According to Luke, Jesus had the habit of seeking solitary places for prayer (Luke 5:16). Throughout this Gospel, Luke highlights the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life. We get the impression that Jesus did not add prayer to his lifestyle, rather, prayer was at the center enabling each step along his journey.
At several important junctures within his retelling of the story, Luke draws our attention to the time Jesus spent in prayer. On two such occasions Jesus went without sleep in order to pray.
The first of these prayer night vigils occurs in Luke 6:12 which serves as part of a transitional stage in Jesus’ ministry. Up to this point, we have begun to learn what Jesus’ ministry means. Through his teachings and activities in Nazareth and Capernaum, Jesus revealed he had the authority to bring freedom for those oppressed by the devil and to announce good news. Equally clear is that his teachings and behavior had begun to bring him into conflict with the religious authorities.
After introducing us to Jesus’ ministry, Luke records, “he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). This detail that he spent the night in prayer is not just extraneous filler. Similarly, the dual mention of “prayer” draws our attention to its emphatic emphasis. What is significant about this segment of Jesus’ journey?
Having told us Jesus communed with God throughout the night, having focused our attention upon the solitary Christ pouring out his heart to God and beseeching God, Luke’s expression, “when day came” provides a segue to the result. “He called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (Luke 6:13). A divine impetus rested behind selecting twelve apostles and these particular persons to be those twelve. The story of Jesus is the story of God at work.
From this point on, Jesus’ ministry would take on an additional role. His actions and teachings would serve the additional function of training twelve “sent ones,” that is, apostles. What their role would be is not yet clear at this point in the Gospel. However, in the larger two volume work of Luke-Acts their significant function becomes obvious.
Jesus’ other prayer night vigil not only revealed his relationship with God, but offers us an indirect subtle opportunity to reflect upon our own hearts. On the Mount of Olives Jesus separated himself a short distance from his disciples and knelt down to pray. His heart spilled forth, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.” Through prayer, Jesus’ resolution to embrace faithfulness to the divine will became galvanized. The story of Jesus is the story of God at work through him.
What should not escape our attention is that being fully aware of the spiritual reality of the evil one and his desire to destroy (Lk. 4:2; 22:31), Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples for that fateful evening. He had counseled, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Lk. 22:40).
Just as Jesus would pray in the face of testing, so too should his disciples. Unfortunately, because they were exhausted from grief and fell asleep, the disciples did not prepare themselves with prayer. As we learn from the other Gospels, they crumbled under the ensuing pressure.
In seeking to bless our lives, Jesus emphasized the essential nature of prayer (Luke 18:1; 11:9). For Jesus, prayer was not an addition to his lifestyle. Rather, prayer was at the center enabling each step along his journey. We would do well to imitate Christ. We would do well to prayerfully prepare ourselves for each step.