In studying the gospel of Mark, one cannot miss how action-packed and fast-paced it is. This is seen from the reoccurrence of the word “immediately.” In the space of 40 verses, John the forerunner is introduced; Christ has arrived, been baptised, was tempted in the wilderness, and began his ministry, preaching, healing, casting out demons and choosing the first disciples. In the midst of this activity, I was tempted to skim over verse 35: “… he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed”. At a time when his fame was spreading and he was experiencing success in what was becoming a busy and demanding ministry, Jesus prayed. That struck me! It struck me because when I am busy, I neglect prayer. In my thinking, spending quality time in prayer when I am pressed for time is not the best use of my time. Such reasoning is dangerous and detrimental to my spiritual growth and ministry. Busyness and prayerlessness are a dangerous combination whose symptoms are seen in our attitude, work and relationships.
When we pray, we are surrendering to the will of God and humbling ourselves to wait on the Lord, knowing it is in Him that we live, move and have our being. Only a heart communing with God in prayer will have that spirit of surrender and patience. A busy and prayerless heart relies on its own strength and power to get things done and make things work. Consequently, such a soul gets drained, weary and frustrated. The result is you go around snapping at everyone in your path: your children and spouse at home, your coworkers, the weather, fellow road users, churchmates, etc.
As a result of being self-reliant while lacking self-sufficiency, we become experts at worry. Even when we hear and read the comforting words of Scripture, to cast our cares upon the Lord, for he cares for us, we, in truth, do not believe them. We pray, but in essence, we are still confident in our own abilities and carry burdens the Lord did not intend for us to carry. The buzzword today is “stress”; we have used it so much that it has become a fancy term; the biblical term for stress is anxiety! Being gripped by fear because of the uncertainty of a situation. As a result, we end up grumpy, restless and irritable.
Busyness means activities, programs and events. It is easy for one to be prayerless and still host a successful program or event. It is a mystery of ministry that one can be relatively successful while not walking or depending on the Lord, at least from the onset. Such a situation is fertile ground for pride. A person who prays earnestly and consistently has no basis to be proud because, in prayer, he declares his poverty and reliance on God. Not so for a prayerless individual; he relies on his experience, gifts and planning, and any ounce of success soon gets to his head. As a result, such a person ends up becoming the centre of ministry and ungrateful.
There is a childlike joy that comes from fearing God and submitting to him and his will. This joy is a result of being satisfied with your relationship with God and being found in his presence and finding that in his presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand, there are pleasures evermore. It comes from a soul that proclaims with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land” (Ps. 63). Prayerless Christians and ministers are devoid of joy because in their pride they have become self-reliant, which then makes them impatient, anxious and joyless.
I can be so busy and caught up in the activities of life that I neglect to pray. I forget that to realise that I was created to live in dependency and trust the Lord for daily sustenance. When I choose not to pray, it affects not only my spiritual vitality but also my attitude towards my relationships and responsibilities. May what was said of Charles Simeon be true of me: “Never did I see such consistency, and reality of devotion, such warmth of piety, such zeal and love… he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures…”