“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:15-16
What was Jesus thinking? Crowds of people were anxious to hear him teach and there were throngs of sick people who needed healing, yet Jesus took a break to be alone and pray. It seems that would stop his momentum and suffocate the growth of his following. The buzz was at full strength and Jesus did something counterintuitive to most modern church leaders. He stopped, found an isolated, lonely place and prayed. And he did this often because it was a discipline, a part of his lifestyle.
It would seem every leader would follow the habits of Christ and schedule time to be away from the crowds, away from the pulpit and it’s teaching responsibilities and even away from the pressing needs of people. There are a few reasons why we don’t make this a part of our personal discipline.
1. We feel guilty
Pastors love people and want to help people. Regardless of the size church we lead, there are always people who want to meet with us, need us to come pray for them or would like us to teach more often. We know we need to rest, but the guilty feelings drive us to an impossible schedule. After all, how can a real shepherd leave his sheep? Truthfully, we are doing our sheep more harm than good if we do not rest. In the end, we will burn out and then the sheep have no shepherd at all.
2. We fear people
What will the people think if I am not at every meeting or attending to every hospital, funeral or wedding request? Will they leave the church and attend somewhere else? Worse yet, will they stay at the church just to remind me of why others left. Proverbs 29:25 says “Fearing people is a dangerous trap …” When we are caught in this trap, we are ensnared in a perpetual cycle of performance and insecurity.
3. We like the attention more than rest
Ouch! Just writing that brought me conviction. No matter how much humility we may have, it is still a temptation to love the adoring stares of the crowd more than a private pursuit of God. Our primary motivation for solitude and rest is to make sure our personal fascination with the nature of God has not waned and to calibrate our primary motivations for ministry. In the end, we are to make Jesus known and not make ourselves famous.
For this reason, I am going to spend some time alone this week. No crowds, no email, no social media, some football and very few phone calls. I will be back at New Life for Celebration Sunday on January 2nd and for the week of worship and prayer January 3-7. Until then, may we all withdraw to a lonely place and pray.