The worlds of prayer and popular self-interest are always in opposition to each other (Matthew 26:40-41). Prayer speaks of intimacy with a holy God: popularity speaks of superficiality with a selfish crowd. Prayer is a conversation where you don't have to pretend, but popularity eventually produces the anxiety of keeping up appearances. Yet how often we prefer the crowd to the Lord, and in so doing we feed the flesh and starve the spirit. Have we forgotten Elijah's testimony that the Lord was not in the earthquake, wind or fire? But He was in the 'still small voice' (1 Kings 19:10-13). The experience of the Lord Jesus was the same (Luke 6:12). God speaks when we make the time to listen.
Jesus made prayer His priority. While the disciples slept, Jesus left the lodgings in the dark to be alone with Father God. The earnest conversation with the Father, and time alone to prepare Himself for the day's work without distractions, was a feature of His ministry. It was the most important part of Christ's day and an essential aspect of ministry that the disciples must learn. They were not Jesus' bodyguards nor support team. They were His chosen students (‘disciple' means 'pupil') on a two-and-a-half-year training course learning to be apostles (John 15:16). But they started with the wrong spiritual priorities. Wanting to maximise the 'market opportunities' for Jesus, they thought of themselves as 'gatekeepers' who would decide who could have access to Him. But their proud initiatives were often rebuked because they did not understand Jesus' purpose (Mark 10:13-16).
For the disciples, the unexplained absence of Jesus, combined with the crowds outside the house, made them as anxious as 'minders' who had lost their VIP. When Jesus returned He was determined only to do what the Father directed (John 5:30). Rebuking the disciples' plan, Jesus left the town and the clamouring crowds, to travel through little villages. There, He preached the truth to expose the lies people believed, and cast out demons as evidence that Satan did not have the final authority. It was real ministry training for the disciples; and it started by learning that they must talk to God about people before they started talking to people about God.
It is not easy to carve that undiluted time, that 'Quiet Time' or 'Nothing Else Time', out of a busy day. The lunch break, the train or bus journey, the privacy of your own office or a five-minute walk between buildings may allow you a brief chat with your Maker; but Jesus was praying alone before the early shift was awake. The gospel priority of our Lord did not seek to trade on popularity and neither should you. At best, the esteem of others is transient, at worst it is deluding - it is always a diversion to dependence on the Lord. Even the apparent safety of work we know, may make us reluctant to follow God's call into uncharted service. The choice, to lay ourselves open before Father God, before the priorities of the world suffocates us, is a Christ-like decision. And it needs to be a decision, instead of just a good idea. Decide today.
© Dr Paul Adams