus, “And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there” (Matt 14:23; cf. Mark 6:46). I don’t know if many would like to go alone unto a mountain to pray until after sunset, but that sounds great to me. Jesus even spent the whole night on a mountain praying on at least one occasion (Luke 6:12–13). In Mark 6, the idea of sending the multitudes away is also a relieving thought. This is when Jesus concentrates on His requests and thanksgivings to the Father. Do Christians do this? Do followers of Christ send away our work and distractions and concentrate on God?
What is also appealing are the times of the day that Jesus took for His own private devotion. Jesus prayed on the mountain after sunset before He walked on the Sea of Galilee that evening. Another appealing time is the morning. Look at Jesus in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Again, I can relate to that. Sometimes I can’t help but wake up early, so I go for a walk. You don’t have to go on vacation or take a drive out of town to withdraw and pray. You could just get up at daybreak and go out for a walk to be alone. We don’t have to add any appeal to Jesus’ pattern in His devotional life.
Jesus’s reason for getting away is clear through all these Scriptures. He withdrew alone to pray, to speak to His Father. We may wonder about what kind of things did Jesus get away to pray about to God the Father. What did Jesus spend a whole night on a mountain praying about? Luke 6:12-13 tells us of one occasion, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Jesus prayed before He chose His Apostles and He prayed for all His disciples including all of His disciples to come (John 17). Jesus’s followers and His ministry were on His mind. How might we apply this example? We could pray before our decisions at work and our decisions regarding our service with the congregation. This is certainly an example to church elders. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas 5:16).
Jesus openly instructed to pray in secret too. Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 6:6,
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Apparently, you don’t have to leave your own home, but sometimes that’s the best way. Praying in a secret place was something He wanted His disciples to practice. See, Christ took His Apostles alone after they had been sent and had gone out preaching the Gospel of the kingdom in the cities. Luke 9:10 tells about this, “And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.” Mark 6:30-32 also describes the occasion,
Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
Even though they would be interrupted for Jesus taught, healed, and then fed the 5,000; then in Luke 9:18, Jesus is has return again to praying alone and to continue their rest. Jesus understood the work that His disciples did. Even today, preachers, teachers, and so many other workers in Church need time to rest. Jesus took His disciples away not just to pray, but to rest.
Jesus’s example of a private time devoted to God especially in prayer appears even until the night of His betrayal. When Jesus was sorrowful and distressed, He prayed in Garden of Gethsemane. We see Him with His closest disciples in the garden and yet going alone to pray. In Luke, we see that the Mount of Olives was where Jesus regularly went to pray. The Gospel of Luke 22:39–42 describes the devotion in the garden,
Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Mark 14:36 supplements Luke with Jesus’ words being, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:39 shows Jesus, “Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words.” Jesus wasn’t praying long prayers. These appear to be short to the point, and Jesus returned to pray the same words. When we pray so much that we run out of things on our hearts, then pray those prayers again and again. This is also what Jesus taught in Luke 11:1-11, which prayer is to be this persistent.
Back to the garden, Jesus’s prayer was close and intimate to the Father in His distress calling God, “Abba, Father”. Even in distress, we see an example of exclusion for us to go to God personally in prayer. We can pray to Father in a similar way, saying as in Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!‘” (Rom 8:15). If your heart does not cry out “Abba, Father,” you should be concerned about your life in Christ, and this should come out in our prayers. It was in such prayers of Jesus’ distress that the Spirit says in Hebrews 5:7–8,
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
Jesus prayed, “not My will, but yours be done.” Even in His suffering, God heard His Son. May we continue to learn from Christ’s pattern in life. Look to Christ’s example for private devotion to God.