Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Lk. 5:15,16
I remember reading these verses at a time when I needed them most. It has been long enough now that I can’t describe the circumstances other than the fact that they were pastoral.
I’ll see if I can communicate some of the personal significance that these verses carry …
Picture people in great need. In the biblical context, I see the friends of a paralyzed man, carrying him on a stretcher for who knows what kind of distance, determined to get him to Jesus. You remember the story. They were so resolute about their mission that they cut a hole in someone’s roof and lowered him on ropes, dangling him in front of Jesus. He was healed. How could Jesus do anything else. I am glad that it wasn’t my roof. This was one of the memorable success stories in the gospels when it came to determination, the power of faith and friendship.
As I read these verses however, I am reminded that there were people who came looking for Jesus and he was nowhere to be found. It wouldn’t have mattered how many friends they had or how dire the situation was. There were times when Jesus was unavailable. We don’t read the stories of those who missed Jesus, those who continued to flounder in their misfortune and hardship. But be assured, they were there and Jesus wasn’t.
You see, Jesus often withdrew … not occasionally … often
Others came to hear him and the service was cancelled. I try to imagine the typical North American preacher tearing her/himself from an opportunity to preach the gospel to multitudes. Ego cannot possible turn away from these kinds of things. People who are mission driven cannot possibly say “no” to invitations to do their thing.
But Jesus did. Often.
Jesus often withdrew … not occasionally … often.
How could he do it …. or not do it?
He said, “I have come to seek and save those who are lost.” So when the lost were seeking Him, it would only stand to reason that He ought to be in the neighbourhood. And if “seeking and saving” was about public gatherings, sermons or a healing ministry, then Jesus missed the boat or so it would seem. But maybe Jesus didn’t see those things to be as critical or important as we do.
What I do get is that Jesus understood His mission. I am certain that he accomplished it. And no matter how demanding it became, Jesus often withdrew … in order to fulfill his mission there were times when he could not “be there” for people.
Have you learned that simple precept as well? As good as your intentions may be, you cannot always “be there” for all your family, friends or the crowd in general. They need to learn that you cannot be omnipresent. You need to learn that as well.
I woke up at about 4:30am the other day. Before I could turn my mind off, I began to fret over my kids, my Mom, Elaine’s parents. I got up and headed for the beach. The fog was heavy and wet. In the thick darkness, I walked next to the ocean, listening to the surf and feeling the slight wind. I watched a boat or two as best I could as it left harbor to do what the fishermen aboard are meant to do.
It was a beautifully lonely place, a beautifully lonely experience. That’s where I go to find him … lonely places. That’s where He went when He needed to get away from His mission and the needs of people. When I look for him and cannot find Him in the busyness of life, I find Him where He often went … lonely places.
There … He prayed.
And like Jesus, there are times when we need to be unavailable as well. For the good of your soul, you need to realize that you can’t always be there.
Often you need to be in the lonely places, with Jesus, … praying.
Someone said, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”