A major block of material (Mark 1:21-34) takes place on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Within this block, some of the action is located in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28). It is significant that the weekly routine of work, rest, and worship is integrated into Jesus’ own life and is neither ignored nor discarded. In our own age, where such a practice has been greatly diminished, it is important to remind ourselves that this weekly rhythm was endorsed by Jesus. Of course, it is also significant that Jesus does his work of both truth and healing on this day. This will later bring him into conflict with the Pharisees. It also highlights that the Sabbath is not just a day of rest from work, but also a day of active love and mercy.
As well as the weekly rhythm, there is also a daily rhythm. Following the Sabbath, Jesus rises while it is still “very dark” to pray (Mark 1:35). His first priority of the day is to connect with God. The emphasis on the solitude of Jesus in this time of prayer is important, stressing that this prayer is not a public performance, but a matter of personal communion.
Daily prayer seems to be an extremely difficult practice for many workplace Christians. Between early morning family responsibilities, long commutes, early working hours, a desire to get ahead of the day’s responsibilities, and late nights needed to accomplish the day’s work (or entertainment), it seems almost impossible to establish a consistent routine of morning prayer. And later in the day is harder still. Nowhere does Mark depict judgment against those who do not or cannot pray daily about the work that lies ahead of them. But he does depict Jesus — busier than anyone around him — praying about the work and the people God sets before him every day. Amid the pressures of working life, daily prayer may seem to be a personal luxury we can’t afford to indulge. Jesus, however, couldn’t imagine going to his work without prayer, much as most of us couldn’t imagine going to work without shoes.
Regular time set apart for prayer is a good thing, but it is not the only way to pray. We can also pray in the midst of our work. One practice many have found helpful is to pray very briefly at multiple times during the day. “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families,” found in the Book of Common Prayer (pages 136-143) (available online here), provides brief structures for prayer in the morning, at noon, in the later afternoon and at night, taking account of the rhythms of life and work during the day. Even briefer examples include a one- or two-sentence prayer when moving from one task to another, praying with eyes open, offering thanks silently or out loud before meals, keeping an object or verse of Scripture in a pocket as a reminder to pray and many others. Among the many books that help establish a daily prayer rhythm are Finding God in the Fast Lane by Joyce Huggett and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.
David Shepherd, Seeking Sabbath: A Personal Journey (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2007) is a helpful and thought-provoking reflection on the significance of the Sabbath for the contemporary world and highly recommended for further reading.
Joyce Huggett, Finding God in the Fast Lane (Eagle, 1993).
Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988).