Praying Early in the Morning

Posted on 08 Feb 2021



“Praying Early in the Morning”

Isaiah 40:28-31; Mark 1:29-39

February 7, 2021


Isaiah 40:28-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

The Lord does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.

The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.


The setting for today’s New Testament scripture narrative is the pleasant village of Capernaum.

Capernaum sits on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee in an agricultural area.

There is abundant food nearby and plenty of fish from the sea.

Capernaum sits on the via maris, the transcontinental lane of commerce,

on which merchants from all over the world would travel.

Capernaum had warm springs not far from the beach,

where those who had a variety of illnesses would be directed for the possibility of healing.

The name “Capernaum” in the local language was “kephar nahum”, “farm of Nahum”.

Literally, the name means “place of comfort.”


This relatively comfortable village is where Jesus chose to base his three year ministry.

This is where many of his disciples lived and worked before they were called to be fishers of men –

Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, and Matthew the tax collector.

If Jesus had needed to form a “pandemic bubble” of his closest associates,

he would have most likely done so in Capernaum, in the home of Simon’s mother-in-law.

The home was situated between the synagogue, just fifty yards up the lane,

and the beach below, less than a hundred yards down a gentle slope,

where the fishing boats were kept.

While there are many fascinating aspects to this particular narrative,

today we will focus upon the prayer life of Jesus.

Our text for today is one of several which give insight into Jesus’ prayer life.

You may remember the Lukan text, chapter 6, when Jesus spent the whole night

out on the mountain in prayer before choosing the twelve disciples the next morning.

You may remember the distressed prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane,

on the night before he was arrested, when his sweat became like drops of blood,

and he cried out:  “Father…remove this cup from me, but not my will, but thy will be done.”


Listen for the time of prayer in our text for today, the Gospel of Mark 1:29-39.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

And the whole city was gathered around the door.

And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons;

and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place,

and there he prayed.

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him,

‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered,

‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also;

for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee,

proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


Consider the habits that you have formed over the past ten months during the corona virus pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself staying up later and sleeping later than I did this time last year.

I don’t know about you, but there have been a few days, back when I was working at home,

that I stayed in my pajamas!

I remember being surprised back in April when I heard someone comment that they had done so,

but then, sometime in mid-May, on a rainy afternoon,

I looked down and realized that I still had on the same thing I had slept in!

I don’t know about you, but I have watched more television as of late.

I’m not proud of it, but without my normal schedule of night time meetings

and social activities and sports events, I have probably watched more television at night time

over the past 11 months than I have over the past 11 years.

And there are been some wonderful series to enjoy –

like Poldark and Longmire and Broadchurch and Community –

but I am looking forward to getting back to more normal, even busy, evening schedules before long.


I don’t know about you, but I have changed my eating habits.

For most people, this has typically gone in one of two directions.

Either people are eating more healthy, cooking more meals at home, even losing weight.

Or, they have gone the other direction, ordering out, eating not so healthy meals, gaining weight.

Thanks to Melanie, who plans and cooks most of our meals, we have taken, for the most part,

the first track.  We have eaten better over the last year, focusing on mostly plant-based meals,

and are feeling better as a result.

What about exercise?  Have you exercised more or less over the past year?

Or have you exercised in a different manner?

Rev. Alex could tell you about her exercise routine on her screen porch.

My son, John, likes to follow our morning run with the dogs with an exercise video in the den.

Exercise is life-giving for me; I cannot go long without exercise.


What about alcohol?  Statistics from 2020 have been somewhat alarming.

I read that alcohol consumption in the home has increased,

both from people drinking more regularly at home, but also from people binge drinking,

like 4-5 drinks or more at one time.

As the psalmist exclaims, wine can be viewed as divine gift. “Bless the Lord, O my soul…

You bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the human heart…” (Psalm 104:1,15)

A bit of wine can gladden the human heart, but too much wine can cause much suffering.

As the Proverbs claim: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler;

whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)

I mention this because we all need to be aware of the potential long term impacts, for good or ill,

of our daily habits.


Suffice it to say that everyone has been under some continual, ongoing measure of stress.

Most people have felt some form of fatigue or despair or anxiety at some point –

or even regularly – over the past eleven months.

The question is:  At almost a year into this strange season, how are we dealing with it?

How are you doing with your daily habits?

And how does all of this relate to your habits of prayer and worship?

Some have reported that they have maintained meaningful habits of daily prayer

during the pandemic, building on former practices and finding daily sustenance.

Others have reported that daily prayer and worship have gone by the way side,

that any spiritual exercises have suffered from the change in schedules, or even disappeared altogether.


One columnist wrote that, for months during 2020, with all the discomforting events in our nation,

his time of daily prayer had been displaced by his addiction to daily news.

He reported that he would immediately pick up his phone every morning after he woke up

to find out what new and disturbing thing had been tweeted since the night before.

He endured, on his own volition, an almost constant bombardment of news,

news of political maneuverings and elections, news of police violence and protests in the streets,

news of natural disasters of fire and flood.

The bombardment had slowly, over time, eroded the condition of his soul and raised his level of anxiety.

This columnist discovered that he needed to set boundaries on his consumption of news,

and that he desperately needed, though he had not realized it, a new daily discipline

of quiet time and prayer and reading scripture.


Rev. Alex Rodgers recently initiated our congregation’s Prayer Vigil on January 20, Inauguration Day.

Close to 70 people accepted the invitation to pray for 20 minutes during the day

for our nation and for our community!

Participants included members of Decatur PC, St. Luke’s PC, Shallowford PC, Emory PC,

Johns Creek PC, Morningside PC, and staff members from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

Some of the feedback shared by participants included:

  • The process of sitting alone and centering on prayer helped to ease the anxiety I was feeling.
  • As I read 1st Peter and prayed I felt such peace. I was overwhelmed with a feeling that all will be well!

It was a very good experience!

  • Thank you for giving me something tangible and spiritual to do during this day of great change.

I love that our church did this.

  • I was very anxious all day yesterday and being a part of the prayer vigil brought me comfort and hope,

as well as making me feel that I was contributing to our (national) hope for peace and unity.

  • Thank you for the opportunity to join others in prayer for our nation on such an important occasion.

I felt a common bond with all those who were praying for peace and unity.

  • One person shared: I first wondered if I could pray for 20 minutes straight,

but I used your suggestions with the prayer included, and joined it with the morning newspaper

to choose the things I wanted to specifically pray for, and I ended up praying for (over) 30 minutes!


The prayer vigil participants reported that:

Prayer eases anxiety.

Prayer is something tangible that we can do for our neighbors, our nation, and our world.

Prayer brings comfort and hope.

Prayer offers a common bond with others who pray.

Prayer gives words to our emotions, lifts our concerns before a God who can handle them,

and encourages spiritual and emotional health.


I do not know how much prayer changes God or changes the outcome of certain events or situations,

but I do know that prayer changes me.

I am different after an intentional time of listening to God and offering prayers to God.

Jesus was different after praying with God.

Jesus found strength from his time of prayer. Jesus received comfort in his prayers.

Jesus committed to new directions after spending time in prayer.

Though the results of the habit of prayer may not be as immediately obvious as exercise

or eating well or getting good sleep, a daily time of prayer will be just as, or even more,

important for our overall well-being.


The personal, local, and national events that cause distress have been piling up,

one on top of the other, with no end or relief in sight.

We began the New Year with such hopefulness, but then, within days,

our nation’s capitol was ransacked.

We had seen the infection rate go down, but then the post-holiday wave overwhelmed hospitals.

We finally had vaccines available, but then we begin to hear about unexpected new strains of the virus

and chaotic delays in the vaccine distribution.

There has been much for our nation to grieve.

We have often found ourselves with “covid brain” or in a “covid fog”, as they call it.

Many of the activities and connections that would normally refill our cups

have simply not been happening.

Many of our meaningful times of connection with church friends and family

have simply not been safe or prudent.


My pitcher, the pitcher of my soul, has often not been full over the past ten months.

Even in those times when it felt like my cup had been refilled, the sensation did not last very long.

As someone said the other day, it has sometimes felt like there was a hole in the cup!

Maybe the hole is not in the bottom of the cup, so that it empties completely.

Most of us have not been totally in despair, not feeling totally empty.

It more seems like there may be a hole in the side of our cup, about halfway up or less.

Our cup gets refilled with some good activity or some rest or some meaningful re-connection or worship,

but then within a day or so, we find ourselves lacking again, feeling not quite normal,

not as energetic as we could be.


How will we emerge from this unusual time?

What habits will we take with us into a new year?  Which habits will we let go?

Which new habits might we begin now, before this unusual season ends?

Friends, I encourage you, exercise your minds and your bodies.

Seek good and healthy foods.

Focus upon wholesome and uplifting entertainments, and not the opposite.

Surround yourselves, virtually or otherwise, with those whom you love.

And as you do so, also take good care of your soul.

Carve out time to “be still, and know” that God is God.

Carve out time to listen for the voice of God in scripture

Carve out time to experience the presence of God in the wonder of nature.

Carve out time to talk with someone about what is most important in this human life,

about what concerns you, what gives you hope, what keeps you up at night, what makes you smile.


Jesus got up early, before dawn. He went to a location where he would not be disturbed.

He spent time in prayer, listening to God, talking, communing with the Holy Spirit.

If Jesus, who had the power to heal and the divine authority to teach,

was in such need of prayer, then how great must be my need…


Vivian Bao read our Old Testament reading for today – thank you Vivian.

That passage from Isaiah 40 is one of my favorites. I discovered it as a high school junior, 17 years old.

As an athlete, as the center midfielder for my high school soccer team,

I knew well the feeling of exhaustion from physical exertion,

and I also knew the occasional feeling of strength and energy beyond my own resources.

The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.


Friends, as we wait on the Lord, the Lord shall renew our strength.

As we look forward to better days yet to come,

as we look forward to days when we shall run and not be weary,

when we shall walk and not faint, let us remember, as did Jesus,

the source of our spiritual strength, the source of our personal energy and power,

the source of our direction and purpose in life.

Let us remember daily prayer as a critical, necessary, life-sustaining habit.

To God be the glory as we do so. Amen.


Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia