Read Mark 1: 29-39
The passage mentioned above shows us how in the midst of his most pressing work Jesus took time out to pray and to recharge his spiritual batteries. Most of us live very busy lives. We devote very little time to prayer and reflection on our lives. The result is that many of us live very agitated and spiritually impoverished lives.
In the middle of sentences that are packed with action – healing the sick, casting out devils, dealing with his impatient apostles, travelling about – we find these words: “Early in the morning, Jesus got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place to pray.”
Why? Because even he could not live a life of feverish activity and self-giving without from time to time standing back from it and seeking strength in solitude and prayer. Here lies the secret of his public ministry. He knew that it cannot be all out-put and no input. It is often said, “If you want a lamp to keep burning, you must keep on putting oil into it.” People who have no resources but their own are like tall tree with shallow roots. Such trees are very vulnerable when the storm strikes.
What did the lonely place do for Jesus? First and foremost it provided him with a breathing space and a chance to recover lost energy, physical, mental, and spiritual. Then it gave him a chance to pray. It helped him to keep clearly before his mind the main purpose of all his activity – to do, not his own will or to seek his own glory, but to do the will of his heavenly Father and to seek his glory only. But above all, it was during these hours of solitude that he maintained and fostered his intimate relationship with the Father. It was this, not his work, which was the most important thing in his life.
Whatever our role in life we too need a “lonely place” in our lives. Often, however, we seem to be unable to disentangle ourselves from our work and our preoccupations. We have no shortage of excuses: “There is so much to be done. If I don’t do it no one else will. I don’t like wasting time… etc.’
Tom was a Mayor in a provincial town for several years. Because of his position he was one of the most important people in town. No one could afford to ignore him. No one would pass him in the street without saying hello. He was a good man and highly regarded. He did his job well and derived great fulfilment and satisfaction from it. But then he retired. Instead of being able at least to sit back and relax, he felt useless and his life lost all its meaning. Now he was nobody. No one took much notice of him. Immediately he began to sink into oblivion. Having lived all his life in the sunlight of the public eye, he could not adjust to the shadows of obscurity. He went about his head hung low. He rarely smiled. He died eighteen months after retiring. Up to that he had never been sick.
Here was a man who made the mistake of thinking that his value as a person depended on his usefulness. He had become the job. Once the job was done he collapsed. Yet a little reflection, a little standing back to get some reflection on his life, he could have survived longer.
Mary was the mother of four children. She was also working by day at a full-time job. Her spare time was also filled for she served on no less than three committees. A generous woman who liked helping others, she was always on the go. By the time she got home she was often too tired for anything but sleep. Everything was being done badly. Still she gloried in calling herself a liberated woman. Eventually she paid the price. She had a nervous breakdown and her world collapsed around her. It took her years to pull herself from the pit of depression that followed.
Here was a woman who desperately wanted to accomplish something. She wanted to be a success at all costs. In the process she lost herself. It’s very easy for people to lose themselves in their jobs, even good jobs in which they provide a worthwhile service to others. The mistake they make is that they fail to take care of themselves as persons.
Many mothers are often so busy with the children and the housework that they have not a minute for themselves. Career-conscious men are always on the go. Many exhaust themselves in a multiplicity of pursuits, yet fail to take care of themselves. The result is that they fall a prey to childish attitudes and anxieties. With some, activity becomes a well-nigh incurable disease.
Paul Daniel started out in a small way with a modest investment of Rs. 300 manufacturing shoe-laces. He did well for himself. At the end of the first year he made a profit of Rs. 1,000. The following hear he notched Rs.3,000. In five years time he had accumulated sufficient capital to confidently launch out into the manufacture of footwear. Sheer hard work and skilful management saw him in another ten years emerging as the leading shoe-manufacturer in the country. Now all he talked about was higher turnovers, higher profits, money and more money. Everything else took second place. He was not satisfied in being the nation’s leading shoe-manufacturer. He was more ambitious. He dreamt of a breakthrough on the international market as a multinational. But before he could anticipate it, he was laid law by a massive cerebral stroke. They rushed him to the hospital. Within an hour he was gone. The post-mortem revealed a badly enlarged heart, a stomach riddled with ulcers. This was the price he paid for an over-ambitious multinational dream.
Stephen R. Covey in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, gives this illustration.
He came upon a man in the woods who was working feverishly to saw down a tree and asked him:
“What are you doing?
“Can’t you see? I am sawing down a tree.”
“You look so exhausted. How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours now. I am really tired. This is hard work!”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw? I’m sure it would go a lot faster…”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I’m too busy sawing!”
We are too busy sawing and no time to sharpen the saw True effectiveness requires balance. If we get so busy with work and ignore our health, we’re in trouble. There is no point in getting a promotion on the day when your marriage breaks up. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions.
Life is like one of those races you have in nursery school, where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point in coming first. It is the same with life, where health and relationship are the marbles. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. The most important thing in life is attaining a balance between your minds, your body, and your soul.
Jesus was convinced that if he were going to spend himself for others by his preaching and healing ministry, he would repeatedly have to summon spiritual reinforcements. He knew that he could not live without prayer, because his teaching and healing ministry drained him of power. For example, after describing how the woman who had touched Jesus’ garment was instantly healed, Mark remarks: “Jesus knew that power had gone out of him” (5: 30).
He went to a deserted place, not so much to escape the pressures of life, as to refresh himself for further service. Our daily activities drain us also of our spiritual power and vitality. Our mission of bearing witness to God requires spiritual energy which comes to us through daily anointing by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we, too, need to be recharged spiritually and rejuvenated every day by prayer – listening to God and talking to Him.