"He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile."
Isn't it interesting that Jesus' counsel in verse 31 sounds contrary to what ought to be happening in ministry? The disciples have come to tell him all that they've done, all that they've taught, all that they've been doing. Why doesn't he pat them on the head and congratulate them for doing so much? For teaching so much? Aren't we called to be non-stop agents of transformation and liberation? Aren't we called to preach good news to the poor, freedom to those in captivity, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord to all? Aren't we supposed to be on the move? Won't we miss something if we aren't everywhere?
It reminds me of a scene from a book called God and Human Freedom. A pastor in Evanston, IL, recalls having Howard Thurman as a guest; and as he welcomed Dr. Thurman into his office, he shared with Dr. Thurman all of the things he was doing in his ministry and all of the new programs the church was starting to reach out into the community. And after he shared all that he was doing, Dr. Thurman finally looked in his direction and asked, "And who are you?" He said at that moment he was reminded that he was legion, legion of doing, doing, doing, doing, but never stopping to be. Never stopping to be.
And that seems to be where Jesus is in this text. Jesus seems to be calling us to be still and know-to stop doing and stop to refocus, stop to refuel, stop to be still and know.
After all, we are not Jesus. But, most importantly, there's no human way that we can be everywhere at the same time meeting all of the needs that will come our way. Need will always be here long after we're gone. And Jesus is a powerful example of a non-anxious presence in needy times. Jesus still invites them and us to be still and know.
This passage lifts up the issue of our reactions in ministry. The press of the people and the needs of the masses will always be among us-the emails, the return calls, the meetings, the sermons, the conflicts-the ministry will always have our number. Our zeal for the things of God must be according to a knowledge that we need to sometimes stop to be still and know. There is the importance of rest in the midst of doing. Our authority is not increased by our volume, our speed, or our size, but by our being intentional about pausing to rest. There was a saying by Mother Teresa that says, "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much." The disciples in this passage are eager to report their ministries, their feats to Jesus, all they've done, all they've taught, all the souls they've saved, yet Jesus' response seems to ignore their report in preference of retreat.
Psalms 23 reminds us that He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Jesus had a way of being intentional about getting away. Jesus gives intentional subtleties about pause throughout the gospels. His pace is thoughtful, unhurried by the anxieties around but yet attentive and present with them. After the press of healing many at Simon's house back in the first part of Mark, he got up early to get away to pray. And when the disciples discovered he was gone and they searched to find him and found him, and were alarmed he wasn't back there responding to the needs, his response to them was, "We must go to other towns." He tells us needs will always be among us. Perhaps an important one is the need for rest and renewal. What is it about pause that refreshes our ministry? What does Jesus and why does Jesus specify a deserted place for them to be all by themselves? Could he sense their angst? Does he use this as a teaching moment to them and us? I believe there will always be opportunities to do ministry-we cannot respond to them all-we are not Jesus!
There seems to live and breathe in our times a notion that doing is a virtue. But Jesus serves notice that doing may be a knee-jerk reaction to the needs of ministry in preference for knee-bent responsive ministry. Knee-jerk reactive ministry is not thoughtful, but knee-bent responsive ministry is prayerful. Knee-jerk ministry seeks to be all things to all people. Yet as one of our earlier Day1 preachers said, we run the risk of the chameleon that fell upon the plaid tablecloth. We cannot be all colors, all places, all things, to all people, always. But knee-bent ministry, prayerful ministry, takes time to seek God, to pull away from doing to being still and knowing God.
Yet in seeking retreat from, they were met by the same people in the same places they sought to get away from. The rest they sought never happened. Yet it is still important that one is intentional in seeking to get away, even if one does not get the chance every now and then to get away. Jesus saw their needs and taught them many things. It is virtually impossible to be always cued up pleasing people, but it is possible to do the things that are pleasing to God. People are in our lives for a moment, but God is with us eternally. As Augustine of Hippo said, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in God." Getting things straight with God is a way of putting people in perspective-they are our neighbors. They are to be loved as we love ourselves. How can we love ourselves when we are always going and doing and not pausing for rest? For if we are not rested and well, how can we do well for the people we serve? What does this passage say to you about ministry and retreat? The ongoing grind of doing effective ministry calls for getting away to reflect, to renew, and to spend time with God. My mentor, Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr, once advised me that the people I am called to serve will not ask me to take a vacation, but I must seek to take a vacation in order that I might be better able to serve those who I am called to serve. Otherwise, not getting away can cause me to become annoyed by the needs of those who will need me. What a paradox!
To be still and know.
There is a saying from where I come, "You just can't dance on every record." Yet ministry can be an unrelenting disc jockey with endless requests to do the dance of ministry. I believe that intentional getting away for renewal is an essential for maintaining wellness in ministry. The pull of the people in this text can lead to what some call toxic faith or religious addiction, the source of so many headlines these days.
Jesus, in Mark's cut-to-the-chase gospel, has garnered quite a reputation now as a healer. There is a hunger to be healed deep in the lives of us all. Who doesn't want to be made well? Who doesn't want relief from the pressing problems of life? Who would turn down an opportunity to have things be well with their soul? This passage shows us that Jesus cannot get away even from the pressing crowds he came in contact with. It seems that the healed are even bringing their friends also to be healed. Jesus' words here are not unusual. This is the exact thing he did after healing so many at Simon Peter's house. He went out early to a deserted place and when discovered, he said to them, "We must go to other towns." Here it is almost redundant to say that Jesus practiced what he preached-he did, but do we? Do we take time to renew and reflect? This is not a call to shirk from our responsibilities, but it is a call to shore-up for our responsibilities-less we become overwhelmed caregivers. Output requires input and intake. Work calls for rest. Caregivers ought to be the first to seek care. How can we serve when we're worn to the bone-without rest? The disciples take Jesus' advice to get away, but cannot manage to do this unnoticed.
I believe that a church known for changed lives and hope will never be an empty church. A church known for doing the things of Jesus will never be without people coming for that hope. Dr. Frank Thomas once said, "That where hope is preached, the people will come." And as the songwriter writes, the world is hungry for a living word; and if we lift the Savior up for all to see, the people will come. But we as caregivers must be ready to receive care, able to receive care, willing to receive care, willing to know that God will take care of all that you left while you're gone on vacation. Being intentional about getting away becomes our responsibility for effective ministry. This is helpful to know as the text suggests that we can trust that God will send the increase. We can be sure that our ministries will not suffer in our absence, but can suffer in our presence when we don't take time to be still and know. Wayne Mueller in the book Sabbath calls this restoring the sacred rhythm of rest. Why? Because rest recharges our spiritual batteries.
Howard Thurman in a message entitled The Genuine in You, said, and I paraphrase, failing to listen to the sound of the genuine in ourselves is to render ourselves always on the ends of strings being pulled by someone else. Taking time to be still and know refreshes us to remember both who and whose we are. As Jesus says in this text, "Come, let's go to a deserted place all by ourselves and rest awhile." This, I believe, is pleasing to God and ultimately will be valuable to those we seek to serve.
Eternal God, we thank you for the importance of pause and reflection. We thank you for the example of your Son who never missed an opportunity to get away, to reflect, to recharge, to seek power from the source; and the source is you. God help us to take the time to be still and know that you are God. Help us to understand that it is you that have made us and not we ourselves. And for this, we give thanks. Amen!