I don’t follow the NFL, but I do enjoy watching the spectacle of the Superbowl each year. Unfortunately, in my mind, the fun and excitement that comes with the word Superbowl, will always be attached to a much more ominous word: suicide. I can’t remember where I heard it, but at some point in my past I read or saw something that connected the success of winning the Superbowl to depression and suicide.
Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide
One would think that reaching the pinnacle of their sport – or the pinnacle of anything – would have exactly the opposite effect. Watching them on the field after the game, you’d assume that sadness would be the last thing they would be feeling. Well, perhaps for that moment they are elated – but it doesn’t last. In fact, for some, getting to the top is exactly what sets off some of the darkest parts of their life.
I read an article this week called “Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide” and it had some startling things to say. It started with the story of a successful, 37 year old man, who had reached his goal of becoming a hugely successful salesman, wore the best clothes, drove a Mercedes, collected antiques and art, threw lavish parties in his mansion, and appeared on the cover of some magazines.
One day, on September 15, 2000, he was confronted by his debt when his sister confronted him about his extravagant lifestyle. Then when he got to work he saw a terrible performance review and thought it was about him – but it wasn’t – and he went home thinking he was going to lose his job. He came home to learn that his long-time relationship was in absolute shambles. That night, he drove to a nearby park and committed suicide.
This may surprise you, but the greatest share of people who attempt suicide (in the US) are white males between the ages of 21-39. It is the second leading cause of death after accidental injuries. Most of these guys are fit and healthy, but are racked by dark depression which they mask with extravagant lifestyles, workaholism and substance abuse. The place where this comes out most, unsurprisingly, is Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood.
It’s not much different in Canada. I found a December 2011 article in the BC Medical Journal entitled “The Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide”. Not many people know this, and it doesn’t get much press. One startling statistic I read was that in 2005, 45 Canadian men died of AIDS, while 2857 men died of suicide. But we hear far more about AIDS, don’t we? The suicide rate for men is three times higher than that of women. We’re talking about men who, by worldly standards, are successful men. Most are middle-aged, and they’ve achieved what the world has told them is what life is all about. One article I read called this phenomenon “success-depression”, “success-induced burnout” or “executive suicides.”
The Spiral Of Hopelessness
The most ironic thing about this is that their achievements don’t make them happy. In fact, reaching the top only makes them more insecure, anxious and depressed. It makes them more critical and more afraid. Climbing the ladder often means selling a bit of their soul and leaving peace and quiet behind. The huge amount of commitment it takes to achieve a high level of success often means sacrificing meaningful relationships along the way, which means they often feel very alone.
Throw in the fact that many of them come from abusive and broken homes and you get a recipe for depression. Their worldview has no concept of a loving Creator, divine purpose, forgiveness or grace. It’s dog-eat-dog. And so, though they have achieved their dream, and are living a life that many would envy, they live detached from real life, have no joy in what they have, and lose their drive and direction. A sense of emptiness overwhelms them and paranoia seeps in. Sleepless nights mean taking stimulants in the morning and sleeping pills at night so they can function. Which compounds the depression and increases the anxiety.
Sadly, most of these men don’t have the emotional intelligence to know what’s happening inside of them. They’ve spent too much time building their brand and their lifestyle, and not nearly enough building their character or faith. They put on an amazing show for everyone – looks, money, success, smiles, and an enviable lifestyle – but they are hollow, hollow people, and they don’t even know it. Their hunger grows, even though they have fulfilled their deepest desires. So they buy more, work more, make more, climb higher, try riskier things, and the emptiness remains.
Which makes them angrier and angrier, more frustrated– but don’t know why – and they push away any heathy influence that is trying to tell them to come back. They drown their feelings in distractions like competition, sex, alcohol and drugs, which spirals into addiction, rage, exhaustion and self-pity.
Then something unexpected happens – like a bad job review, a broken relationship, or something even smaller – and it goes off like an atomic bomb in their heart and it breaks them apart. They realize that everything they have poured into the vacuum of their soul has amounted to nothing. All of the promises that the world made to them about how achieving their dreams would make them happy turns out to be a lie, which causes them to despair that there is nothing in this world worth living for except pain. They have more than anyone – and it’s nothing. It doesn’t take much to make the next, logical step to simply end the pain by ending their lives.
A Phenomenon and Epidemic
The article says:
“…a growing phenomenon called ‘success depression’ is now fueling the problem. ‘People have this notion that ‘If I only make CEO, if I only become the top talent agent, if I make my first million, that will do it, all my insecurities will go poof…. You hit the pinnacle, then you wake up the next day and you’re still the same insecure [person] you always were.”
And of course, this isn’t just about men – though I did want to shine a special light on them today. Women are under more stress than ever too. Modernity has thrust incredible pressures onto women – perhaps more than any other century. They also have a predilection for climbing the ladder of success, leaving their heart and soul behind them.
I read another article this week on Mental Floss that gave a “Surprisingly Long List of [Famous] People Who’ve Attempted Suicide”. It floored me. Most of us know about Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Chris Benoit, Hunter S Thompson , and the like, because they actually died. But Owen Wilson, Halle Berry, Mike Wallace, Elizabeth Taylor, Drew Berrymore, Danny Bonaduce, Sammy Davis Jr, Princess Diana, Walt Disney, Eminem, Ken Griffey Jr, Michael Jackson, Mindy McCready, Ozzy Ozborne, Britney Spears, Mike Tyson, Brian Wilson… all attempted suicide at some point in their career… the list goes on and on.
By Any Other Name…
Why am I telling you all of this? Because there is a terrible, terrible, demonic lie that has seeped into a lot of people’s minds that is at the very root of this problem. It goes by a lot of names. The classic, theological word is idolatry, but we can also call it consumerism, discontent, envy, or jealousy. Which is all tied to pride (what we think we deserve).
It has plagued mankind since the very beginning of time. Adam and Eve were standing in the perfect environment – and there was only one rule: Don’t eat the fruit. It was God’s line. He said, “Here is every good thing. This one thing is the only bad thing. Don’t do it or you’ll die.”
And the scriptures say in Genesis 3:4-7,
“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened…”
The serpent says, “God’s holding out on you. You deserve more. Take it. There is pleasure beyond God’s promises. Take your life into your own hands. Get out from under God. Do things your way. Take it.” And they do. And their eyes are opened. And God’s promise comes true. Now they know good and evil. Before they only knew good. Now they know evil. And Satan laughs as death and suffering come into the world.
I just read the story of Abram and Lot in Genesis 13. They come to a place where their families and flocks are too big and they need to split up. Abram says, “You pick the countryside you want and I’ll take the other.” Lot looks around and sees some amazingly fertile ground in the Jordan Valley and goes straight toward it – right next to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He wanted the better land, and didn’t care that to get it would mean surrounding placing himself next to two of the most wicked cities to ever exist.
Abraham gets tired of waiting for God’s timing to give him the child of promise – and makes a baby with his wife’s servant – setting off years and years of trial and turmoil between their families.
Jacob steals Esau’s birthright because Esau couldn’t care less about it. He trades God’s promise for a bowl of soup.
Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery because they are jealous that he is the favoured son. He gets something they don’t, and they are jealous, so they get rid of him.
And that’s just the book of Genesis! Person after person, generation after generation, who refuses to be content with what God has given them, goes outside of His will, takes something for themselves that they think they deserve, and brings suffering and pain upon themselves and many, many others.
Jesus Disappoints Us
Fast forward to the New Testament and it’s not any better. The people following Jesus, including all of the disciples, were, without a doubt, just as prone to this. They had the exact same problem as the people who we’ve been talking about, and the same problem that man y of us have. Jesus disappoints them.
They look at Jesus, and their mindset was: What can I get from this guy? What can I get out of Him? He keeps telling them that He’s going to Jerusalem to suffer many things. That doesn’t compute with them because their picture of God, their picture of the Messiah, their worldview understanding of how everything is supposed to work, was completely different than Jesus’. Jesus was supposed to come in, overthrow the Roman government, elevate the Jewish Nation, and make all of His closest followers into positions of power and influence – and probably rich too.
They hated the Pharisees because they already had what they wanted: political power. They hated the Romans because they had what they wanted: wealth and military power. Jesus is our conduit to get all these things that we want: therefore we’re going to follow Him. They never, never grasp that Jesus isn’t going to give them that.
Right after Jesus has told them, once again, says that He will take up his cross, suffer many things and be delivered into the hands of men, the disciples start arguing about who is going to get the best seat when Jesus takes the throne. (Luke 9)
Judas is perhaps the best example. He thinks, “I’ll follow Jesus as long as He gets me what I want.” Judas was in His absolute glory when Jesus rode into town on a donkey on Palm Sunday, proclaiming Himself to the entire city of Jerusalem as the Messiah and rightful heir to the throne of David. He was ready to take His place alongside him.
But then, Jesus gets into town, drives everyone out of the temple, causes a huge scene, makes everyone mad, and then takes off to where no one can find Him. He doesn’t maximize His exposure, He doesn’t bask in the adulation. No, Jesus is weeping and angry. (Matthew 21)
ThenJesis spends the next few days giving the most difficult, offensive, hard-to-understand teachings of His entire ministry. He takes on the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and every other power group in the city – and offends them all. He tells parables that say that the promise of Abraham will pass away from the Jews and be given to the Gentiles. He implies that there is no one, not one person, not even his closest followers, that understand why he’s there and that even though He is the “cornerstone”, that everyone will eventually reject Him. (Luke 20)
And, of course, he’s right. The crowd that worshipped Him on Sunday, turns on Him and crucifies Him on Friday. He’s not giving them what they want. He’s not saying what they want. He’s not doing what they want. The crowds turn on Him. Judas is incensed by what he sees as betrayal, and sells Jesus out for money. At least he’ll get some coin after all this wasted time. Early Friday morning the crowds are chanting: “Crucify Him!”
The disciples flee, Peter denies Him, and his followers experience a depression like they’d never experienced before. Why? Because Jesus was not the conduit to worldly blessing that they thought He was. He didn’t elevate them to the status they expected.
What did Judas do? He killed himself. He throws the money He traded for Jesus back into the temple – not even his ill-gotten gain brings him any comfort. He goes to the priests and confesses to them, but they don’t care. They’re happy. Jesus didn’t give him what he wanted. A lifetime of theft didn’t. The 30 pieces of silver – equated to half-a-year’s wages for a single night’s work – they didn’t give him what he wanted. The priests didn’t give him what he wanted. So his only solution was either to change what he wanted and turn to God, or kill himself. He chose to hang himself. (Matthew 27)
“I Was Envious”
With all this in mind, let’s look at Psalm 73:
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Vs 1-3)
This psalm expresses the exact same theme, which is one that we are all guilty of in some measure. It’s the root of the problem for the ones who get depressed after the Superbowl, the wealthy, young men who achieve success only to find it hollow, the superstars and celebrities who look to all the world as the picture of happiness, only to be hiding a deep and secret pain. Desire out of control. Consumerism. Idolatry. Envy.
The psalmist starts with a direct statement that God is good: He knows that in his head. He’s studied it all his life. Asaph, the author, was an important temple musician during King David’s reign. He wrote worship songs. He knew God is good and told people all the time.
“But”, he says, he “almost stumbled”. He hit a time of depression and frustration with God. His head was saying one thing, but his heart was saying another. He was conflicted. He was frustrated with God. Even though he was a great worship leader, and had the ear of King David – a superstar and celebrity in his own right – he hit a dark time.
From where did that dark time come from? He says, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Envy at other’s prosperity. A desire to have something God hasn’t given him. Let’s keep reading.
The “Good” Life
“For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Vs 4-12)
Of what is he envious of? Everything! They are healthier, better looking, getting away with everything, full of every pleasure they could want, surrounded by entertainment. They have wealth, power, influence – everyone turns to them for advice. They think they’re smarter than God! They don’t have to lift a finger and they get richer! They’re living the good life! Everything they want they get.
The Prosperity Gospel
Implied here is that the Psalmist isn’t getting those things.
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” (vs 13)
Something bad happened to him. God wasn’t keeping up His end of the deal. He tries so hard to do right – and he’s being stricken. He’s totally innocent – and he’s rebuked. Every day brings a new problem, another fight, another issue to deal with – and he doesn’t deserve it! He’s a good guy!
What this is called, at it’s core, is the “Prosperity Gospel” which essentially says that God exists to give us what we want. God wants us to be happy, and happiness is found on earth. Therefore, any bad things that happen to you are a result of your lack of faith. It is woefully unbiblical and anti-gospel, but it is taking root in many churches around the world. Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and many other big names promote this.
This is where we get the “word of power” and “name it and claim it” prayer nonsense. The idea being that since God wants us to be happy He gives us His divine power to speak things into existence. He spoke the world into existence, therefore I can speak a new car into existence.
The lighter version of this which people are calling “Prosperity Gospel Lite” which essentially says, if you work hard, do good, live a moral life, then God will make sure things will work out for you – happiness, wealth, and all the rest. In other words, you are your own saviour, happiness on earth is the norm for believers, and God blesses your efforts to save yourself. That’s the opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (vs 15)
He almost went and preached the Prosperity Gospel to people… almost… but he caught himself. He essentially says, “If I would have used my influence to go to a group of people, who are hurting as much as me, and used my influence to tell them that God wants us to be happy so we should go make our own happiness — or God wants us to be happy, so we should go take it from the wealthy — or God wants us to be happy, and there is no purpose to suffering — or God is unfair, God’s not pulling His weight, God is disappointing us, let’s go get a different God — then I would have betrayed everyone.”
We live in a world full of people who are spreading that message. Betrayers of the Gospel and of Jesus. And they are destroying an entire generation because they have no concept of the true Gospel, the suffering Jesus, the disciplines of the faith, the fear of God, or the idea that God sometimes chooses to put His people through suffering so they can become more like Jesus and move closer to Him.
The End Matters
But He didn’t tell people that. Look what he does instead:
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task…” (vs 16)
He tried to figure this out, as we all have, and he came to the same conclusion: He can’t. He didn’t understand how God distributes wealth and influence, or why some people suffer while others don’t, why this world seems unjust.
“…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (vs 17)
He figured out that eternity matters. Being with God matters. It’s not just what we can pile up that makes a life, but what happens after this life. He realized that there is a judgement at the end of time, and that’s going to be the day that it all makes sense and works out. He went and stood in the sanctuary of God – he went to church – and he worshipped and prayed, and God gave him a very special thought: It’s not about right now… it’s about eternity.
Waking From a Dream
“Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (vs 18-20)
No one is on flatland. We are all on a slope that leads to eternity. Things are heading towards an end. We will all die and face God, and we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and need to make account for our actions. We will be asked what we put our faith in, where our foundation is. Anyone who has not put their faith in God, who does not have a reconciled relationship to Him through the work of Jesus Christ, will be swept away by the terrors of hell.
This world, and all the things that we hold so dear, will be like a dream. Have you ever woken up after an intense dream? You were chasing something, or someone was chasing you. You needed to find something and it was incredibly important. While you were in that dream it was absolutely real, completely absorbing, the focus of everything you had.
And then you woke up and you can hardly remember what you were doing. You think: “Wow. That was weird. Why am I sweating? Why am I so worked up? Whew!” Then you go shower and completely forget about it.
That’s what it’s going to be like when we die. All the worldly things that we are so terribly concerned about now, that we are jealous of, that we fight for, and trade our health and relationships for — will all pass away like a dream. And when we wake up – really wake up – we will wonder why we spent so long chasing those things when they turned out to be nothing but phantoms and dreams.
“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (vs 21-22)
As he stands in the sanctuary, having his God-given epiphany, he realizes something. The drives that he had – all the whole list of things he was so envious of – were primal drives. He wasn’t acting like a human being, created in God’s image for greater things, but like an animal, a beast. He is ashamed of himself. He was his own tormentor because it was his own flesh that he was fighting against.
He wanted a full tummy, physical pleasure, a comfortable place to sleep, to be the big-dog, and to howl as he pleased. He realized all at once that those things are base, animal, small in comparison to standing in the sanctuary of God, being in His presence, knowing His love, and acting upon the impulses of His divine will.
[I wish I could say more about this, but we’re running out of time. But meditate on how many good, spiritual, gifts we are willing to give up (love, peace, kindness, family, friends, worship, service, discipline, character, joy) in the pursuit of animalistic desires like food, sex, and comfort. I don’t want to live like an animal.]
God is My Portion
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Vs 23-28)
May this be the case for you and for me. Let’s pray and live to this end. That we have our mind cast heavenward and desire the presence of God more than anything. That we are guided by God’s word and not our animal instincts. That the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. That though our heart fails us and we hit depression and fear… that though our flesh fails us and we succumb to sickness and age… that our strength would not be in ourselves, but in God.
Let us remember that the closer we are to God, the closer we are to life. Real life. Let’s keep spreading the message of the true Gospel to those who have bought into the lie of the Prosperity Gospel, and shine our light into the dark places. And let us have the discernment to know that even though some people’s lives seem very wonderful, and we envy their wealth and status, that it is far better to be with God than to be anywhere else without Him.
We’re back into the Gospel of Mark. So far in Chapter 6 we’ve talked a lot about what happens to people who are faithful about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. First we saw Jesus rejected and almost stoned to death in his hometown. Then as Jesus sends out the twelve to heal people, preach repentance, and announce the Kingdom of God. In His commissioning speech He reminds them to stay dependent on God because though there would be some that would accept their message, there would be others who wouldn’t. And then we read the story of when John the Baptist telling the king to repent before God. The king respected John but his wife was offended and conspired with her daughter to have John killed out of spite.
So it goes even today for believers who are willing to stand up in Jesus’ name.
A Hard Road Lately
Dealing with suffering and stress has come up more and more over the past few weeks.
When we talked about our Mission Statement, we were reminded of how important it is that we work together and stay obedient to the Word of God, because this world is conspiring to tear us apart and is giving us every excuse to abandon the faith. After that was Kid’s Sunday where we were reminded how seriously Jesus takes ministry to kids and how important it is to raise our children to love Him and His church so they will have a firm foundation in this shaky world.
Then came the murder of Canadian soldiers and the attack on parliament, which made the entire nation pause for a moment and ask the question, “What’s going to happen now?” Because of the rise of ISIS and militant Islam throughout the world, Christians were especially concerned because they recognized the religious overtones of the situation. Then came Remembrance Day which reminded us of the current reality of war and the world’s history of martyring Christians.
The past while been hard on everyone, and our church is no exception. As I thought about it, it’s almost as though we’re getting a taste of the four horsemen of the apocalypse! We’ve felt the sting of antichrists who seek to steal people away from the church, we’ve felt the touch of war, we’ve seen sickness and sadness, and we have witnessed murder.
Christmas is right around the corner, but many of us are being pressed upon by many stresses. Some see the coming of Advent and the holidays as a wonderful thing, a much needed break (or at least distraction) from the troubles of the world, while others are readying themselves for a time of loneliness, frustration, worry, pressure and even more stress.
Some have felt the darkness of depression and anxiety press into their souls in a deeper way over the past little while. I’ve noticed that more and more health issues have come to the forefront as our families and friends have been inundated with serious physical crises.
Some have felt the sting that Jesus felt as He was rejected by those from his hometown, people that He knew and loved for a long time – as your own loved ones turn their backs on you, said unkind things, got more and more angry, and pushed you away.
Some have felt the anxiety of the disciples as they were sent out on their mission. Before you is a huge task, a difficult season; something bigger than you can handle standing in your way, testing you like never before. You know that you’re need to move forward in faith, but you have no idea what’s going to come.
Some know how John the Baptist felt as he said the right thing, did the right thing, shared the message God gave him to share, but was arrested, tied up and thrown into prison. For you, life feels pretty unfair right now. You feel like Job – sitting around one day happy and content only to have Satan come in and run roughshod over your life. You’ve done the right thing, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why things should be getting worse. You don’t feel like you deserve all this mess, it’s not your fault – and yet there it is. Angry, wicked, selfish, manipulative people have set themselves against you – and their winning. You’ve been treated unjustly, and there seem to be no forthcoming miracles to make it all better. All that’s left, it seems, is for them to finally offer up your head on a silver platter.
So much frustration on the shoulders of so many people these days.
Remembering all of that, let’s read Mark 6:30-32,
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
Contrary to my usual method, I only have one point to my sermon today. The message I have is a simple one, but one that a lot of people don’t understand. Or, even if they do understand it, they don’t practice it. I want to talk about the importance of getting away.
Remember what’s happening here in the story. There’s been a lot of action up to this point, and there will be just as much to come as Jesus grows more popular and the people opposing him get angrier and more desperate. But here we read about a very important moment in the life of the disciples, something we read about Jesus doing more than once – and that’s getting away.
Busyness as Virtue
We don’t put much stock in stopping these days. Getting away sounds too much like quitting, and so we don’t want to admit that we’re doing it.
Busyness is a virtue! If you ask someone how they’re doing, you will likely hear the words, “Oh, I’m busy!” and we think, “Uh oh, I better tell them I’m busy too.” And then we can have a “busyness competition” comparing schedules to see who’s busier. Or some people will say, “I’m keeping busy!” in almost a pleading or apologetic tone trying to justify their own existence.
What’s the first question you ask someone after a holiday or a vacation? “So, what did you do on over the holiday – what did you do on your vacation?” If the person says “Nothing. I did nothing at all.”, isn’t there something in the back of your mind that either doesn’t believe them or considers that some kind of failure? “You holidayed wrong!”
The “family meal” where the whole family sits down together to eat is almost a thing of the past. Having everyone at home, at the same time every day, for more than an hour, to eat a home-cooked meal that took an hour or more to prepare, is seen as basically impossible. We’re too busy to do that. Our schedules are far too full. What we are doing is far too important to interrupt it with a long dinner that requires everyone to be at home at the same time.
Forget about praying with your kids, there’s not enough time and we’re all exhausted.
Forget about having a conversation that doesn’t start and end with “Did you get all your stuff done today? How much more stuff do you have to do?”
Forget about the idea of spending personal time in prayer and reading the bible every day – that’s something we can do in the car on the way to places. And absolutely forget about quiet meditation – that’s just not going to happen.
Forget about sleeping too since most are jacked up on caffeine and sugar, spend the evening staring at a glowing box, and are so stressed out that we can’t close our eyes except out of sheer exhaustion.
We’re even doing it to our children. Kids don’t play at the park anymore – they don’t have time. We sign them up to more and more and more things.
For two reasons: One, both parents’ calendar is so full that they just don’t have the time to care for their children, so they need nurseries, schools, and activities to baby-sit them from morning to evening. And two, the culture of busyness has so seeped into our minds that we actually feel guilty when our children have time off. (Tweet this)
The Jones’ kids are in soccer and hockey, taking extra credit classes, and are part of three different after-school clubs – therefore we feel shamed and inferior when we have to admit that our kids actually have evenings with nothing on their schedule. So we go sign them up.
Statistics Canada says that millions of people now suffer from “extreme stress”. One article I read this week talked about how messed up we really are. Instead of not wanting to be stressed out, we are actually
“more inclined to boast about how much [we] can shoulder. We feel proud of our ability to keep all the balls in the air, believing stress is synonymous with success. But relentless busyness is nothing to brag about: The consequences of chronic stress range from annoying — that cold you just can’t kick — to downright dangerous (research has linked it to an increased risk of cancer, depression, heart disease and diabetes, and a tendency to overeat, smoke, drink and take drugs).”
We are so afraid to be called a sloth that we now perceive slowness as weakness, resting as quitting, stopping as evil, wanting time off as a personality fault. But it’s not. It’s a sign of strength.
It Comes from Sin
It all comes down to sin. 1 John 2:15-17 says:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
That’s where our business comes from. We love the world. We think like the world. We want to look more impressive and compare ourselves to others – that’s pride. We want to get more stuff – (that’s desires of the eyes). We want what the world wants us to want, and we sacrifice peace, quiet, meditation, contemplation, silence, solitude, worship, our prayer closet – all the most important things that divines throughout the centuries have said are so very important to the health of our soul. It’s foolishness and sin.
Satan knows that we are stronger when we are connected to God through His word and through prayer. We are wiser when we spend time reading the Bible, listening to good teaching, and meditating on what we have learned. We are stronger when we have taken time to put on the Armour of God and draw from the One who gives life. We will start to realize that the world is passing away and that the will of God abides forever, and our priorities will straighten out. Satan knows that we have a better attitude when we are thankful and worshipful. He knows that we will see more clearly when we see through God’s eyes.
He knows that we will be less angry, less prideful, less envious, less frustrated, when we have our hearts, minds and souls fill up with the words, actions and promises of Jesus. He knows that just as a person needs to care for their bodies, so they need to care for their soul. And so he works double-time to make sure that we are tempted to do anything and everything else.
The Neglect of Our Souls
In my own devotional life I’ve started calling it, the “neglect of my soul”, and it’s something I repent to God for regularly.
AW Tozer once said, “The neglected heart will soon be a heart overrun with worldly thoughts; the neglected life will soon become a moral chaos.” (Tweet This)
Jesus said it this way, “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
A puritan author named John Flavel gives this helpful illustration. Imagine,
“a master who commits to his servants care, the child and the child’s clothes. It will be a poor excuse for the servant to say, at his master’s return, ‘Sir, here are all the child’s clothes, neat and clean, but the child is lost.’ Much so of the account that many will give to God of their souls and bodies at the great day, ‘Lord here is my body; I am very grateful for it; I neglected nothing that belonged to its contents and welfare; but as for my soul, that is lost and cast away forever. I took little care and thought about it.”
That seems like an extreme example, but I believe it is absolutely biblical. Let’s push it one step further. “Thank you so much for my children Lord, for my wife, my husband, my church… I am very grateful for it. I taught them how to care for their bodies. I helped them take care of what they ate and made sure they got a good education. I held them accountable to be good workers. But as for their souls, I didn’t take the time. I didn’t much care about the condition of their souls. I didn’t even think about it.”
When Paul is speaking to young Timothy about how to make sure he can face the trials and tribulations of the Christian life he said,
“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Think back to that list of troubles I gave at the beginning and consider how you’ve been facing them. Here’s some truth: it’s not about being strong enough or smart enough to face all of the difficulties that are coming at you. It’s not enough to train your body and mind to be able to deal with all the stresses life is going to throw at you – too keep all the balls in the air.
It’s not enough to make bigger and bigger piles of money so you can feel secure. It’s not enough to surround yourself with good people. It’s not enough to build a strong bunker to escape into. No matter how physically or mentally strong you are, no matter how rich, no matter how prepared you think you are, your ability to deal with the trials of life is going to come down to the health of your soul.
You can sit in your bunker, with your friends, surrounded by money – and still be absolutely undone if you have neglected to cultivate and care for your soul. No matter what you have set up around you, no matter your own strength, it will fail and you will crumble. The only thing that won’t is Jesus – therefore, you must ensure you are connected to Him and His strength.
Let’s come at this a different way. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). To be “meek” means to be not easily provoked. In times of hardship, there is calmness. All over scripture we read about the importance of Meekness.
It’s a synonym of gentleness or humility. It doesn’t mean “weak”, no, meekness means “strength that has been turned over to a greater power.” Or more simply, “power under control.” It’s not only about a person’s outward behavior, but has everything to do with what is going on inside their hearts. People get this confused. They think that meekness and humility means that a person is weak and useless. But that’s not the case.
Jesus is called “meek” and he certainly isn’t a weakling – He had the infinite resources of God at His command. It’s considered to be a description of the Holy Spirit, and is a fruit of the Spirit for Christians. It describes someone who has listened to the word of God and submits themselves to it as their highest authority.
The Greek word is PRAUS and was used by the Greeks to describe a warhorse that was trained to obey the rider instantly and absolutely. The battle may rage around them, confusion, blood, bodies, distraction, fear and noise everywhere – but the horse wouldn’t bolt. It certainly had the power to throw it’s rider off and run away from the battle, but it didn’t. It had been broken by the rider and was now at his command. A small bit of pressure from the rider’s leg or knee and the animal responded immediately. Despite having immense power, the horse was meek. (Source)
Jesus says “the meek” are blessed.
It is a “meek” thing for one to stop their activities and turn to God.
It is a meek thing to step aside and rest because God has told you to.
Praying for help is a humble activity.
Taking a Sabbath rest requires believing that God will take care of things while we’re not working.
Walking away from responsibilities that have been heaped upon you so you can read the scriptures and meditate in silence requires incredible strength of character and humility.
Sometimes, it is not an act of weakness to walk away – it is strength and faith. The act of weakness is being too afraid, too stubborn, to prideful, too idolatrous to stop.
It means saying to yourself, “I’m not in control, God is. I don’t need to be there every moment of the day, because God is. I cannot do this without the guidance of God, therefore I will step away and be with Him. Or better – I will not do this without the guidance of God because otherwise I won’t be doing it right.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle [Meek] at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
and I think He meant it!
The World Won’t Change So We Must
I can tell you from personal experience what burnout is like. I know all about destroying my adrenal glands with anxiety, facing depression, getting the shakes, living with a constant stomach aches and physical pain in my joints, getting fatter and fatter, cycling between angry at everyone and too tired to care, and getting to the point where I just wanted to die. I know about. I’ve been there.
And I got there because I neglected to care for my soul. I learned for myself that life isn’t going to get any easier, Satan isn’t going to stop attacking and tempting, and the world isn’t going to be getting any better. And if I was going to wait for everything outside of me to change, I was going to wait for a long time. So the only thing that I could change was me – and that meant humbling myself before God. Doing things His way.
When I was most bruised and burnout, I met the Christ who is the one who says
“a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…” (Matthew 12:20)
In our passage today we see Jesus kidnapping His disciples because He saw that they needed rest. It says
“He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
You know that feeling. Many people, things, responsibilities, troubles, coming and going – and you feel like you don’t have any time to take care of yourself. You haven’t prayed, or exercised, or rested – and the pressure is relentless. See what Jesus does. He takes them away.
Was everyone saved? Nope. Lots more people needed to be talked to. Were all the sick healed? Nope, there were lots more sick people. Was Jesus on an important mission? Of course. The most important! But what did Jesus do? He got them into a boat and sailed away.
He knew they needed time with Him. Jesus knew they needed to ask questions, take a rest, eat some food, and Sabbath – and I’m using that term technically now to mean “cease and desist from work – to rest” – with Him. That means you have permission to do the same. The world isn’t going to change, so you must.
Make the Time
There will never be a time when Satan relents and says, “Ok, go ahead and take care of your soul now. I’m done tempting you.” There will never be a time when the world says, “Ok, we’ll leave you alone now so you can rest in God and meditate on His word.”
- You will never “find the time”… you must “make the time.” You must make the time to rest. For some of you that is going to require a massive shift in thinking.
- This means you’ll have to look over your schedule (and your family’s schedule) and make some huge cuts to things that are good, so you can concentrate on things that are better.
- This means you’ll have to say “no” a lot more, and you’re going to feel an unholy sense of guilt – but you must realize that it’s not guilt from God, but from unrealistic and ungodly expectations you’ve imposed on yourself (or have been imposed on you by others).
- It may mean you have to quit some things and let some people down. I don’t mean breaking agreements – but maybe not signing up anymore, or not doing the job you normally do, because you need to concentrate on your spirit.
- This means you’ll have to let things go, and walk away in the middle of other things, because you need to spend time with Jesus. Just get in the boat with Jesus, even if it’s half done.
- And it might mean walking away, even from a sick and hurting person who needs you, so you can rest in God.
- This means you’ll have to start things later than you want to because you want to make sure you connect with God first.
And since we’re entering into the Christmas season, you might feel that this is a difficult time to do this, but this is actually the perfect time to start planning how you can make this Advent a time of waiting and remembering rather than stress and busyness.
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:7-15)
No One Likes a Quitter
No one wants to be called a quitter and I don’t remember anyone writings songs and telling rousing stories about how their military forces turned-tail and ran away. The heroes of our books and movies tend to be men and women of action – who didn’t quit – who wouldn’t let up. I like watching movies with heroes like the Avengers, John McClane from Die Hard, or Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies who can take hit after hit, deal with bad-guy after bad-guy… aliens everywhere, the whole building’s blowing up, and they get threatened, shot, and are bleeding… but they just keep on going. Nothing stops them, and they never backs down.
The basis of the Terminator movies is wrapped up in a quote from the first movie that they milked for at least 4 movies and a tv program. The hero leans over and says in a very serious tone…
“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
A lot of people these days lives as though they are Terminator machines. We’ve even got little phrases we like to use like “Sleep is for the weak” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We prize people that never stop. It’s a compliment when people say that you’re like the Energizer Bunny… that you keep going, and going, and going, and going. However, if our study in Mark is any indication, I don’t think that God considers it to be much of a compliment.
What Do You DO?
Think about how we talk to each other. When we first meet, what do we say? What’s your name and what do you do? Not, “what are your interests?”, “what’s your favourite book?”, “how have your times with God been?”, “tell me about your family.”… or any other aspect of the person’s life… We want to know what you do. Imagine if we changed that to be “who are your best friends?” or “what book or movie has most impacted your life and why?” I bet we’d get to know each other a lot more.
I looked at a list of questions that Speed Daters are encouraged to use to get to know people in a hurry when they are going around to the various prospects. Question number 1 was “What do you do for work?” but it came with a caveat: “It is an introductory question. It may reveal the professional status of a person but little about his personality. So move on to another question.” In other words, what we do seems to be our first question, but it is a superficial and shallow one.
Sometimes we’ll start conversations with our family with “So what’s your plan today?” What are you going to do? What will you accomplish? I do that with my wife all the time. “So, what are we doing today?” The assumption is that you and I will be busy, and most of the time that assumption is absolutely correct.
It seems that we’ve covered this ground before. We’ve already talked about the importance of the Sabbath, which is a weekly rest, given to us as a gift from God. We’ve talked about Fasting, which is a time that we stop doing something… like eating… and spend time with God instead. We’ve also talked about Jesus leaving Peter’s home early in the morning to spend time alone with God after a busy day. The theme continues today as we look at Jesus escaping the crowds and taking special time away to pray.
Many of us have heard it over and over and over… from our counsellors, our friends, our doctors, various preachers and teachers… it’s not new information. Humans were not designed to go like the Energizer Bunny or the Terminator. We are not machines! We need rest. Daily Rest, Weekly Rest, and Rest during special times. That’s what I want to focus on today.
When we talked about when Jesus’ left Peter’s home early in the morning, the emphasis was on the importance of having a consistent, daily time to rest in and rejoice in God. When we talked about the Sabbath, it was about having a consistent, weekly time to worship God and fellowship with other believers. These are our regular times… they are like our regular meals. If we discipline ourselves to spend time with God every day… set aside one day every week… without fail… we will be able to maintain our spiritual health.
But what we read in our passage today is different. Here, Jesus isn’t stealing away in the middle of the night, nor is He resting on the Sabbath. No here, He’s making what you could call a “Strategic Withdrawal”. I want to look further at what Jesus is doing here, and see if we can learn something from it.
Everyone Wants a Piece of Jesus
Take a look at what’s going on in the passage. In verses 6, 7 and 8 Mark wants the readers to get a real understanding of the kinds of pressure Jesus was under.
“The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
So He’s got that pressure, from the religious leaders and the people who supported Rome. Things in the Synagogue that day were getting dicey and emotional, so Jesus decided that it probably wasn’t best to have the crowd confined to the streets, but instead went down to the open shoreline so people would have more space. Keep reading:
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.”
Twice, Mark uses the term “great crowd”. And he gives that list of cities to mean that they came from everywhere. They came from Galilee, where He was currently ministering, Judea in the south, Jerusalem – the big city, Idumea — which was outside of Judea and across the Jordan, which refers to Prea and Decapolis which were east of the Jordan river, and around Tyre and Sidon which were pagan cities to the far north on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a lot of people all crowding on one beach. And every one of them wanted a piece of Jesus.
Everyone Wants a Piece of You
Have you ever felt like that? That everyone wants a piece of you? I love my job – I love my life! On any given day I’m usually busy in the office, out visiting someone, or having a meeting, or two, or sometimes three, and I could do it all day long – love it! And when I’m done that, I have 4 kids at home who area all constantly vying for the attention of their parents. I can’t imagine what it was like to have thousands calling Jesus name. I get stressed out when I have 4 people yelling for me.
We love our kids and want to help them, but we’re only two people, which mathematically means that someone has to wait! And there are many days when it’s not until they are unconscious that the requests stop. Someone is always hungry, or bored, or needs help with schoolwork, or a project, or wants to play, or be read to, or go somewhere, or something.
There’s are only three rooms in my house where mom and dad can be alone – the bathrooms and the master bedroom – and that’s because I took the lock off of the bathroom and put it onto our bedroom door.
I plan my life so that I will not be too busy or overwhelmed. I’ve told you before that the first fruits of my energy goes to my wife and family, and then to the church… but life is life, and getting busy sometimes just happens. Sometimes because of exterior pressures, but often because of my own poor planning or procrastination. And I know that some of you have it worse. Pressure at work, pressure at home, with your parents, your friends, your clubs and associations, hobbies, and of course, all of the things that you do in and for the church. Many of you are beyond maxed out! And I’ve talked to enough retired people to know that it doesn’t stop after you retire… in fact, for some, it gets busier.
Pressed and Crushed
So what do you do? Let’s look to see what Jesus did. Verse 9:
“And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him…”
That’s an important verse! Notice that Jesus planned ahead because He knew how this would go. The word there for “crush” or “crowding” is the Greek word THLIBO which means to press… and is used to describe what they do to when they stomp grapes to make wine.
Jesus knew what was coming… and not just because He was Omniscient… anyone could see the thousands of people that were around Him. So He gave orders that there would be a rowboat waiting for Him on the shore. He had a plan that if the crowd got to forceful, He would paddle out a little ways from the shoreline as He taught. Which they did!
“…for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”
This was getting out of hand. Sick, hurting people everywhere, and they were losing their cool. The word “pressed around” here is a different word than before. It is the word EPIPIPTO which means to fall on someone, or rush into them. The crowd was so desperate to get close to Jesus that they were turning into a mob. They were stepping on each other, pressing the weaker aside, and pushing towards Jesus… jumping out of the crowd in the hope that they would just touch Him. They didn’t even care what he was saying … they just needed to touch Him. Picture them leaping out of the crowd, stepping over the lame, diving at Jesus. Picture Jesus slowly backing into the water toward the boat… his feet get wet, then his legs… and the people kept pressing forward, pushing him backward.
If He hadn’t planned ahead, He might have had to deliver his message while swimming to avoid being crushed by the crowd. If Jesus hadn’t taken the precaution of setting up a boat then He wouldn’t have had to worry about the Pharisees killing Him, the crowd would have.
The Rhythm of Life
As simple as it sounds, I think this is the first thing we need to learn from Jesus here: we need to plan ahead. Of course, we need to set aside our daily time to read the bible and pray, and we need to block-off one time during the week when we will be with other believers and worship… we’ve already talked about that. But this is something different. This is for the times when we are besset by external pressures beyond our control. This is about planning ahead, recognizing when life is going to be hairy-scary and then build into them times to be able to walk away.
As one of my commentaries puts it, Jesus understood the ebb and flow, the rhythm of life. A time to work, and a time to rest. A time to worship and a time to play. A time to be alone, a time to be with a few people, a time to be with many people.
When Jesus got into the boat, it wasn’t because He was afraid, but because He knew that it was time to go, and that the rhythm of His life needed changing. There is a time to work… to do a high intensity, high concentration, high production time where things get done. But there is also a time for rest, where our energy isn’t spent, but restored so we can work again. A time for work, and a time for rest. We work to produce, and we rest so we can work more.
It is really hard for some of you out there to stop. Many are busy, busy, busy, busy… and in our arrogance and pride we think that we absolutely must keep going or the whole world is going to fall apart. If I don’t keep going, I’ll lose my job. If I don’t rush, I’ll never get there on time, and if I don’t get there on time… something bad will happen. I have to stay for one more hour to get this done… just one more hour and then I know it’ll be perfect. I can’t just walk away because it’ll fall apart. I can’t trust the people around me to keep going without me. I have to do it myself because I’m the only one that knows how. I know it best, I do it best, I’m important, I’m critical, I’m useful, I’m the grease that keeps the machine moving…
I used to believe that, and I literally worked myself sick. I used to think that the church needed me to function, that ministries couldn’t go on without me, that the teams needed my input, that I had all the good ideas, that only I knew how to do it right… that I was necessary. It took a movement of God and a massive health crisis to make me realize that I’m really not – and that’s ok.
Work is Evil, Play is Work, Rest is Death
We must understand the Rhythm of Life – that there is a time for rest, play and worship. These are important times when we don’t produce things, they are not a means to an end, nothing is recorded, nothing is designed, nothing is fixed, nothing is moved, nothing is maintained – except our spirits, and the work is done by the Holy Spirit.
Rest is not a time to produce. I’ve heard people say “I’m going to rest, but I’ll bring a book, or my computer, or my phone, or my list…”. That’s not rest.
Worship is not a time to produce anything either. When you are worshipping, you’re not meant to accomplish anything other than a renewed connection with God. It’s not about learning a new song, practicing a new instrument, being in the right place, being seen by the right people, going through the right motions. It’s about giving attention to God. It’s about saying to God, “You’ve done it all, you’ve created it all, you maintain it all, you saved me, you restore me, you know me, you live me… it’s not about me, not at all.”
The value of rest, or play or worship in the experience itself.
Let me quote part of a commentary here.
“Modern society has upset the rhythm of life. Work has been devalued and play has been invaded by the purpose of work. With so much leisure and so many options, play has been subjected to a time-clock schedule with its demand for successful production. In many instances, worship has been eliminated from the rhythm of life and rest has become a dreaded experience on a ‘crash pad.’ The result is that work is a necessary evil, play is work, worship is idolatry, and rest is a short course in death.” (The Preacher’s Commentary – Volume 25: Mark)
Does any of that resonate with you?
Do you see work as a blessing, a gift from God, or is it a necessary evil? Even Adam and Eve had work to do. But it’s been so devalued in our life that we no longer see it as good, godly and purposeful. Instead of seeing our work as an act of worship (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:22), and working as though we are working for the Lord, do you see it as just putting in time until you can get to the weekend, or to the holiday? It seems every other song on Country Radio demonizes work and glorifies time off. That’s not a biblical view of work.
Or how about this: Has your play been invaded by work? Do you play just to play? Have fun just to have fun? Or, have you organized games and activities that you are calling play… but it’s not really meant to be fun. You have to compete to get into a better league or win the prize. Go to practice, do the drills, travel to the competition, work hard to win.
It used to be that you did your craft for fun and relaxation, now it’s something you do because you need to produce more for your small business, or gifts for people, or some other reason. Work has invaded your play.
Do you worship regularly? I know you do… it’s just a matter of what you worship. Where do you go to connect back to your source, to gain more wisdom, strength, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, faithfulness and self-control. I don’t mean here this morning. I mean regularly throughout the week? Do you take time to talk to God, or do you take time to get in front of a glowing box, on social media, talk to a human, grab a drink or a substance? Those are all acts of worship. You are going to someone or something – to get a gift that is meant to come from God. That’s called idolatry.
Do you value rest? Do you value sleep? Or is it a necessary evil that you ward off with chemicals for as long as you can until your body can’t take it, and you are forced to close your eyes. Do you consider that sleep as a gift from God, or is a curse?
If any of this rings true with you, then your life is probably out of whack, and so is your relationship with God. And I’ believe that it’s time to put a Jesus Style “Strategic Withdrawal” on your calendar, and make it a regular thing.
What Strategic Withdrawal ISN’T
Maybe you already think you do this, but let me start by saying what “Strategic Withdrawal”… the way Jesus did it… isn’t:
- …a day off where we take care of all the loose ends that have been piling up at home, like the banking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing, etc.
- …a vacation where you go far away to a strange land and do new things.
- …party time where you distract yourself with food and fun.
- … lazy time where you pass out or vegetate in front of the tv or computer.
- …a Sabbatical that you take for weeks or months at a time.
- …a way to run away from responsibility, leaving everyone to pick up your mess after you.
- …an evacuation where you leave and never come back.
What Strategic Withdrawal IS
Here’s what Strategic Withdrawal Jesus Style looks like:
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (vs 13-15)
So how did He do it?
1. He planned ahead. Jesus got the boat ready ahead of time, knew who would be in the boat, and talked to them before he needed to use it. This isn’t something you can do on a whim. It’s not meant to be an escape route. To do this properly, and to be able to do it un such a way that you are truly connecting to God in it, it’s important to make a plan. Where will you be going? What you’ll bring? What you’ll eat? Where you’ll sleep? How long you’ll be gone? This is a planned event. Having a plan like this gets rid of some of the guilt of leaving, and minimizes the stressful part of going away.
2. He left work behind. Jesus was staring at a crowd of people who wanted Him to work, but He left anyway. He could have kept working and working and working, but He didn’t. He got in the boat and left work behind. So many of us have a hard time doing this. We think, “I’ll just get this done, then I’ll go.” And in the middle of it, we get something else to do, remember something, or find out that whatever we are doing is going to take longer than we thought.
It is a remarkable act of faith to say to God, “Lord, I’m walking away with this undone. It’s hard for me, but I believe that my time with you is more important. I know that you hold the world in your hands, and are the writer of history… therefore I’m not worried that my world will fall apart if I leave right now… I trust you.”
This all goes back to the Gospel. What is your understanding of your worth, your need, your ability to save yourself? If Jesus loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you will ever do – then you don’t have to put your pride and self-image at risk every time you leave work. If what you really need, and what will last for eternity, is an intimate connection to God and the people around you, then you will put your work at its proper priority level. If you know that your work doesn’t save you, and that you life, your destiny, your purpose and your future isn’t in your hands, and that your entire existence is based on the grace and power of God, then you can walk away from work trusting God to take care of things.
3. He went away, but not too far away. Jesus got in a boat, went for a ride, and sat on a hillside. He didn’t get on a plane and go to Tahiti. He went somewhere he could meet God and did it close enough to work and home that it wasn’t hard to get there. It was planned, but it didn’t need hundreds of dollars and a week off to do it. A Strategic Withdrawal can be free, or cost a few bucks. It’s not meant to take a long time… just one or two or three days. I’ve read in more than a few places that experts say that a proper time away takes no less than two days because it takes the whole first day to wind down before a person can say they’ve even started to withdraw.
However, if you’re already in the habit of doing this, and you start putting your heart in order early, before you get there, getting your mind set on your time away, I can see a person only needing a day.
4. He took some chosen people with Him. When He was at Peter’s house, He went alone and talked to God alone. That’s important of course, but in this case, He chose a few people that he wanted to be with – He “called to him those whom he desired”. That’s a good thing to do. I’m guessing that during this Strategic Withdrawal there were times when Jesus was alone to pray, and times where he hung out with his friends. Not to teach, just to be with them.
This isn’t meant to be a time where we bring along the new guy, call someone we want to get to know, or be around people we don’t know. The idea is to take time to be around friends who we can be open, honest, raw, and real with. Alone with God is good and necessary… but sometimes we need some trusted, Godly people to help us, encourage us, talk through things with, and pray for us when we are trying to get our heads and hearts straightened out.
5. He came away with a plan. During or after His time away it says in verse 14:
“…he appointed twelve… so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
After some rest, after being with His Father, after being with some good friends, He had a plan. He got quiet, removed distraction, and listened to God, and did something different.
He would choose 12 guys and spread out His work. Instead of only Him knowing the plan, He’d let them in on it, and let them see the inner workings of the Kingdom. Instead of Him doing all the preaching, He’d send them out and get them to do some. Instead of Him being the only one with the power to cast out demons, He’d give them the power to do so as well. He came away with a different vision of how He would do His work.
Getting away and being with God has that effect on us. New clarity, new plan, a better understanding of what needs to be done. Pounding your head against a problem will only work for so long until you get tunnel vision, lose your focus, and run out of ideas. God built us to benefit from Strategic Withdrawal. We are designed for Sabbath. We are amazing creatures who can do a lot of things… but we are designed to do it in cooperation with God and others.
Let me encourage you to make a plan to do this. If you’ve never done it before, let me help you out in the planning stages. I have a few resources I can give you, or point you to so you can have an enjoyable experience, and grow closer to God.
I wrote this article a while back for ChristianWeek and it feels like it’s time to resurrect it.
Pastor: “How you doin’ Bob?”
Bob: “I’m so busy I can’t catch my breath!”
Pastor: “How are the kids, Bob?”
Bob: “They’re busy! I can’t find them most days.”
Pastor: “How’s your wife, Bob?”
Bob: “Really busy…I think…I haven’t talked with her in a while.”
Pastor: “How’s your ministry doing, Bob?”
Bob: “Uh, I’m too busy to get around to it.”
Pastor: “How’s your time with Jesus been, Bob?”
Pastor: “Bob, I think we need talk.”
Bob: “Sorry Pastor, I can’t…I’m busy.”
I’m worried about you Bob, and all the believers that follow in your footsteps. I’m worried about your marriage, kids, ministries and your relationship with Jesus. I’m worried that your body will crumble beneath you, that your church misses you and that you are seeing your faith as time-consuming rather than life-producing.
The unholy trinity of stress, overwork and despair, which travel under the more polite pseudonym of “busyness,” is killing the Christian Church one believer at a time.
The Lord Jesus has made me an under-shepherd to His sheep, but for some reason many have started to run in circles at breakneck speeds, and I can’t stop them! But, what about you, Bob?
I want to talk to you. Perhaps God has granted you a moment of solace, most likely forcing you to stop as a result of “nature calling,” and you have brought this article with you. Can you just pause there for a moment? I want to say a few things.
First, I want you to embrace this minute. Yes, this one. I want you to thank God that you have been given a minute to stop and listen. I think you’ve been fooled into believing that you need to be busy to be significant. You don’t. Right now you have stopped and are not being “productive,” but you are still significant. God loves you right now. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Implicit in that statement is that God is not as interested in your production value as you think He is.
Second, I want to tell you that your body has a message for you. You’ve been putting it on hold for some time now, but it keeps calling back and asking to speak to the manager. Here’s the message: “I’m tired!”
When Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” He was talking to you.
Bob, your adrenal gland was designed to be used in case of emergency, but you’ve been living off of it! In fact, you’re addicted to it. According to Dr. Archibald Hart, adrenaline is not only energizing, but it provides a sense of elation and exhilaration. And you’re addicted.
Have you noticed that you’re grumpy, tired (which is why you drink so much coffee), and afraid to stop or you may not get started again? Your body is asking you to take a Sabbath. And Bob, one of these days it’s going to force you to take one whether you want to or not.
Finally Bob, before you go, ask yourself something: Are you passionately pursuing things that really matter—things that God has created you to do? Or are you building sandcastles on the beach that will wash away with the tide of time?
I’m afraid that when you look back you will have so many regrets, and I don’t want that for you. I love you and God loves you. So Bob, make time to talk to me this week and let me help you get things straight, okay?