Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

 

An open book with lilac flowers overflowing from it.In yesterday’s devotion, we considered the question, “If I really want to follow Jesus, do I have to get up early to pray?” I suggested that the answer to this question is “No,” though the practice of early morning prayer is an excellent one to develop. But, those who insist that all Christians must get up before the sun to pray are pressing the example of Jesus in Mark 1:35 too hard. Some of us are wired to give God our best in prayer at other times during the day.

Spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, aren’t something we force ourselves to do to earn God’s favor or blessing. Rather, they are a means for us to participate and grow in God’s grace.

 

Before I move on from the question of early morning prayer, I want to relate one of my favorite stories. I was on a pastors’ retreat with several of my colleagues from Southern California. Dallas Willard was our speaker. He was talking about spiritual disciplines that help us to grow in Christ. He encouraged us to pray daily, but did not privilege one time of day above another.

In a Q&A session, one of the pastors asked this question: “Dallas, I try to pray every morning before I start my day. But I have a problem. Often, when I’m praying early, I fall asleep. Do you have any suggestions for me?”

Dallas looked at this pastor and said with compassion, “Well, if you’re falling asleep when you pray, maybe God wants to give you the gift of sleep.” Wow!

What Dallas Willard understood, and helped us to understand, is that spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, aren’t something we force ourselves to do to earn God’s favor or blessing. Rather, they are a means for us to participate and grow in God’s grace. If we separate prayer and the other disciplines from grace, then they have lost their Christian distinctiveness.

So, once again, let me encourage you to work with your daily rhythms and schedules. Set aside time for prayer when you can be attentive and, at least most of the time, awake.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

How do you respond to the story I just told?

Do you associate spiritual disciplines, like prayer, with grace? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Gracious God, help us to see our whole lives as an expression of and response to your grace. By your grace, may we learn to spend time with you each day, delighting in your presence and opening our hearts to you freely. Thank you for being available to us. Thank you for desiring time with us. Indeed, thank you for desiring us! Amen.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about spiritual disciplines and grace, let me suggest Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Mark 1:21-45.