And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:31
“And in the morning, a great while before day, He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him followed Him…” Mark 1:35-36
“When this old world starts getting me down,
And people are just too much for me to face,
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space;
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be,
And there the world below can’t bother me.
Let me tell you now, when I come home
Feeling tired and beat,
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet,
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all the rat race noise down in the street.”
You may remember those words as part of the Drifter’s song classic “Up On the Roof.” The reason the song was so popular in the 60’s and continues to have such staying power is that the lyrics strike a responsive chord in all our hearts for there is something in each of us that needs the benevolence of solitude.
Over 75 years ago in Ireland the poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote about the same need in his poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all aglimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
The need to get away from it all— it’s certainly nothing new to this generation. For centuries people have found that if they do not come apart for awhile then they just plain come apart! So, we have our little cabins on the lake, our condominiums by the sea, and our quiet little fishing spots on the river.
The world, you see, is hungry for solitude. We are starved for silence, for privacy and meditation. And this is something the Bible recognizes as having been built into us by God Himself.
Yet, sad to say, there are those who in their quest to satisfy their desire for quiet find Satan’s counterfeit instead. I’m talking about those who scramble through life all out of balance Monday through Friday, then, come the weekend, head for the coast or the hills and a jolly round of selfish indulgence. Instead of a regular devotional life they find the world’s idea of the weekend.
What I want us to look at from Scripture now is God’s idea of getting away from it all, His plan for the rejuvenation of a life worn and weary by going and coming, getting, and being with people. And to do that shall we now turn to the text?
First, notice the pace of life surrounding this episode in the life of Jesus. He is with people all day. They press upon Him with their needs— the ignorant, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the possessed and the critic. Jesus ministers to them patiently one by one from morning on into the night. And when He falls into a well-earned sleep the work’s still not completed. Now comes the text. Very early in the morning Jesus rises and goes out to a lonely spot to pray. Rather than plunge right back into the noisy, angry sea of needy humanity, He goes instead to be alone with God.
The audacity of such an act! It reminds me of a “Peanuts” cartoon strip in which a baseball game was being played with Lucy in right field. A high fly ball is hit her way but she makes no move to catch it. Charlie Brown, the manager, comes rushing out in anger asking why she didn’t catch the ball. He points out that she did not even have to take a step to catch it, just to hold out her glove! And Lucy answers simply, “I was having my quiet time.” And here in the text is Jesus dropping the never-ending task of ministry to go be alone with God in prayer.
Christ, you see, identifies with our need to get away. In Mark 6:31 He said to the twelve, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile.” In Mark 3:13, He went up into the hills.” In Mark 6:45, He even encourages the twelve to go sailing. So Jesus knew how to leave unfinished business and take a break.
Other great servants of God have been in the habit of practicing quiet times as well. Moses had a tent of meeting which he pitched outside the camp (Exodus 33:7). Elijah, after dueling with the prophets of Baal, journeyed into the wilderness to live in a cave alone and soak up the peace and quiet (I Kings 19). Jeremiah wrote, “O that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place that I might leave my people and go away from them!” (Jeremiah 9:2). Acts 20:13 tells how Paul arranges for his missions party to travel by boat, but he himself planned to travel by foot. He simply wanted time to get some exercise and be alone. Then there is John the Baptizer who ministered in the lonely wilderness (Mark 1:4). And who could forget Peter when in Acts 10:9 he retreats to the roof top to be alone with God in prayer!
Each of these servants practiced regular retreat from involvement with people’s never-ending demands. Each realized the need for solitude.
Have you ever stopped to realize how many of our prophets have come to us from God out of the silence of the wilderness? “Silence is the element,” wrote Thomas Carlyle, “in which great things fashion themselves.”
We today are a noisy people always going, going. We think the goal in life is increasing its speed and consuming more. Ours is the day of the half-read page. Life in the fast lane has us eating fast foods that we do not taste, talking but never hearing, earning but so seldom enjoying, even looking but never really seeing! And beware the barrenness of a busy life. Jesus says to us as He said of old, “Come apart to a lonely spot and rest for awhile. For there are tidings from the Lord, blessings of life and meaning, and all this will come and go unnoticed unless we know the practice of being still.”
Well, that is something of Jesus’ example in calling time out and spending a few quiet moments with God. Now, this, the “why” of it all.
There is an old legend about the apostle Peter returning with his pet falcon from a hunting trip in the fields. A group of young Christians were also coming in from a hunting trip, their unstrung bows carried in their hands. Meeting Peter on the path, one man expressed surprise. “Peter,” he said, “I thought you were a holy man. I didn’t know you took time to hunt with a falcon!” Peter narrowed his eyes at the youngster, the teacher came out in him, and pointing to the chap’s unstrung bow, inquired, “And why do you have your bow unstrung?” “Because,” the man explained, “If I were to keep it strung all the time it would eventually lose its tension and break.” And Peter, pointing to the woods and his falcon said, “And this is how I keep my bow unstrung!”
Being high strung is a major problem in our lifestyles today. Stress-related illnesses are epidemic with us. And few things would do us more good than learning to take time off, to get some exercise, to play, to be alone with God and develop our inner life with Christ.
Consider with me for a few moments the benefits of a regular quiet time with God.
Humility: You and I are not God’s only servants. He has other funds of wisdom, other channels of blessings besides us. All is not ours to do. Important as we each are, not a one of us is indispensable to God or people. When Peter Marshall was laid up in bed with a heart attack, a fellow pastor asked him what he’d learned. “I’ve learned that the Gospel ministry goes on,” he said, “even without me.” Somehow the world managed for centuries without you and me. And somehow it will manage when we are gone. And I’m quite sure you’ll find that it will go on quite well without you while you turn aside for a quiet talk with God.
Another principle here: We are not a minister until we are first ministered to. In John 13 Jesus prepared to wash Peter’s feet. Peter wouldn’t allow it. So Jesus rebuked him saying. “Unless I wash you you have no part in me!” You see, we are none of us fit to minister until we’ve first been ministered to. We must remember that we are not lights but reflections of the one true Light. And unless we spend time in the light we cannot shine.
Taking one’s bearings: A ship at sea has a wise captain who regularly studies the compass and sets the ship on the proper heading. Thus, small departures are quickly corrected. And one of the purposes in having a daily quiet time is to seek motivation, correction and guidance for one’s life lest we get entirely off course. I like the sign above the door of a mountain chapel. It reads, “I come here to find myself. It’s so easy to get lost out there.”
Then there is renewal. Have you ever noticed how everything we use tends to wear out? My lawnmower will run for six weeks until it requires all its nuts and bolts to be tightened. An axe will chop wood only so long before it must be sharpened. And its the same with the human spirit. Without regular periods of sleep, quiet, recreation, play and time alone with God we grow dull and careless. The adage, “An amateur is a person so busy chopping wood he never stops to sharpen his own axe” says it all.
Serenity: The poet Robert Browning wrote, “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” But unless we pause for frequent glimpses of God’s sovereignty we tend to succumb to our doubts and fears.
I washed and waxed my car one sunny day this spring. And when it rained this week the droplets stood upright in tiny beads. Not a one was able to penetrate that coat of wax. When I regularly spend time alone with God He washes my soul and bathes me in His Spirit. Then, when trouble comes my woes stand apart, unable to penetrate His shield of love, joy, and peace about me.
All of this and so much more comes from benevolent solitude.
So far we’ve looked at who had quiet habits with God and why. Now let’s ask, “When?” When would one practice solitude?
The text says that Jesus sought God early in the day. And from the frequency of such accounts one may safely assume that Jesus did so on a fairly daily basis.
Some folks plunge into life with vigor, work until they are entirely spent, then retreat for six weeks or so. But not Jesus.
For Christ it was first things first! He wasn’t ready for the day until he was ready with God. No football team starts play without first warming up. It wouldn’t make sense to warm up after the game or even in mid-game. And the same with life. Jesus began his day quietly with God. He warmed up first.
George Washington Carver, the black scientist and educator, is one of America’s true heroes. It was his lifelong habit to rise daily at four o’clock in the morning and go into the woods. He said, “Alone there with the things I love most, I gather my specimens and study the lessons nature is so eager to teach us all. Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise. At no other time have I so sharp an understanding of what God means to do with me as in these hours of dawn. When other folks are still asleep, I hear God best and learn his plan.”
And so it is!
Passing on from who and why and when, let’s ask “Where?” Where is the best place for a quiet time with God?
In the text Jesus left the house and city and went out to a “lonely place.” In Matthew 6:6 He advised, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door.” It is interesting to note that the Greek word here used for “your room” is the same as a “treasure room” where one stores his most valued possessions. Christ is calling the quiet moments of prayer we have with God a treasure chest of riches every bit as real as gold, silver, and diamonds! It is a treasure closet in which we find health, peace of mind, meaning and direction, love and forgiveness.
Where is your treasure closet of prayer with God?
For Jesus it was a “lonely place” outside the city. For you and me it can be an easy chair in the study with the door locked and the phone off the hook. It can be the jogging track or the bridle trail. The bus seat on the commuter to work, a seat in the garden, a place to kneel in the chapel or the driver’s seat of your car.
My friend Luke is a successful Atlanta businessman. But three years ago Luke was a troubled Christian. There was enough in his home life and business dealings to keep him aggravated and hard to live with. After a 20 minute commute to work through traffic each day, he’d arrive at the office a grouch. Another 20 minutes home each evening and he was barking at the kids and being brusque with his wife. But then Luke started practicing quiet habits with God in his noisy world. Going to work he’d set his mind to meditate on some portion of Scripture. Praise and confession and gratitude would occupy his remaining thoughts as he crept through traffic to the office. Then, later, when driving home he’d turn his thoughts to people and their needs and so make intercession in their behalf. Now, three years later, Luke is a different person— relaxed, agreeable, serene, and confident in God’s ability. Such is the life-changing power of God in any Christian who will take time out to listen and to pray.
Who had quiet habits with God? Jesus, Paul, Moses, Ezekiel, Peter, David and the like.
Why did they practice God’s presence in solitude? Humility. Because they couldn’t minister until they’d first been ministered to. Because they needed to get their bearings, be renewed, and be bathed in God’s serenity.
When did they take time out? Early in each day.
Where did they do this? In a “lonely place,” in some “treasure closet.”
Now a final question of the text. And that is “what?” What does one do during his quiet time?
Actually, to call one’s time alone with God a “quiet time” is a misnomer, for it is anything but quiet.
Greek philosopher Cisero said, “A man is never less alone than when completely alone.” The sage of China, Lao Tse, wrote, “The greatest revelation is in stillness..” And the Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Consider your still moments to be fellowship with God. Let Him speak to you as you read some portion of His Word, the Bible. You might read a psalm, work through a devotional, study the book of Ruth, read a Gospel or even work your way step by step through the Bible cover to cover.
Don’t speed read. Take time to savor the characters, to take detours with them into other portions of Scripture. Think. Ponder. Apply.
Next, talk to God. Your natural way of talking will do. Praise Him with spoken words, a psalm, or a song. Confess your sins honestly. Look at your past and thank the Lord for His influence in your affairs. Then make intercession for your needs and the needs of others. The word “worship” in the Hebrew of the Bible means “to kiss toward God.” Let your prayer time be an act of love with Jesus, an intimate, honest expression of your growing relationship!
Every now and then I hear a song that really reaches into my soul and heals me. In Israel they talk of the quiet healing music of the buried streams of Schechem. It seems the little town of Schechem sits atop buried riverlets which one may hear if they but listen. And the natives say that to hear the merry underground waters as they lap and gurgle is to hear the healing symphony of nature’s God. Some years ago I visited Schechem. The city was bustling with people, car traffic, livestock on the move, and businessmen shouting their wares. I walked and walked and stood and listened at a dozen places and never heard the music of the buried streams. Disappointed, I returned to my hotel. And there I voiced my frustrations to the desk clerk. “Rise early in the morning and go to the marketplace,” he advised. “You’ll hear,” he assured me. “You’ll hear.” So I rose at 4:00 A.M. and ventured to the market in the half-light of dawn. Not a soul stirred. And there, in the absence of man and animal, I heard the sound of buried streams. It flowed musically and there was indeed healing in its melody.
George Mattheson wrote, “There are tidings from the eternal Spirit who is not far from anyone of us; tidings that will come and go unnoticed unless we have won the grace of being still.” Yes, being still and knowing, hearing, and becoming a channel of all who God is— isn’t that what you and I need? To practice quiet habits with God in this noisy world— that’s what this text is motivating us to do.
The text says that Jesus rose early and went out to a lonely place and prayed. But it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to say, “And Simon and those who were with Him followed Him.” Will you follow Jesus into the hush of God?
I challenge you to set aside seven minutes a day for quiet time with God. Three and half minutes to read a chapter of the Bible. Three and half minutes to think and pray. Just seven minutes. Will you vow to God to do that right now? Only 7 minutes daily. If you’ll begin where you are you’ll discover that 7 minutes turning into 20 minutes, then 30, then an hour. You’ll call it your treasure closet. And it’ll change your whole life.
Slow me down, Lord. Call me early to hear the music of your buried streams of healing. For Christ’s sake. Amen.