Philippians 4:4-7 and Mark 1:29-39
C. S. Lewis said, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”
Some of you know that when I’m home I get up each morning at 5:00 A.M. to spend time reading my devotions, and time in prayer. For the past two weeks I’ve been on vacation, so I didn’t do this. I got up at 6:00 A.M. instead I still had plenty of time for prayer, because my brother and his wife, at whose house we were staying, are both retired and Joe was on vacation, so no one got up until about 7:30- 8:00.
I began this practice of getting up at least an hour before the rest of my family, when my children were small. Being married and raising children had drained my energy; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I found myself needing time with God that I simply couldn’t find during my busy day. I needed a source of strength for the daily battle of life.
There is a story that comes out of World War II. After the Battle of the Bulge, a German officer was describing the capture of an American unit early in the fighting. This unit had in its possession a box which contained a cake. What was remarkable about the cake is that it had been sent to an American soldier from Boston and it was still fresh. This German officer described his feelings when he realized that the Americans had the resources to fly over cakes from home even in the midst of a global war. He said that he knew then, that they would never defeat an enemy that had such resources for the waging of the battle.
You and I have a resource that can help us in life’s daily battles, if only we will make room for it. It is time alone with God. It is one-on-One communication with the Creator and Sustainer of life.
As I read Mark’s Gospel passage for today, what leaped off the page was the reminder that Jesus also got up early in the morning to go to the source, for the strength to help with the daily battles he faced.
Jesus begins this passage by healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and when the word gets out, the whole town comes for healing. “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” (vv. 32-34)
I believe that after all this, Jesus was drained; physically, emotionally, spiritually; and Jesus had to go to the source, to gain the strength He needed to continue the battle.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (v. 35)
Two years ago, Philip Yancey was at the Winsome Women conference at Mackinac Island. He is one of my favorite Christian writers, and I picked up his book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? I haven’t taken the time to read it in two years, so I took it along on vacation. It became my devotion book at 6 A.M. For the next few weeks, I’ll share with you some of the things I learned about prayer from Philip Yancey.
Yancey writes that when it comes to investigating prayer, he considers himself a “‘pilgrim;’ strolling about, staring at the monuments, asking questions, mulling things over, testing the waters. —With this in mind he writes, “I try to err on the side on honesty and not pretense.” — “I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty.” — “I believe that life with God should seem more like friendship than duty.” (page 17)
He concludes the first chapter with, “If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life, circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.” (page 17)
The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philip Yancey writes that the best way to approach prayer is to admit that we are human, prone to sin. We are not human beings who once in awhile make a mistake, and God is not someone who forgives just now and then. Human beings are sinners and God is love and mercy. Henri Nouwen wrote, “To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God.’”
You and I do not have to be clean and shiny before we come to God in prayer. Think about your earthly relationships. Aren’t your most rewarding intimate relationships a result of honesty and vulnerability? When we pretend, we build walls and hide behind them; we’re also building walls around our heart. We keep people out; we keep Jesus out. When we let those walls down, people may hurt us, yet Jesus can get in to heal us as well. Yancy writes, “in the presence of the Great Physician my most appropriate contribution may be my wounds.” (page 36)
Abraham Joshua Herschel wrote, “Somehow, in a way I can only trust and not understand, presenting to God the intimate details of my life, gives God pleasure,”
God said to the prophet Isaiah 49:15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne” though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”
Yancey was teaching a class at a church in Chicago, when a young shy conscientious student spoke up, “I’m not always sincere when I pray” she said, “Sometime it seems forced, more like a ritual. I’m just repeating words. Does God hear those prayers? Should I keep going even though I have no confidence that I’m doing it right?”
Philip replied, “Do you notice how quiet it is in here? We all sense your honesty. It took courage for you to be vulnerable, and you touched a nerve with others in the room. I imagine it is the same with God. More than anything else, God wants your authentic self.” (page 41)
He writes on page 55, “Though my needs may drive me to prayer, there I come face-to-face with my greatest need; encounter with God’s own self.”
When the disciples found Jesus, and told him everyone was looking for him, Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So, he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (vv.38-39)
Jesus gained his strength for the battle he would continue to wage against evil, from his time spent in prayer.
This coming week I encourage you to be your authentic self before God. He knows you and what you are going through. Yet, in acknowledging what you are feeling; your struggles, your joy, all of your emotions; you say to God, ‘I am human and you are God. I need your strength in my earthly journey.’ If it worked for Jesus our Lord and Savior, it will work for you!
Pastor Rosemary DeHut