The Lonely Prayer (Mark 1:32-39)

By | October 13, 2013



     Gifted Hands, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., is a movie based on the life of famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. His pioneering work led a German couple to seek him out to perform a daunting procedure that had never been successfully completed. This couple came in order to persuade Dr. Carson to separate and save boys, who are Siamese twins conjoined at the brain.

     Even with all his great skill and the best team behind to him, Dr. Carson knew he needed God’s help in order to succeed. As the clip indicates, faith and prayer were a natural and necessary part of Dr. Carson’s life. Dr. Carson understood that God is the giver of life and the source of all of our accomplishments. He understood that prayer is to our soul and spirit what food and water are to our bodies. So, he prayed.


     From what is recorded in the Gospels, we know Jesus felt the same way as Dr. Carson about prayer. Prayer was integral to his being. It was breath and life for him. According to the Gospel of John, one time, when the Apostles tried to get Jesus to eat something he said, I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

     And that’s one of the reasons Jesus prayed. Let’s look at how Mark describes one of those prayer events in the life of Jesus. This all took place in Capernaum at the house of Peter’s mother-in-law. Let’s look at Mark 1:32-39 (NRSV)

[32] That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

[33] And the whole city was gathered around the door.

[34] And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

[35] In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

[36] And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

[37] When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

[38] He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

[39] And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

     This is an astounding passage. In 8 verses we get a micro view of everyday life Jesus lived. Smack dab in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of teaching, preaching, and healing; early one morning, while it was still dark, Jesus went off by himself to pray.


     A. We pretty much know how important prayer was in the life of our Savior. It fueled His ministry. We also know many of the locations where Jesus prayed. We know he was in a synagogue every Sabbath. Scripture says it was His custom. We also know that whenever He was in Jerusalem, he went up to the Temple to pray. But what you may not have ever thought about is the Landscape of prayer.    

     In the book, Jesus, A Theography, Drs. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola identify four Landscapes for Prayer. These Landscapes describe or represent or symbolize a type of prayer that was important in the spiritual life and journey of Jesus. These were places of pilgrimage in the life of Jesus. Those places are the Mountains, Waters, Gardens and the Desert.

     B. The First Landscape is the Mountains. Mountains are places of joy, revelation, awe and ecstasy. I love the mountains. I don’t get to go very often but there is something about them, especially when you look down and around, they make you almost feel like you’re in church. And yet, there is no cathedral ever built that can evoke that same kind of feeling.

     Jesus loved the mountains and made five different pilgrimages to them. There was the mount of temptation; then the mountain upon which Jesus was transfigured; the Sermon given on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000 and then the final commissioning of the Disciples and the Church on the Mountain of his ascension.

     It was on each of these mountains where those around Jesus experienced some form of revelation about Jesus and could do nothing but stand in awe, filled with the Joy of the Lord.

     C. The Second Landscape is Waters. Waters, they say, are places of relationship, power, peace, connection, trust and nourishment. It was in the waters of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. There the power of God was revealed to at least John the Baptist, if not the whole crowd. There was no doubt about the connection between God and Jesus when the heavens opened and God said, “This is my Son, the beloved. In whom I am well pleased.”

     Then there was the Sea of Galilee. Jesus chose the little fishing village of Capernaum as his headquarters. Because it was here, that Jesus regained his spiritual balance and equilibrium when things were going south in a hurry. It was a safe haven with friends. The sea and the seashore help keep the human  aspect of Jesus emotionally and spiritually afloat.

     D. The Third landscape is Gardens. Gardens, they tell us, are places of wholeness, the presence of God, fulfillment, hope, growth, thriving and fruit. The Gardens in Scripture always remind us of the original Garden where we walked with God before the fall; before sin entered the world. There is a portion of our heart and spirit which longs to return to that place of wholeness in presence of God.

     The human heart of Jesus, felt that as well. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane where the fruit of God’s ultimate Will was ripened and fulfilled.


     A. But then there’s the Fourth landscape, the Deserts or the deserted places where Jesus went to pray. Deserts are places of spiritual discipline, introspection, inner struggle and insight. Look at the desert of the Judean Wilderness where Jesus was tempted for 40 days as he wrestled with His call and how he would carry out his ministry.

     Early in the morning, Jesus would rise and go to a deserted place or a lonely place as one of the translations puts it. These were places of silence and solitude; places where you can think and pray and refocus. The deserted place is a place of humility that calls and allows us the re-center your life.

     The authors of Jesus: A Theography write: “The most dangerous time in a person’s life is when riding the crest of a wave.” And there were plenty of those times in the life of Jesus. His baptism; the transfiguration; his miracles and healings, all of those were Mountain Top experiences that could have led Jesus down a different path had it not been for the deserted places of prayer. (1)

     B. We don’t like the deserted places. We’re more comfortable on the Mountain, by the Sea or in the Garden. Deserted places are too barren, to dry, to lonely. Most of the time, we don’t delve into the depths of own lives. Maybe it’s because we know what we’ll find and what we find will be worse then the desert place in which we’ve chosen to pray.

     But still, like Jesus, we are called into the Deserted Places, the Lonely Places so we can spend time in introspection and spiritual discipline.


     A. In the movie, Evan Almighty starring Steve Carrell, Evan Baxter has been elected to the U.S. Congress for his first term. His campaign was built on the promise to “Change The World.” As they move into their new home and prepare for their new life, Evan realizes his campaign promise is bigger than his ability to deliver. His wife suggests prayer, saying he can use all the help he can get. Unused to the whole idea of prayer, his sleeplessness draws him to his knees. This is the prayer he prayed:

     “Hello, there. Hi. This is Evan Baxter. Just wanted to say thank you for everything.

Thank you for the new car and for the house. The house is great. I love it. I mean, I picked it out, but you created matter and everything, so… I just wanted to say that I think Joan makes a good point, and that I am now in a position of great power, and I know that with great power comes great responsibility. So, God, (CLEARS THROAT) Please help me change the world. Okay. That’s it. I’m hanging up now. God bless… Well, uh, you. Okay.”

     Not a bad start on a prayer life, although considerably awkward. That’s something about Jesus we never see, Jesus was never awkward when it came to prayer.

     So, what was it that Jesus prayed? What words comprise this Lonely Prayer I’ve identified for us. To be honest, I don’t really know. It could simply be that He prayed in the lonely places so that he wouldn’t be disturbed. It could be that he prayed the exact same words as Evan I the movie, “Help me change the world.” Or it simply could have been that Jesus was checking in to make sure He and God were on the same page and the same timeline.

     And in a sense, I think that’s what the Lonely Prayer is all about. I think that every time Jesus departed to one of the deserted places or lonely places it was a foreshadowing of the struggle Jesus would have in the Garden on the night in which he was betrayed.

     I also think that had it not been for these hours of prayer, these hours of being alone with God, that the human aspect of Jesus nay never have been able to say, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours.”

     B. We have a deep need, spiritually speaking, for those moments. Without the Lonely Prayer moments, without spending time checking in and strengthening our spirit through prayer, then when our own wilderness of temptation comes we will fail, we’ll fall. The Lonely Prayer lifestyle keeps us in spiritual shape. And it keeps God in the driver’s seat, so to speak, or the pilot’s seat.

     There was a newspaper photographer who was called in by his editor and told there was a fire raging out of control south of the city. The editor told him there was a plane waiting at the nearby airport and to get some pictures for the evening edition. The reporter raced off to his assignment and found the plane just as his boss had described. 

     He jumped into the plane and yelled, “Let’s go.” When they approached the raging fire the reporter pulled out his camera and told the guy behind the controls to swoop down near the flames so he could get some good pictures. The man looked surprised and asked, “Why?”

     Rather perturbed by the inquiry the reporter snapped back, “Because I’m a newspaper photographer and photographers take pictures.”

     There was dead silence for a few moments in the cockpit. And then the pilot stuttered, “You-u-u mean you’re not the flight instructor?” (2)

     We need to make sure the guy or girl in the Pilot’s seat is God. If we don’t spend time with God every single day, when that crisis comes, and it will, we might get in the wrong plane.


     Although we don’t know the exact words Jesus prayed in his Lonely Prayers, I think we can find prayers that at least emulate it. In 1932 Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote what we know today as the Serenity Prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a prayer that always works like divine aspirin. You know part of it, but have you ever heard it all?

          God, give me grace to accept with serenity

          the things that cannot be changed,

          Courage to change the things which should be changed,

          and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

          Living one day at a time,

          Enjoying one moment at a time,

          Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

          Taking, as Jesus did,

          This sinful world as it is,

          Not as I would have it,

          Trusting that You will make all things right,

          If I surrender to Your will,

          So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

          And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen. (3)

     I commend the Serenity Prayer to you as a form of the Lonely Prayer. Try beginning the day with that prayer. Find your own Deserted Place, your own Lonely Place and then stretch and strengthen your spiritual muscles through the discipline of the Lonely Prayer.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.




1.    Jesus, A Theography, Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2012

2.    King’s Treasury of Dynamic Humor, King Duncan, 1990, pgs. 19-20


Other References Consulted