Sometimes we can benefit just as much from a detail as we can from the main point in a biblical passage or a gospel reading. Today I would like to focus on one particular verse in the gospel passage. In Matthew 14:23 which reads “And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.”
We often get so caught up in the miracles and sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ and we are quick to forget that Jesus was also fully man, fully human. He doesn’t simply show us what it is to be a God who works miracles such as walking on water. The Lord shows us what it means to be hungry, thirsty, and tired. He also shows us what it is to be truly human. St. Paul calls Christ the new Adam. He is the new Adam because He relates to God as we were always meant to relate to Him. In Jesus we also see a great example.
Here is a man who had traveled a long distance and had spent the whole day healing others and bearing their burdens. After such a long day we would probably sit down with a pint of ice cream or cold beer, or perhaps some wine. After all we would deserve it after such a tough day. This would be exactly the stress reliever we need right? The Son of God surprises us in the way that He deals with His exhaustion and fatigue. He doesn’t look for comfort at the bottom of a glass or a tub, He looks at the top of a mountain.
Of all the things one could choose to do when exhausted….climbing a mountain to pray would be very close to the bottom of my list. I think that it is no accident at all that St. Matthew describes Jesus as climbing a mountain. The very effort of prayer is tough any time of day, but it would be especially tough at the end of a long, hard, emotionally draining one.
Just how important is prayer? Is it okay to wait until the inspiration hits you? Does God excuse us from prayer if we are just too tired? Listen to these words from St. Macarius of Egypt “One must force himself to prayer when he has not spiritual prayer; and God, beholding him striving and compelling himself by force, in spite of an unwilling heart, gives him the true prayer of the Spirit.” Prayer is an upward climb toward God. The fact that it is an uphill battle is not meant to discourage you. Things that are truly worthwhile require effort and struggle. Communicating with God is the greatest work that a human being can accomplish, so we expect that work to be difficult.
Prayer is the most lacking trait in modern Christians. We see signs of a society and cultural disintegration around us. Do we realize that our prayers are needed? We often thing that prayer is simply about me and God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prayer changes families and towns and even history. Listen to the words from the sacrament of marriage “For the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses.” We might add that prayer also makes firm the foundations of societies. Prayer is part of Christianity 101. We are called to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God and we are called to be men and women of prayer.
Humans need real food, and real sleep. We also desperately need time alone with God. This time alone with God is better than therapy, counseling, medication, vacation, inebriation or any other escape we can think of. This is undeniably true because God knows what I need better than I know myself. He also knows what you need better than any man with any educational background.
According to the world, time spent with God is really just a waste. According to Christ, time apart from God is wasted. At that very moment when I am so tired and overwhelmed and ready for an escape, that is the moment when I am most vulnerable and most in need of God’s healing touch and presence. He knows that I am weak and in need of His care and attention. Are we people who run to God as to a refuge in time of need? Do we look to Him to recharge our batteries? It is interesting that when we need Him the most we are most likely to look to anyone but Him for support. We will call friends, or text or dwell on facebook and other less wholesome things. But those things are not the equivalent to climbing the mountain to seek the face of God in solitude and prayer.
If you want a different outlook on life you have to be ready to act differently. Prayer is a radical step that leads to radical change. Prayer softens hearts. Prayer opens doors. Prayer calms the turbulence of hormonal teenagers. Prayer smooths the difficulties in a marriage. Prayer gives God access to our heart so that He can begin surgery and remove layers of sin and hurt and replace them with compassion and wisdom. If you’re not accustomed to praying the first step is to set aside time in your schedule. If you can only pray once a day I would suggest morning. It will set a tone for the rest of the day. A day that is dedicated to God has great potential. Before spending time in the mirror shaving or putting on makeup, why don’t we spend a few minutes allowing God to make us beautiful? We can stand or kneel in front of an icon. We can say the Jesus prayer or the morning prayers in the prayer book. We can also read the psalms slowly and with reverence. Just 10 minutes will make a huge difference in the life of one who develops this habit and in the lives of the people they interact with.
No, it will not be easy to climb the mountain at the beginning or end of a long tough day! It wasn’t easy for Our Lord either….but there can be no doubt that it was completely worth it. He shows us what is good and useful and necessary and leaves us with no excuses. May God give us strength to climb the mountain and seek Him. And glory be to God forever AMEN.