Most of our days are full. We have good work to do and usually there is lots of it. If you are like me, you go to bed with a sense of all the things you didn’t attend to or didn’t finish and some days the needs feel overwhelming. The impulse, then, is to get up the next day, put our heads down, and go at it again. And, certainly, there are times when we have to do that.
But the best rhythm for us includes regular stopping and lifting our eyes, hearts, and minds to the Lord; a re-orienting time of prayer where we are able to discern with clarity what it is the Lord has next for us. With all the good things we could do, what is it that we should do? With all the legitimate needs around us, what are the ones we are to attend to? Are there other things God is actually calling us to which we don’t realize because we’re so busy doing our thing?
I was reminded of this recently as I read about Jesus’ long and busy day at the end of Mark 1. Have you ever noticed all that goes on?
- He teaches in a synagogue and people are amazed, particularly at his authority.
- He heals a man in the synagogue with a demon. People are amazed.
- He heads out of the synagogue and goes to Simon’s house and heals his sick mother-in-law
- Spends the evening doing a lot of healing and driving out demons - Mark tells us the whole town was gathered at the door.
My first response after reading this passage is to exhale deeply — wow, that sounds absolutely physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. Have you ever had days like that?
Then Mark writes this:
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. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
— Mark 1:35-39, New International Version
Is it as shocking to you as it is to me that after a day like this, Jesus gets up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and heads off to a place where he can be alone and pray? Perhaps you introverts or morning folks get this, but I would have slept in.
Eugene Peterson says, “Prayer is the attention that we give to the One who attends to us.” I suspect part of the reason Jesus heads out alone early in the morning is that he needs to catch his breath after an intense day of work. The text suggests he also is looking for direction and a reaffirmation or clarification of purpose and identity.
When Simon and the others finally find him, they have plans for him. They want him to come back to the house — the one where the whole town is gathered — and get to work.
“Everyone is looking for you,” they exclaim. “Jesus, you are so popular and so needed.”
But Jesus responds with amazing focus and clarity. He replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so that I can preach there also. For that is why I have come.” (my emphasis)
Jesus’ time with the Father very early that morning while it was still dark enabled him to discern what the best next thing was. Sticking around that village would have been good work. Important work. Plus, everyone wanted him. There were lots of needs there. But need does not always imply call. Jesus left a town full of needy people and situations to do that to which his Father was calling him.
No, Jesus didn’t have a demanding two-year-old. He didn’t have to juggle taking a full course load, teaching undergrads online, and caring for aging parents. And he didn't have this constant internal nagging about the articles he should be writing or the committees he should be serving on. As I read the gospels, I notice, however, that while Jesus clearly has a lot to do, he never seems to be in a hurry or wringing his hands over too much to do and not enough time. At the end of his life he says confidently he has finished the work God gave him to do. Clearly, there were demons left to exorcise, sermons to preach, and children to heal. Perhaps part of this confidence comes from a clarity of purpose and learning to do just what the Father gave him to do each day — no more and no less.
Has this been a busy season of work for you? Do you need to build a habit into your life of sitting with God in the midst of the busyness and allow him to attend to you and bring clarity about the next thing? Do you need discernment and permission to do the work God has called you to in the midst of all the needs around you? What kind of daily, weekly, and other regular rhythms will feed your soul?
I want to say this really clearly — my intention is not to heap guilt upon you, suggesting you get up at 4:00 a.m. to have a two-hour devotional time each day. I want you to have clarity about what it is that God is calling you to and the corresponding permission to say no to the other demands. If you are longing for this, and it feels like it is not possible, know this: God longs to provide this for you. How you engage with him — what habits you build into your life and what disciplines you practice -— will vary depending on what season you are in. However, in every season, God offers himself to us and invites us into time with him — clarifying, encouraging, life-giving time. Even if you cannot imagine fitting one more thing into your busy day, God will make a way for you to find that time. When our heart cries out, “God, help me get more of you,” this is a prayer we know he will answer, because it is his heart as well.
Some helpful resources (that really can take just a few minutes):
- “Words of Hope” — seven short devotional videos, also available in pdf format if you’d rather read them
- Pray As You Go — online or an app, daily Ignatian-style prayer time
- Breath Prayer — helpful explanation of this discipline which is easy to practice any time anywhere