Mark 6:45-52 is the account of one of the most well-known miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, His walking on water. But notice that the first thing that we see in that text is Jesus praying. In v.45-46 Mark writes,
“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
Now, it is easy to overlook this detail of the story, especially when it is found in such close proximity to such a jaw-dropping miracle as Jesus walking on water. But if you stop to really think about, the most amazing thing (in a sense) in this passage might not be so much that Jesus walked on water, but that He spent so much time in prayer.
Why did Jesus pray? If He is God, did He really need to pray? Or was it just for show, as an example for us? These can be perplexing questions for us at times. We sometimes struggle even as as Bible-believing, evangelical Christians, with how to properly understand and articulate what it means to say that Jesus is (in the words of Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.21), “God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.” We also struggle at times to understand the implications of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And that certainly holds true when it comes to the prayer life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his book, Knowing Christ, Mark Jones helpfully addresses it this way:
“Our apparent dilemma disappears when we remember that Jesus was not only divine, but also fully human. Even as the perfect man, he no doubt still needed to pray. A robust, reverential, dependent prayer life was suitable and necessary given the various trials and distresses that he faced as the suffering servant. The Scriptures certainly give the impression that his prayer life was as indispensable for him as it is for us. His prayer life described so vividly in the New Testament leaves us in awe. What a thought: the Son of God praying to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit!” (p.93)
We must be careful to do justice, not only to the true divinity of Christ (that He is really and truly God almighty), but also to His true humanity. Theological liberals and cults very often fail to do justice to the former; we who are Bible-believing evangelicals at times fail to do justice to the latter. But we must be careful to affirm both the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus Christ. Without the truth both of those things, we would have no true Mediator between God and man. (See Westminster Larger Catechism Q.40.)
Now, as we examine our Lord praying in the above text, we also see that this was no hurried, perfunctory prayer. In fact, Mark strongly implies that this time of prayer lasted quite a while. In v.47 the next thing Mark tells us is that it was “when evening came” that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars due to the wind. So Jesus was praying well into the night! This is a pretty consistent theme in the Gospels. Our Lord Jesus often took time away from everything else to spend time with His Father in prayer. (See also Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28.) Is it any wonder that the apostles asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1)?
After a long, tiring day of ministering to the crowds (after the feeding of the 5,000 – v.30-44, Jesus needed rest. So what did He do? He went away by Himself to spend time with His Father in prayer. Isn’t that often just about the last thing that we think to do when we are tired? I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work, especially work that is mentally-taxing, the last thing that comes to my mind is to stop and pray. Stop and eat? Sure. Stop and shut off my brain in front of the television? Yep. Waste time scrolling through social media sites on my “smart” phone? Guilty as charged. But what about prayer?
In his book, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle writes,
“There are few things, it may be feared, in which Christians come so far short of Christ’s example, as they do in the matter of prayer. Our Master’s strong crying and tears, his continuing all night in prayer to God, his frequent withdrawal to private places to hold close communion with the Father – are things more talked of and admired than imitated. We live in an age of hurry, bustle, and so-called activity. Men are tempted continually to cut short their private devotions, and abridge their prayers. When this is the case, we need not wonder that the church of Christ does little in proportion to its machinery. The church must learn to copy its Head more closely. Its members must be more in their closets. ‘We have little,’ because little is asked (James 4:2).” (p.102, emphasis mine)
So let us look to God for help to pray. We have the intercession of both Christ Himself (Hebrews 7:25) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:27) to encourage us and to help us. Let us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, seek not just to admire, but to imitate the prayer life of our Head, so that as His church we might not ‘do so little in proportion to our machinery.’ If we want to see our Lord bless and use us as His church to reach our neighbors with the gospel, we simply must become a praying church.