A Reflection on Mark 1:35-39

Most of us would like to work with a deeper, clearer, more robust sense of mission.

A story from Mark 1:35-39 can provide insight into how prayer might help. I think you will find that this passage has something important to say about the possible relationship between prayer and our work and, in particular, between prayer and the sense of mission we bring to our work.

The story takes place early in the ministry of Jesus while he was still in the region of Galilee. Picture the setting: Jesus had been attracting followers and building his ministry in a town called Capernaum. For some reason (we are not told why), Jesus got up while it was still dark and went off to pray by himself:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found Jesus they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Jesus 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.” 

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

Mark 1:35-39

It appears that in turning toward God at night in the dark, Jesus developed a renewed or perhaps a clarified sense of mission. Perhaps he received a new insight or new inspiration. Or maybe the experience strengthened his resolve in some way.

In the meantime, back in the village, the disciples woke up and saw that Jesus was not there, so they went looking for him. When they found him, they probably expected Jesus to return to Capernaum to continue his very successful ministry there. That would be the normal thing to do—what most of us would do—keep doing what we find is successful and build on that success.

Instead, Jesus announced that he was going to the other towns and villages throughout the region to proclaim his message to a broader range of people.

I believe that this decision led to a greatly expanded ministry with, as we know now, a much more significant impact. Was there a connection between this critical decision and his prayer experience? I am convinced that there was.

Mark does not tell us how Jesus prayed in this particular case, but I would imagine it was probably silent or listening prayer, what we could call receptive prayer. With receptive prayer, we might begin by expressing whatever is on our mind, maybe a concern or question. But then we become quiet and receptive, and that is the point.

You might try it. One way to do so is to find a quiet place and time, sit quietly for a couple of minutes, and then turn your attention toward God and pray. You can begin by expressing whatever is on your mind. And then remain prayerfully quiet for a few more minutes.

Remember that it is not the method or the technique that matters but your orientation and attitude. The important thing is to turn your attention toward God and pray in whatever way seems most suitable.

There are many ways to pray, of course, but however we do so, it seems to me that there is something about turning our attention towards God and the divine mystery in prayer that sometimes seems to connect us with something deeper than ourselves. Maybe it reminds us of who we really are and about how we are connected. That does not mean we will necessarily experience anything so dramatic as a supernatural voice or profound life-changing insight or even an immediate answer to a question, but I do think that, over time, it helps us to develop a deeper sense of connection and purpose and mission.