15Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16, NIV)
Early in His ministry, Jesus was extremely popular with the crowds. They marveled at His teachings and were astounded by His healings. They wanted Jesus to stay with them. Yet Jesus was not governed by the feelings of others. His clarity about His life’s purpose and His ability to choose this over other tempting options were supported by His practice of prayer. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds in order to engage in conversation with his Heavenly Father. This clarified His sense of purpose and strengthened His resolve to do what He had been called to do. Similarly, you and I need time alone with God if we’re to know and to fulfill our purpose in life. Prayer makes that purpose clear and energizes it.
In Luke’s Gospel, we note the growing popularity of Jesus in His early ministry. Even when He escaped from the crowds to go to “a deserted place” (Luke 4:24), they pursued Him, trying to get Him to stay with them. But Jesus explained that He needed to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other cities. “For I was sent for this purpose,” He said. In other words, Jesus chose purpose over popularity.
Why was He able to do this? What helped Jesus to be so clear about His purpose and to act decisively in light of it? There is a hint of an answer to this question in Luke 4:42, where it says that Jesus went to “a deserted place.” Luke fleshes it out in more detail in Luke 5:15-16. Again, these verses highlight the popularity of Jesus, adding “But He would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” The Greek original emphasizes the repeated and continued nature of Jesus’s actions. He often left the crowds for places in which He could be alone.
And what did Jesus do there? According to Luke 5:16, Jesus prayed. Unfortunately, Luke does not fill us in on the content of Jesus’s wilderness prayers. All we know is that He would regularly get away for a time of solitude, in which He would pray. But it seems likely that His practice of prayer enabled Jesus to gain clarity about His purpose. He did not let popularity govern His behavior because He knew what His Heavenly Father had called Him to do.
Notice that Jesus exemplifies, not just occasional prayer, but a consistent practice of getting alone to pray. It’s not as if He goes out once and prays, “Father, show Me My purpose.” Rather, Jesus’s clarity of purpose comes through His consistent conversation with God.
The example of Jesus encourages us to do likewise. If we want to know our life’s purpose, if we want to be able to decline that which would distract us from what we’re on this earth to do, then we need to establish a practice of regular prayer. We may not be able to withdraw to a deserted place very often, but we can find time, even in our busy days, to get alone for conversation with God. If this was essential for Jesus, surely it should be essential for us as well.
Set aside a regular time for conversations with God about your purpose in life. If you can get away to “a deserted place” for this prayer, that’s great. But, even if not, find a time and place when you can be alone with your Heavenly Father.
Ask the Lord to help you make time in your busy life for prayer. As you talk with Him, ask Jesus to help you know more clearly your purpose in life. Ask Him for the strength to live in light of that purpose, saying “No” even to good things that would distract you.