In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus spent time at Simon Peter’s house. When the local villagers heard that Jesus was in town, they brought sick people to Him to be healed. It was non-stop work for Jesus, as a sizable crowd pushed and shoved around Him all day long.
If anyone deserved to sleep-in the next morning, it was Jesus. But instead of hitting the snooze button on His alarm clock, the gospel reading tells us: “Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”
For Jesus, prayer was how He recharged His batteries. It was the source of His strength and power. Throughout Scripture Jesus often went off to pray—sometimes for the entire night—before important events in His life. It’s how He communicated with His Heavenly Father.
For many of us, however, prayer is more like a chore that saps our strength. I’m reminded of dinnertime a number of years ago, when my two daughters were growing up. We would all sit down at the table and my wife would ask, “Whose turn is it to say grace?”
Immediately a chorus rang out: “Not mine!” “It’s her turn.” “I did it last night.” (Then, when I was finished whining, my two daughters also would insist that it was someone else’s turn.) It was as if reciting a ten-second blessing was the same as shoveling a foot of snow off the driveway with a teaspoon.
After dinner my dear wife occasionally would suggest we gather in the living room to read a Scripture passage and then pray for a few minutes. Suddenly, my daughters developed a keen desire to finish their homework early. Suddenly, I developed a keen desire not to miss a second of “Jeopardy!” (“But honey, it’s Celebrity Championship Week!”)
Cultivating a strong and vibrant prayer life can be tough. It can be hard work, especially when we view it as a chore we have to do.
However, we have to understand: prayer is not a speech we are forced to recite. Prayer is a two-way communication with God. It’s a conversation. At the very least, we should be listening as much as we are talking.
The best thing about prayer is that God helps us even when we’re not sure of how to do it or what to say. The key is that oft-forgotten member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the heart of each baptized believer.
Some verses that explain this concept:
- “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells within you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- “…the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).
- “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
So, if you think praying is a tedious chore, you’ve got it all wrong. It really can be a special source of power and strength.
If your prayer life is kind of dry and dusty and in need of a jump start, don’t think of it as “praying.” Instead, set aside a few minutes each day to have an informal conversation with God. No ritual, no rote recitation, just tell Him what’s on your mind, and then listen patiently to hear what He says in reply.
If you do this each day, before you know it you’ll be looking forward to this special quiet time with the Lord. (And if you time it right, you can be finished before “Jeopardy!” comes on.)