Prayer and decision-making

Jesus spent time in prayer before he made major decisions. Two occasions bear this out. In the opening days of ministry Jesus was shifting ministry locations (Mark 1:35, 38). If you’ve ever made a move, you know there’s a lot involved in that decision. Jesus had previously moved his ministry operations to Capernaum (Matt. 4:13). Now he would extend his ministry into the hills surrounding Galilee. To do so, he would be leaving some tremendous ministry opportunities behind (Mark 1:37). When Peter points this out, notice Jesus’ answer:  “Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38).

How did Jesus make this decision?  Three verses earlier we discover the answer. Jesus was praying “early in the morning” (Mark 1:35). It seems reasonable that Jesus discovered his next steps through prayer.

Selecting the twelve apostles was an important decision. The fact that Jesus didn’t choose perfect people is evident in the transparency of the gospel record. Thomas doubted him. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. All twelve argued over who would be the greatest. Yet, prior to their selection, Jesus spent the night in prayer. Luke records,

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles . . . (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus not only prayed about this selection, he literally continued in prayer throughout the night without interruption. 1  When you face a major decision, do you pray like Jesus? Do you spend more time talking to God or talking to others?

There is another truth easily missed in a cursory reading. We may assume that Jesus’ unique relationship with his Father spilled over into his prayer life, yet we don’t see the Father speaking back to Jesus during his time of prayer; we just read that Jesus prayed all night long.  It’s not that the Father couldn’t audibly speak back; on three other occasions he spoke in an audible voice so Jesus could hear. 2 Rather, the Father speaking back seems to be the exception rather than the standard.

I confess, sometimes when I’ve prayed over a decision I’ve thought: I just wish God would tell me what to do. Perhaps you have too. Not so with Jesus. He seems to have discovered his answer through the process of prayer, not because the Father gave a quick and easy answer. He labored in prayer, and so should we. 

1 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

2 God the Father spoke to, or on behalf of the son, from heaven in an audible voice three times: At his baptism (Matt. 3:17), when he was transfigured (Mark 9:7), and the final week of his life when his soul is troubled (John 12:28). This is significant. The Father’s response to Jesus’ prayer time does not appear to be all that different from when you and I pray.

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