The Cure for a Crowded Life
Dr. Jim Denison
Have you heard of the new organization, “Sink Eaters Anonymous”? This is a support group for those who are too busy to sit down and eat a meal, so they stand at the kitchen sink and eat with their hands as quickly as possible. We are busy people. Too busy.
We are lonely people as well. Mother Teresa said that the great epidemic of our time is not AIDS or leprosy, but loneliness. Last Sunday our deacons spoke with ninety-three people who called in response to the television broadcast, and found loneliness to be the common theme in nearly every conversation. One woman said she would close her eyes and die if she could, she is so lonely.
And some of us are confused people as well. Some of us don’t know who we are, or why we’re here.
Alexander Curry is a thirty-something Wall Street trader for a large brokerage house. He lives in a luxurious Upper East Side apartment with the latest of everything. Yet he says, “I feel that there is a lack of purpose in my being. I don’t understand why I’m here. I don’t really try to understand why I’m here because I think it would probably be futile. It does provide a real hole in my existence.”
A psychologist spent four and a half years surveying over four thousand executives who would be considered very successful by the world’s standards. Six out of ten said their lives were empty and had no personal meaning. Six out of ten!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a spiritual discipline you and I could practice which would help us with our busyness, our loneliness, and our confusion? Actually, there is. It is the ancient discipline of solitude.
The simple fact is that our souls need time alone with God. God made us this way. But it isn’t easy, is it? When were you last alone with God for a long time? Has it been a long time? You may wonder, Why practice the discipline of solitude? How? Is it even possible, or are our busy, lonely, confused, crowded lives the best they can be?
I have a word of hope and encouragement from Jesus for every crowded life here this morning.
The Scripture on solitude
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35). Jesus has just spent an exhausting day. He started the day by preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, the most important town on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. He exorcised a demon in the worship service. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He spent the evening healing all the sick of this large town.
If I were to preach this morning, and cast a demon out of someone right here in church, then go to a member’s house for lunch and heal his mother-in-law; then spend the evening until late counseling with people from all over North Dallas who have come to me with their problems, I would feel tomorrow like Jesus feels here.
Now it’s the day after the Sabbath—Monday morning to us. I know a preacher who doesn’t take Mondays off because he refuses to feel that bad on his day off. Jesus, on the other hand, gets up before dawn, around three or four in the morning. He leaves Peter’s house in Capernaum and walks out of town. He goes to a “solitary place,” literally a “wilderness place” in the Greek. Some place where no one else would see him, off the road, out in the country. If I were to get up tomorrow morning around 3 or 4, get in my car and drive out of the city, pull off the road, and hike out into a field alone, I would do what Jesus did here.
And he “prayed.” The Greek “imperfect” tense indicates that he continued to pray, all morning long. Not for just a few minutes, but from 3 or 4 until daybreak, two or three hours of solitude with God. When’s the last time you spent this much time alone with God? Have you ever?
But this is bad church growth strategy. Imagine planting a church and preaching the first Sunday to standing-room-only crowds, then not coming back for the next service. Jesus’ movement is just taking off, and he’s left town.
So Peter and the others come to help Jesus out. They “hunt him down,” the Greek says. They look all over for him until they find him, so they can bring him back, so he won’t miss his big chance. But Peter and the others are disappointed, and all Capernaum with them. Jesus says, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (v. 38).
He goes to the people, where they are, as they are. To the “villages”—we would call them the “county-seat towns.” To their “synagogues” (v. 39), where he could reach the most people. Jesus was a master strategist, knowing where to invest the most to reach the most. And this entire tour, which occupied weeks and even months of Jesus’ precious time on earth and led to ministry and healing with untold thousands, was birthed early one morning when Jesus practiced the spiritual discipline of solitude with his Father.
Clearly, Jesus needed the discipline of solitude. Do we?
For this simple reason: you and I have exactly the same needs in our lives as Jesus experienced here. For one, he needs to know his life purpose. Here he faces something of an identity problem: who would he be? The local pastor of Capernaum? A faith-healer of great reputation and power? If he stays here, these are inevitable. The decision he makes here will determine the very future of his ministry.
And he faces this issue by time alone with God. Now he can say, “This is why I have come,” or “this is what God sent me to do.” He knows the “one thing,” because he has spent time alone with God.