“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35
Where do we go to find God? Where is the place where we encounter a place of holiness? Perhaps it is the place where we meet for worship week by week, perhaps it is a place of natural beauty, perhaps it is a place completely different from our everyday lives, perhaps it is a remote and deserted place. A Rwandan friend goes into the mountains for two days at a time of fast and prayer. The thought of two days of prayer would probably be too much for most of us and we probably would not like to think about two days of fasting as part of our prayer!
What matters is not where we go but that there is a sense that this place is somewhere special, that this place is a place of holiness; a place of holiness is the place where one meets with God.
We may find that a church is the place where we meet with God we may find it is not the place, for us God may be met elsewhere. If we read Jesus’ words in Saint John Chapter 4 Verse 23, we are told “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him”. Jesus is saying that where worship takes place is not what is important; what is important is that God is worshipped in spirit and in truth. When we look at this morning’s Gospel reading we see Jesus setting an example.
Saint Mark Chapter 1 Verse 35 tells us, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.“.
“In the morning, while it was still very dark” – Jesus deliberately sets aside specific time to be with the Father. This was a time when there would be no distractions, nothing else competing for attention. It’s not so much the time of day that is important, it is the attitude, the state of mind. Do we come to worship with that degree of deliberateness? Is this to be a time that is completely set aside? Or is there a whole load of other stuff going on in our minds? What’s for lunch? What’s happening this afternoon? Has the preacher overrun time?
Jesus “got up and went out to a deserted place.” Jesus realizes the need to find a place apart from everyday life, he removes himself from a place where there would have been numerous things to divert his thoughts. This was the house of Simon and Andrew; there would have been rope and fishing tackle to make him think of the men he had called. There would have been the kitchenware on which Simon’s mother in law had prepared a meal, prompting thoughts of her healing. Jesus deliberately goes to seek a place apart.
For us a place apart might mean being in a church, or it might mean, if we are near the coast, sitting by the sea and staring out at its vastness, or climbing up into hills away from urban life, or being in a quiet country place where one can look up into the infinity of the night sky. The important point is that we try to find a place where there are not the physical distractions that so quickly draw our thoughts to other things.
When Jesus reaches his place apart we are told that, “and there he prayed”. An earnest seeking after God; I wonder how often we really attempt this. We might make time, we might make a place, for most of us the time is Sunday morning and the place is in church, but do we ever pray with the sincerity, with the intensity, with the commitment, Jesus shows in this spot outside of Capernaum.
There used to be a bishop in Northern Ireland who would say, “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. What service you had in church wasn’t important, what mattered was the spirit in which it was conducted. Our local gathering of a handful of people might seem feeble in comparison with the liturgies of the great cathedrals, or the great crowds in some of the Pentecostal churches, but their power comes through the spirit in which they take place.
There is no right way of worshipping God. There is no set way of meeting with holiness. What matters is that we learn from Jesus. May we find time for God. May we find a place apart for God. Most of all; may we pray to this God. When we worship him in spirit and in truth, then he will hear us.