In Matthew 14 we find the story of Jesus having compassion on the multitudes, healing their sick and teaching them many things. As the day draws to a close, He miraculously feeds 5,000 men, plus the women and children, using only five loaves and two fish. Then the account reads, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:22&23).
On one hand, we see another amazing snapshot of Christ’s model of prayer and intimacy with the Father. The text indicates that He began praying around sundown and continued in prayer until at least 3 a.m. (the fourth watch), when He appeared to His disciples by walking on the water past their wave-tossed boat in the midst of a terrible storm.
On the other hand, we see that Jesus intentionally sent the disciples into a storm on the lake rather than inviting them to join Him on the mountain to pray. Knowing there were other times when He invited some of them to pray and when they were observing Him as He prayed (Luke 9:28; Mark 14:33-35; Luke 11:1), I wonder why He made this choice with the disciples on this particular evening.
Ready to Pray?
Perhaps Jesus simply wanted alone time with the Father. Perhaps there were reasons related to the disciples that prompted Jesus to send them away rather than join Him to pray. Several ideas emerge at this point:
1. They probably would have slept rather than prayed. Earlier in the day, they had returned from a grueling ministry assignment. They had been so busy they did not even have time to eat and Jesus invited them to come apart to a quiet place. Instead, they were interrupted by the crowds and the feeding of the 5,000 ensued. Surely, Jesus knew they were tired; perhaps too tired to pray.
2. They were not in the proper frame of faith to pray. When the writer Mark speaks of this incident, he writes of the disciples, “for they had not understood the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Even after the miracle feeding, they were not in the place of faith that the Lord desired.
3. They needed a greater revelation of Christ. That night on the sea created a desperation in the hearts of the disciples. The appearance of Jesus on the water struck holy fear in their hearts. His declaration to them,“Take courage! It is I (literally, ‘I Am’). Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27) called them to embrace His divinity. His power to calm the wind and the waves caused them to fall on their faces in worship and declare, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
Our Lessons about Prayer
There are some lessons in this story for us. First, Jesus still invites His followers to pray. He wants us to seek His face. He wants His church to be a house of prayer. Many times we join Him – often sleepy, lacking faith, and without a high, holy, and captivating view of who He is.
As He did with the disciples, He allows us to encounter storms that wake us from our faithless doldrums. He uses the storms to stir desperation in our hearts. Until we become desperate, we seldom pray with passion and perseverance.
In that desperation, we come to a greater biblical revelation of His character. Christ wants us to see Him in the greatness of His power and glory. This place of genuine worship is the foundation of life-changing prayer.
Storms to Stimulate Our Seeking
If we are struggling in our prayer lives, we know that the Lord is not content that we neglect our relationship with Him. We also know that He will not just let us go through the motions. Because He loves us, and purposes that we love and know Him through prayer, He will bring storms to make us desperate, that we might gain a fresh vision of His majesty, and pray in a transforming fashion for His glory.