In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
I think Jesus knew the reasons for the crowds and why they sought him. I think he understood them and their need, and what he had to offer them. But I also think that the crowds exasperated him. I suspect he preferred the independence and freedom of a carpentry shop. I think he longed for those interludes when it was him and the Father communing together. I think on his choice alone, Jesus would have stayed in the deserted, lonely places. But he knew that the need was great. He needed to go to the crowds and meet their longings and their needs. And he knew that because of prayer.
Before any major event in his life, the gospels record that Jesus went off by himself and prayed. Between his baptism and the start of his ministry. The transfiguration. Walking on water. Being arrested. They are preceded by Jesus in a solitary place, praying, asking God. I think his prayer times throughout his ministry were often like what we have recorded of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Pleading with God for rest, respite, and a different path, but always leaving the time with the sense of purpose, conviction, and assurance that he was doing the right thing, the necessary thing.
He rejects the allure of popularity and acclaim offered to him by the crowds for the higher calling of the purposes of God. Jesus was popular because he was a healer, but the healings he did at the time were only temporary – the people still died. The crowds followed Jesus because he gave them good gifts and fixed their problems (however temporarily). But Jesus did not come to perform miracles and pass out Band Aids for problems. He came to call people to repentance and a new path, a difficult path.
How difficult is it to maintain focus when crowds are clamoring around, when peers and multitudes demand certain things from us? Jesus faced this as well, and I think he needed the time of prayer he often took to withdraw so that he could refocus and reclaim the mission and purpose for which he was sent.