‘Come with Me… to a quiet place and get some rest.’ Mark 6:31 NIV
The Bible says, ‘The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty.’ (Psalm 90:10 NIV) If you’re blessed to live that long you’ll typically spend an average of twenty-four years sleeping, twenty years working, ten years in church and on holiday (mostly holiday), seven years eating, six years traveling, four years dealing with sickness, and two years getting dressed. Kierkegaard said: ‘The press of busyness is like a charm… seeking to lay hold of ever-younger victims so that [we] are scarcely allowed time for God to develop in us Christian character.’
It’s a mistake to think that rushing through life buys you more time. It doesn’t. Apart from keeping your adrenaline pumping and perhaps making you feel and look important, busyness can be the enemy of your soul. It can rob you of spiritual growth by preventing you from reflecting and examining your heart.
We’re not talking about the number of things you manage to get done every day, but the quality of your life’s product. You can be busy, yet not be balanced. ‘Come with Me… to a quiet place.’ Solitude enables more than rest, it enables transformation. There are three kinds of solitude:
(1) Brief intervals experienced daily.
(2) Longer ones involving a few days or more away from it all. Despite His hectic schedule, Jesus made a habit of withdrawing from the demands of the crowd to spend time with His Father. (Did He know something we don’t?)
(3) Forced rest. ‘He makes lie down.’ (Psalm 23:2 NIV) Don’t wait until God makes you lie down! Endeavour to live a balanced life.
‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.’ Matthew 12:20 NIV
Aren’t you glad that God is a mender and not a discarder? With Him, broken lives don’t have to be the end of the story. He’s often been called the God of the ‘second chance’. How short-sighted is that? If we got only two chances we’d all be miserably, hopelessly lost. But instead He’s the God of the ‘seventy times seven’! (see Matthew 18:22). So He’s the God of unlimited grace. As long as you humbly acknowledge your failure and desire to start again, He will enable you.
The ‘reed’ referred to in today’s verse is a shepherd’s makeshift flute that had withered, cracked, and become worthless. The smoldering ‘wick’ no longer gave light and was considered useless. Both represent people set aside as damaged goods and rejected by others. But Jesus is committed to mend and heal, not break or quench those who have failed. He desires to give us a fresh start regardless of our failures.
The truth is that we all fail! As Adam’s descendants, messing things up comes naturally and effortlessly to us. Abraham lied and put Sarah at risk. Jacob was a cheat and self-promoting con artist. Moses determined to do things his own way and ended up a fugitive. David was an adulterer and a conspiratorial assassin who betrayed a faithful friend. Peter turned his back on Christ. Yet God used each of them to accomplish His will. And He will use you too, because ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.’ (Romans 5:20 NKJV) So you can start again.
‘Love… ties everything completely together.’ Colossians 3:14 CEV
If you’re the kind of person who harbors grudges and holds on to past mistakes, even your own, you know what it feels like to be weighed down by mental baggage. It’s hard for a relationship to survive when neither party has processed what happened in the past. Like blame, mental baggage keeps you stuck.
For example, if someone in a past relationship has hurt you and you’ve never let go of it, every time your mate does something similar it’s likely you’ll react with unwarranted fervor, as if he or she was the original person who hurt you. When this happens, your mate is left feeling upset and confused by your over-the-top reaction to a minor infraction that, on the surface, appears insignificant. Just as you clean house to get rid of physical rubbish, you need to keep your mental, emotional, and spiritual house clean and in order.
Praying, reading, counseling, journaling, meditation and exercise are all good ways to help ensure that past issues don’t seep into your current relationships. And when they do come up from time to time, it’s best to talk to the people you’re in relationship with. Just be sure to do it in kindness, truth, and honesty.
The old adage—‘Love means never having to say “I’m sorry”’—is wrong! A more Scriptural motto for keeping mental and emotional baggage in the bin where it belongs, is: ‘Don’t go to bed angry.’ (Ephesians 4:26 GWT) The Bible says, ‘Be gentle, kind…meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love… ties everything completely together.’ (Colossians 3:12–14 CEV)
‘Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you.’ 2 Timothy 1:6 NAS
Don’t let fear make you hide your talents and abilities. God expects us to make the most of all He has given us. He wants our hearts to burn brightly for Him; He wants us to invest in our own growth and to learn how to be more effective for Him.
Paul wrote to the people of Philippi, ‘Keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.’ (Philippians 1:9 NLT) He wrote to Timothy, ‘Be sure to use the abilities God has given you…Put [them] to work.’ (1 Timothy 4:14–15 TLB) and also, ‘Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you.’
Just as when you don’t exercise your body, your muscles lose their strength, when you don’t exercise your God-given skills, they don’t maintain their level. Remember the story of the fearful servant who hid his talent in the ground and what happened to him? ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ (Matthew 25:28 NIV) So put your gifts and abilities into practice so that you’ll become more proficient as time goes by.
Maturity and experience don’t spring into instant life the moment you start. Practice, study and feedback all help you grow. Become a lifetime learner. ‘Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive His approval.’ (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT) Take advantage of every opportunity to sharpen your skills. Remember, in Heaven we’re going to serve God forever, and we prepare here on earth. And God will reward us for our faithfulness: ‘Well done!… You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’ (Luke 19:17 NLT)
‘Each part… helps the other parts grow.’ Ephesians 4:16 NLT
Paul writes: ‘As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body [church] is healthy and growing and full of love.’ Let’s look at two different kinds of growth—symbiotic growth and parasitic growth.
Symbiotic growth is a give-and-take relationship in which both sides benefit.
Parasitic growth is when one side feeds off another but gives nothing back.
So when you come out of church and say, ‘I didn’t get anything out of that service,’ you may be practicing parasitic growth. Parasitic growth is characterized by such words as ‘pray for me, preach to me, counsel me, help me… but expect nothing from me.’ Symbiotic growth is characterized by such words as: ‘yes, I have needs, but I’m willing to give, too, because everyone needs to benefit.’ Your body is made up of systems. These include the nervous system, circulatory system, muscular system, lymphatic system, skeletal system, immune system, etc. These systems rely on one another. They are interdependent. So when one of them goes down, the rest of the body is negatively impacted by it. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to church,’ remind yourself, ‘I am the church.’ Paul writes: ‘The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… and God has put each part just where He wants it.’ (1 Corinthians 12:12, 18 NLT) God wants you to be a fully functioning part of His church. And if you’re not sure what your ‘part’ is, ask Him and He will show you.
‘He… prayed…“Not My will, but Yours be done.”’ Luke 22:41–42 NIV
Jesus prayed before He faced the greatest crisis in His life. The Bible says: ‘Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed him. On reaching the place… He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” An angel from Heaven appeared… and strengthened Him.’ (Luke 22:39–43 NIV) Jesus didn’t wait until the hour of His greatest crisis before He prayed.
For three and a half years during His earthly ministry, He had built a life of prayer. Before He raised Lazarus from the dead, we read, ‘Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me… that You always hear Me.”’ (John 11:41–42 NIV) Jesus had such an intimate relationship with His Father that in times of pressure and pain He could go to God, confident He would receive His sustaining grace.
Can you do that? Until you do, you’ll be vulnerable to people and situations beyond your control. Consider this question: do you think Jesus prayed so much because He wanted to, or because He thought He should? The answer is—He wanted to! And if you want to follow in His footsteps and enjoy God’s richest blessings, you need to move from ‘should’ to ‘want to’. Here’s a truth that people who pray know: the less you pray, the less you want to pray. And the more you pray, the more you want to pray. The power behind Christ’s amazing success in life was the power of prayer. Starting now, commit to praying each day.
‘Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you.’ Luke 22:31–32 NIV
Jesus prayed when He was concerned about the people He loved. He told Peter: ‘Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you… that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And Peter did turn back. The disciple who denied his Lord in a moment of weakness eventually stood before a crowd of thousands and preached the Gospel to them, and three thousand were won to Christ.
Jesus not only taught His disciples, He warned them of danger. But ultimately He realized that the greatest thing He could do was pray for them. Unfortunately, that’s a truth we tend to arrive at later rather than sooner. We promise, we rescue, we threaten, and only when all our other efforts have failed do we pray.
Prayer shouldn’t be your last resort, it should be your first response. Prayer takes the situation out of your hands and puts it into God’s. Do you remember the four men who carried their sick friend and laid him at the feet of Jesus? (see Mark 2:3–5) That’s what you do when you pray for someone. It’s not easy to pick up the weight of another person and carry them to God each day in prayer. But it’s the most effective thing you can do for them. The old-timers used to say, ‘Prayer moves the hand that moves the world.’ And they were right!
When a loved one disappoints or wounds you, instead of lashing out, lift them up in prayer. Invite God into the situation, then stand back and allow Him to work.
‘He departed to the mountain to pray.’ Mark 6:46 NKJV
Let’s look at another point at which Jesus prayed: when the pressures and expectations of others threatened to derail God’s plan for His life.
The Bible says: ‘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 that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching.’ (Mark 1:35–39 NIV) The lesson here is this: unless you get God’s plan and stick with it, others will try to plan your life for you. Given the success Jesus enjoyed in every town He visited, many preachers would have stayed and built a church and enjoyed the accolades and rewards of their ministry. Not Jesus; He marched to the beat of a different drum.
As you look back on some of your mistakes, you find decisions made in response to pressure instead of prayer. When you’re prayerless, you get careless. God has a plan for your life, and a schedule. To stay in sync with both you must pray regularly. Jesus realized He had only enough time to do what His Father wanted done, and that gave Him the ability to say no to other things. You’ve been called to love people—but please God. And your confidence in prayer comes from knowing you’re operating within His will (see 1 John 3:21–22).
‘He went… to a solitary place; and… prayed.’ Mark 1:35 NKJV
By failing to pray—you set yourself up to fail. The reason Jesus never failed is because He never failed to pray. Note the times when He prayed: when His heart was heavy. During His ministry on earth, His cousin John the Baptist was arrested and publicly beheaded for confronting a king about his sin. ‘When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew… privately to a solitary place.’ (Matthew 14:13 NIV)
Disappointment, desertion, divorce and death will write their chapters in the book of our lives. Thank God for therapists and doctors, but ultimately there’s no one who can heal a broken heart like God. ‘He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power.’ (Psalm 147:3–5 NIV) Whether placing stars or healing scars, no situation is too big or too small to get the attention of our loving God.
To understand God’s healing expertise, look at the life of Job. Possibly no one in history lost more than Job did, yet God brought him through it all. In Job chapter eleven we read: ‘You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away. Your life will be brighter than the noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help.’ (Job 11:16–19 NLT) Are you sad and heavy-hearted today? Do what Jesus did. Take time to pray about it.
‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ Luke 5:16 NIV
If you want to know about prayer, examine the life of Jesus:
(1) He prayed when the pressures of life increased. ‘News about Him spread… so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed… But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:15–16 NIV) It’s when you think you don’t have time to pray, that you need to pray most. Spending time with God is the secret to having power with Him.
(2) He prayed when important decisions had to be made. When it came to picking His closest friends, Jesus sought His Father’s guidance. He ‘went out to a mountainside… and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve…[as] apostles.’ (Luke 6:12–13 NIV)
When you really think about it—the truth hits you on the side of the head! We can spend a year, not to mention a small fortune, planning a wedding. Yet amazingly we won’t seek God’s guidance when it comes to choosing a mate to spend the rest of our life with. God is not just the creator of the universe; He’s the CEO who runs it. Can you imagine what He knows about operating a successful business? His CV reads: ‘I am the Lord… who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.’ (Isaiah 48:17 NKJV) Before you hire an employee, form a partnership, formulate a plan, or invest a penny, God invites you to discuss it with Him and get His input.
‘Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.’ (Proverbs 3:6 NLT)