“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke5:16 (NIV)
This week when I read this verse it literally jumped off the page and filled me with joy. I have read this passage of scripture many, many times before, but for some reason it never registered with me the way it did this time. I came to the realization that Jesus’ consistent habit of seeking solitude actually triumphed over the things in His life militating against it. Developing a life punctuated by solitude and communion with God is a battle that can be won.
We know from the gospel accounts that crowds were constantly besieging Him and His life was at times so frenzied that He and His disciples did not even have time to eat. (Mark 3:20 & 6:31)
Our world today is no different. People, projects and media demands are constantly besieging all of us as parents, spouses, employees, students, home owners etc. The fast food business in our culture is booming because like Jesus and the disciples, we often do not have the luxury of time to sit down and eat a decent meal. Which brings up a point that often intrigues and irritates me at the same time – have you noticed that drive-through customers seem to get faster service than those standing at the counter? I am not going to go down that rabbit trail, not today.
The point I am really making is that carving out time in our busy schedules for intimate communion with God has its ups and downs but it is a winnable battle if, like Jesus, we persist. Of the seven specific accounts in scripture of Jesus seeking solitary time all but two of them were interrupted. Only His all night prayer to choose the twelve and His time with Peter, James and John on the mount of transfiguration were sacrosanct. (Luke 6:12-13, Mark 9:2)
During His 40 days in the wilderness Jesus was plagued by the Devil. At the outset of His ministry we learn His attempt to steal away in the early morning hours for prayer is spoiled by humans. Simon and the others go looking for Jesus, find Him and immediately put pressure on Him to respond to the multitudes who are also seeking Him. (Mark 1:35-38)
The one time we are told that He wanted to take His disciples apart with Him by boat to a solitary place, the crowds got wind of it and beat them there. (Mark 6:31-33) Later that night after a busy day of teaching, feeding more than 5000 people, and sending His disciples back by boat, He climbed the mountainside to seek some time alone with His Father. But again He is interrupted as He sees in the distance the disciples straining at the oars and decides to go to them. (Mark 6:45-48) Of course, the coup de gras of Jesus’ solitude disturbances was His arrest in theGardenofGethsemane.
It has always amazed me that Jesus did not seem to be discouraged or frustrated by these interruptions. To the contrary His compassion for the disciples, the crowds and even His enemies moved Him to see it as an opportunity to teach them and further His Father’s purposes.
Thinking about Jesus’ dismal batting average when it came to solitude has for years perplexed me. Why couldn’t we have more accounts of His successful, uninterrupted times of solitary prayer? If Jesus’ prayer life was so fraught with distractions, how could I ever hope for anything better?
Then I stumbled on to this Luke 5:16 verse: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The words often withdraw from the Greek mean to retire, to retreat, to go back, to slip away, to go aside. This verse confirms what we have always known, that solitude was a frequent habit of Jesus. But for me it is like the keystone I have been searching for that joins and supports the two sides of the arch and portal of solitude. On one side leaning in, applying pressure, are the interruptions and demands of life. And on the other side leaning in, is the need for intimacy with God. The keystone, which balances this tension and keeps our lives from crumbling is making solitude an oft repeated habit.
This verse lets us in on a secret. Jesus’ solitude batting average was much, much better than the Gospel accounts let us in on and so can yours and mine.
Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. (Psalm 63:1)
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
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