One week. 400 miles. Seven schools. Eight assemblies. Three evening programs. Three morning services. One four-hour class. Back-to-school night. Date night. Whew!!
For the first time in too long, I took a breather this morning. I opened my Bible to the Psalms of Ascents—those psalms that ancient Israelites would sing on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the annual feasts; psalms that called reminded them of God’s presence, his power, his protection…even their unfaithfulness to him. I was drawn to Psalm 121, the second in this collection:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
This morning, I needed to lift up my eyes to the Lord, the source of my help and energy. I was reminded of Jesus’ habit of going off by himself, whether late at night or early in the morning, to spend time with his Father. I don’t do that enough—or well. Those times were not only rejuvenating for him, they also kept him focused on his priorities.
In the first chapter of the gospel according to Mark, we get a glimpse into what I expect was a typical day in Jesus’ life. He comes into a town (Capernaum, verse 21) on the Sabbath and goes into the synagogue to teach. While there, a man with an unclean spirit comes in, whom Jesus proceeds to heal. Afterward, Jesus goes over to his friend Simon’s (for lunch and a nap, perhaps?), where he finds Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. He heals her. By evening, Simon’s front porch is crowded with the town’s sick and demon-possessed—just the kind of folks you want hanging around the neighborhood, right?! In fact, Mark says, “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” (Mark 1:34) And Jesus, being Jesus, heals them. He casts out a bunch of demons. And then, presumably, he goes to bed.
Early the next morning, Jesus gets up, gets out of town, and prays. This is where it gets hard, particularly for those of us who are doers. The teaching, the healings—those aren’t the hard things; we thrive on the action and, yes, on the attention and affirmation they bring. And they’re good things, important things, even God-honoring things. But Jesus knows what is too easy for me to overlook: the power to do those good and important works comes from the Father, and the power comes through a relationship with him. Not from doing things for him, but from being with him. So Jesus gets alone and prays.
As if this isn’t hard enough, this getting quiet with God, what comes next is almost as amazing to me. Simon and some others track down Jesus and tell him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Undoubtedly, many of the previous evening’s healed patients had gone and told their friends, who gathered in the breaking dawn on Simon’s porch. Some undoubtedly wanted to be healed, but I suspect that many more just wanted to see a healing for themselves. And Jesus’ shocking response is, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
Did he really say that? Did Jesus—the loving, compassionate, healing son of God—just turn his back on sick people desperate to be made well? Yes. You see, Jesus knew what his mission was: to proclaim the kingdom of God. More than once, Jesus healed for the express purpose of glorifying God (see, for example, John 9). He healed out of compassion and in response to expressions of faith (see Mark 5:25-34). But Jesus’ primary purpose was not to heal; it was to proclaim. Even his great prophecy-fulfilling claim in Luke 4:16ff (cf. Isaiah 61) is not primarily about showing compassion; it is about proclaiming good news.
And so, after a hectic day of teaching and healing, woke early, got alone, and prayed. The time alone with his Father helped him focus on his mission and rejuvenated him for the days ahead: more healings, more people clamoring for a piece of him, more people wanting more from him than just the truth.
Our days are busy and hectic. Work, kids, school, chores, spouse…all clamor for a piece of us until we feel we need to run away screaming! But don’t wait that long. Get some time away where you can be quiet before God and just soak in his presence. It’s not always easy, especially if you’re not in the habit. You may need to start small: seven minutes in the car before you walk into work; or thirty minutes in a coffee shop once a week. Read Psalm 121 (or Psalm 131—it’s even shorter!) and reflect on God’s help. Lift your eyes and heart to God.
Then do it again. Tomorrow, the next day, next week (but don’t wait too long). Make it a habit. Get time alone, quietly, regularly, with God. Soon seven minutes will not be long enough; once a week will not be often enough. But I know that as you do this, you will become refreshed and will be able to refocus on what God has in store for you.