As I write this it is a Sunday morning. Many people will on this day be “going” to a church service. But why? For what reasons? What is the greatest reason? Fellowship? Obligation? Routine? To hear an inspiring message from a pastor? Or is it because of a desire to be with and be in the presence of Jesus? Is it to meet with him? Is our greatest desire not just on Sunday, but every day, for His presence?
I got up a little earlier this morning than I normally do and spent some time reading through a part of the Gospel of Mark. One of the things that stood out to me again where the numerous times Jesus would get away by Himself to simply be in His Father’s presence. Luke 5:16 in fact tells us: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Just in the first 9 chapters of Mark I counted six times it is actually recorded that he “withdrew” (or attempted to withdraw) from the crowds to pray:
- Mark 1:35-39
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”
- Mark 3:7-8
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.”
- Mark 3:13-16
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”
(Luke 6:12 informs us that the calling of the disciples occurred after he spent the whole night praying. Notice too that their first calling was not to “do” ministry but to “be with him”).
- Mark 6:30-34
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
- Mark 6:45-46
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
- Mark 9:2
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.”
Jesus was an extremely busy and sought after man. He was being pulled in every direction by all kinds of people with all kinds of agenda’s and need. As someone we were with just last night put it, we have to be careful of the temptation to lose sight of what God is calling us to do, (the most important thing is simply and first of all being in his presence: see Luke 10:38-42) while doing what we think is best for the “ministry” or organization or church or family or life or business. The only way to discern the difference and know what to do is by spending time like Jesus did, with and in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
But it’s not just to gain wisdom, it should also be because we simply desire to be with him more than being among the “crowds” or “doing the ministry” or anything else. Do you long more than anything simply for Him? Is your heart cry the longing of Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Do you make it a practice to spend or seek to spend quality time in his presence no matter how busy you or how many directions you are being pulled or how many needs are around you?
You will notice in Mark chapter six, verses thirty through thirty-four, their first attempt for solitude and rest did not happen until after they ministered some more. Sometimes that is the reality of life. Yet notice that in the midst of all that activity Jesus didn’t lose sight of getting alone to pray, which he did in verses forty-five through forty-six. But if you read on in that passage you see that his disciples meanwhile get stuck in the middle of the lake, the wind is against them and they are straining at the oars but going nowhere. They have no power. Could it be because they had spent no time in prayer? Could it be because they had not rested?
Our strength is renewed in his presence and power is given to us in prayer. We gain wisdom, clarity, focus and discernment. Psalm 36:9 says: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” And Isaiah 40:28-31 says: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
As the old but wise hymn “Take Time to be Holy” puts it, I challenge you as I challenge myself, with this:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.