Read Mark 1:21-45.
In the very heart of a narrative loaded with action —healing people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue—we find these remarkably quiet words about Jesus, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” The more one reads this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more one has the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is found in that place of solitude…. where he went to pray….early before dawn. A further look at the Gospels will reveal that Jesus actually made these retreats into a “desert place” a regular part of His life.
I think it is a fair question to ask ourselves, why did Jesus need this quiet time? Henri Nouwen suggests that the immediate context shows that it was in this quiet place that Jesus found the courage to follow God’s will and not his own – to speak God’s words and not His own—to do God’s work and not his own – to live in God’s strength and not His own.
If Nouwen is right, and I believe he is, then the quiet place becomes preeminently important for every follower of Jesus. If the Son of God needed these times of solitude it is obvious that we need them as well! In evaluating what these quiet times did for Jesus, we can learn why they are so valuable to every disciple as well.
It’s was in the quiet place that Jesus found and maintained His perspective on what was really important to His Heavenly Father.
Go back to the passage and envision what the scene in Capernaum must have been like. Word had spread rapidly about Jesus’ power to heal and the streets were lined with the sick, handicapped, demon possessed, mentally retarded as well as the spiritually needy. The disciples were frantically looking for Jesus to inform Him that, “everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus had just emerged from the quite place and He already knew that His business for the day was preaching in other villages. So He walks away from the desperately needy crowds at Capernaum because He knows that the Father’s will for Him lies elsewhere. I can imagine what the disciples said among themselves. “Look how the people are flocking to Him. He had a chance to make a real difference, but no, He leaves it all behind and goes off preaching in some other remote place that hasn’t even heard of Him.” But Jesus could easily submit to the Father’s will and plan because he had been in the quiet place!
It is not wrong to have a strong desire to accomplish something for God. We feel called to do something—to make a difference. But the problem comes when we make the results of our work the criteria for our value. And when that happens it skews our perspective on life. It was out of solitude that Jesus found that doing is not the same as being and that following the will of God and pleasing the heavenly Father is not defined by the world’s concept of success.
It is out of the quiet place that we discover that our obedience is more important to God than the result of all our efforts. It is out of the quiet place that we come to understand that the love we express and the work we do is part of a greater love and greater work that is being done by God Himself. It is out of the quiet place that we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness and that what we see accomplished is only because of what He chooses to do in and through us.
It is only in the quiet place that we can find the power to do work that is marked by divine love.
Ministry without love is cold and sterile. Jesus never interacted with men and women without being “moved with compassion.” The first person He meets after leaving his quiet place was a leper begging to be made clean. Of course Jesus was willing to heal him but not until he had first touched his leprous brow! Why? Jesus need only speak for the healing to happen but divine love could only communicated through His touch.
Unless there is a quiet place in our lives then our work for God will be marked by duty rather than by love. It is only in the quiet place that our lives are saturated with divine love
It’s amazing to me that even though our Heavenly Father knows that the quiet place is the key to successful ministry, He still lets us make the choice as to whether or not we go there. But those who go there by choice and by habit will find what Nouwen said Jesus found, “ the courage to follow God’s will and not our own – to speak God’s words and not our own—to do God’s work and not our own – to live in God’s strength and not our own.”