Summary: The important place of prayer in the Christian's life.
The Scripture this morning contains two entirely different stories which seem unrelated, but, in fact, have much the same message. The first is an early meeting of Jesus with Peter, James and John before they became disciples. They had worked all night with all the skill of professional fishermen who knew the sea like the back of their hands. They knew where the fish were and how to catch them, but after a full night of effort, they had caught nothing. After Jesus finished teaching he told them to go out into the deep and put their nets down once more. They protested since a full night of work had not produced a single fish, and were polite enough not to tell him that they did not think he knew what he was talking about. They lived by and on the sea all their lives, and they knew that he was from the inland town of Nazareth. But at his word they put their nets down one more time if only to prove him wrong. They were shocked to find a catch so big that they were hardly able to haul it in. It was an important lesson for them, for when they came to the end of their own ability they learned to rely on his ability.
The second story is that of Jesus healing a leper. After this healing, the news began to spread about Jesus so that he was besieged by crowds of people. Jesus’ response was not to work until he was exhausted by the pressure of the needs around him, but rather to withdraw to a “lonely” place to pray. And the Scripture informs us that it was his habit to get away by himself to pray.
At first, the stories may appear unrelated. But on closer examination we see that their message is actually the same. The true work of God is not in the feverish activity of life. It is not accomplished by great human effort. It is primarily accomplished by being with, and listening to, God. It was in listening to Christ that Peter, James and John were enabled to do what they could not do by themselves, even though they had been working all night. They saw that listening to one sentence of Christ was of more value than all their personal experience and all the wisdom of all the fishermen they had ever heard combined. It demonstrated for them the fact that human effort alone is not always sufficient. The real power and sufficiency of life is found in taking the time to be with God and draw upon his power.
Even Christ relied on frequent times of renewal as he communed with his Father. In coming to earth, Jesus had limited himself to the human condition and knew that, being in human form, he had to rely on something more than the bodily strength he had. Divine though he was, there were limits to the human mind he was given, and he went aside frequently to a lonely place to commune with the Father — something that he found thrilling. The most important work Jesus did on earth was in those times of quiet retreat as he prayed. If Jesus Christ himself needed regular times alone with God, what makes you think you can do it without taking the same kind of time?
The most important work you will do for God will not be in feverish activity for him, but the time you spend renewing your spirit and discerning his will for your life. It will be the time you calm and collect your soul so that you may receive his strength for the work he has given you to do. There is no time in history when this is more necessary than today. Think for a moment what life used to be like for those a couple of generations ago. Their lives were filled with a lot of hard physical labor. Men worked in the field, but they were close to the earth and there was time to think and time to pray as they went about their labor. Going from one place to another involved long rides in the country air, but there was quiet and no rushing traffic to bristle your nerves. Today we are so efficient that we can run to Columbus and back in a very short period of time. For the people who lived a century ago it would have been an all day trip just to get there. Instead of quiet, we have our stereos and televisions going full blast. Because we can make trips faster we are expected to do more and do it more often. Because of the speed we can travel and the technology we have, we can do more in a day than our great-grandparents did in a whole week.