Friday, December 09, 2011

Praying with Intentionality

"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." (Mark 1:35)

This is one of my favourite passages in the gospel. It describes Jesus' prayer life amid the pressing demands on his time throughout his ministry. More importantly, it tells of a man who is intentional about meeting God. This one verse crystallizes the spiritual life of Jesus in three words: "Praying with intentionality." In this article, I want to look at the intentionality of Jesus in four ways.

A) Intentionality in Timing

It begins with the description of the timing of the day. Being early in the morning, it is a time in which activity is at the lowest. People are still sleeping. Businesses are not open yet. Even the roads will be quiet and empty. For Jesus, it is the time in which his yearning for God is highest. He is wide awake. Others are closed for business. For Jesus, it has only just begun. The quiet and empty road facilitates his walking to the solitary place. Not wanting anybody to interrupt his divine appointment, while it is still dark, Jesus leaves the house, all excited about prayer. Jesus prays with intentionality. He makes time for it. He acts upon it. He goes to a place of least distractions so that He can give maximum attention to God. This is intentional praying.

If we want to pray well, we need to plan well to pray well. Some people pray better in the mornings. Others pray best at night. Still, others because of their jam-packed calendars and daily work, can only squeeze in pockets of prayer time throughout the day. The important thing is to be intentional by knowing our best times. If we are intentional about praying, we will not commit the error of 'no-time-to-pray' or 'too-busy-to-pray.' If we plan well, we can definitely find a good time to pray. Mother Teresa and her ministry workers wake up at 4.30am each morning just to pray. The only way to wake up with intentionality to pray is to understand what prayer is all about in the first place. Andrew Murray knows a lot about prayer. He writes:

"Some people pray just to pray and some people pray to know God." (Andrew Murray)

This is the main difference. If we see prayer as a stale regimen to stick to, it will soon become dry and brittle. If we see prayer as a way of knowing God more, it will be fresh and life-giving.

KEY: If we want to pray well, we need to be intentional in our timing. Intentional prayer is learning to keep our appointment with God to know God better.

B) Intentionality in Scheduling

The gospel writer is also very intentional about this. Mark is a gospel that is action-driven. The first 34 verses in chapter 1 shows a lot of Jesus' works.
  • Jesus gets baptized (Mark 1:9);
  • Jesus is anointed(Mark 1:10);
  • Jesus is sent to the desert (Mark 1:11);
  • Jesus is tempted by the Devil (Mark 1:13);
  • Jesus goes to Galilee to proclaim the Good News (Mark 1:15);
  • Jesus calls his first two disciples, Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:16-17);
  • Jesus calls James and John (Mark 1:19-20);
  • Jesus teaches at the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21);
  • Jesus expels the evil spirit (Mark 1:25-26);
  • Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law (Mark 1:31);
  • Jesus heals and drives out evil spirits from sunset through the evening (Mark 1:32-34)
I marvel at the way Mark packs so many activities in 34 verses. Then comes the verse of Jesus's intentionality in prayer in 1:35. This contrasts sharply with the kinds of new-age spirituality that we hear in our modern world, that talks about stillness and solitude, sitting on a Lotus position. There is intentionality in Jesus' timing and actions. It strikes me as well as to which is the greater work. I believe the greater work is not the healing, the driving out of demons, or the calling of the disciples. The greater work is the one that motivates the doing of these acts. The greater work is knowing God in prayer. After all, if a work is great, is it not true that the One behind the doing of the great work is greater still?

KEY: Intentionality in prayer is knowing God is the Source Who enables us in all of our works. 

C) Intentionality is Listening

In order to listen well, we need to be able to find a time and place that offers the least amount of distractions. In our modern world of cell-phones, computer tablets, always on Internet connections, it is getting more difficult to get away from the world. Instead the world comes to us through text messages on our phones. It interrupts our everyday work with a "You've Got Mail" sounds, or a buzz of frantic activities on social networks. If you happen to take the local subway transit, or the bus, or even wait in the line at Starbucks, you can see a common phenomena: Gadget fiddling. People everywhere are constantly looking down on their iPhones, or cell phone devices. People are always doing something on their phones. When it rings, they answer. When it does not ring, they surf the net, type a message, tweet a thought, or simply snap a photo of the surroundings. Life is always so busy.

Mark's description of Jesus is almost similar, albeit of a different time and era. Yet, the intentionality of Jesus to find the place and time of least distraction is telling. E. Dee Freedom says that: "A life of prayer happens only when we intend to pray."

That is so true. If one does not intend to pray in the first place, there is no way one can grow a prayer life. Jesus knows that to be most attentive to God, He needs to be at His most attentive self. Early morning before it is dark. Before the demands of the world try to steal Him away. Before He busy himself with the daily matters. He reserves His best, His utmost for God to know God. Intentional praying is attentive praying. Corrie Ten Boom says of this which is remarkably helpful. She asks:
"Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?"
KEY: Intentional praying is listening well, paying attention to knowing that God is the One steering our wheel. Through prayer.

D) Intentional Praying Looks for the Heart of God

One last thing.  We can be intentional about praying when we set a particular timing, when we schedule a place, and when we adjust our listening ability. This final point shows us the fruit of our prayer labor: Knowing the heart of God.

Intentional praying is looking for the heart of God. Look at how Mark places Jesus' praying lifestyle smack in the middle of a multitude of activities. Mark wants to highlight where the true power and strength that Jesus draws from. It is wonderful to be able to do good works. It is fantastic to see results. Yet, without God, one can do nothing. Jesus knows full well His own limitations. That is why He needs to be intentional about praying in the midst of a demanding schedule. Look at how His disciples complain about Him not being around.
Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)
The response of Jesus is classic. Instead of trying to justify His prayer excursion to the secluded place, He answers:
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
This is the result of intentional praying. Some of us pray a lot but end up not knowing what to do next. Not Jesus. He prays intentionally and finishes His praying with a clear understanding of what God's will is for Him.

When one prays with intention, one gets God's attention. When one gets God's attention, one will be clear about God's instructions. Talk about God's will. Perhaps, the trouble with us struggling with knowing what God's will is for our lives, is not that God has hidden His will from us. The trouble may actually be due to our lack of listening, our weak praying, and most of all, our lack of intentional praying. Not Jesus. When asked about where He has gone to, Jesus is not concerned about giving an excuse. He is not worried about the people's anxieties. He know full well that apart from God, He can do nothing. He is not interested in fame that comes when everyone is looking for Him. He is only interested in glorifying God, to look for everyone who needs God. That is intentional praying.

"Is the Son of God praying in me or am I dictating to Him? Is He ministering in me as He did in the days of His flesh? Is the Son of God in me going through His passion for His own purposes? The more one knows of the inner life of God's ripest saints, the more one sees what God's purpose is - "filling up that which is behind of the affliction of Christ." There is always something to be done in the sense of "filling up." (Oswald Chambers)


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