In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
This is Jesus praying, but perhaps not as we know it.
When I was a young boy one of my jobs was going to the fish and chip shop. Every Saturday morning I would queue up in a warm, battery, fishy, sizzling atmosphere, then when my turn came I would lean against and peak over the tall counter and present my list of what everyone wanted. It has often occurred to me that this is just like much of our praying. Queuing up in a prayer meeting or privately at home and presenting our list of what we want God to serve us up with.
Here in Mark’s Gospel Jesus shows us a very different picture of prayer. No queue gathered, no list presented, just a simple man and his Father. Jesus is being with his Father. Actually, I suspect there probably was a list of hopes and fears somewhere, but there will also have been lots of silence and listening; breathing and dreaming; a baring of his deepest inner soul; a looking to the days ahead; a simply being in the presence, Son and Father together.
This is one of my favourite and most significant stories of Jesus. Sadly, I find that many pass over it quickly, their attention on all the fast moving action stories that come a bit later. Here is a little stillness hidden away in the ‘rushing around’ of the Galilee ministry. It is clearly not a one-off but part of a regular pattern in Jesus’ life-style. It comes after Jesus’ first burst of demanding ministry and just before an even bigger and more exhausting one. Healing the sick, driving out demons and preaching the good news must have drained his tank. I see this as an emptied Jesus filling up at the petrol station before the next phase of giving out.
Time and space, space and time, how valuable but elusive they are. Jesus is a very busy person with lots of people making demands. He lives in a crowded village and probably in a very crowded house. Does any of this feel familiar? He could have simply operated as a very busy and stressed person, always thinking of the next job to be done, but here we see him getting away from demanding people and schedule. He makes time and space for God, and of course, God makes time and space for him.
Time and Space. I wonder if the real reason that I am so drawn to this little story is that it crystallises the big deficiency in my life. It highlights everything that I aspire towards but never actually get a hold of. You see, I am by nature an activist. I rush around, talk too fast and overfill my diary. Writing a sermon (quickly), checking my emails, chatting on the phone whilst making a list of tomorrow’s jobs and then dashing out (five minutes late) to a meeting – oh, I hate it and love it all at the same time. Frankly, I am just too busy to spend time with God. And therein lies my problem, I am too busy. And it is not just my diary but my constantly buzzing brain that are both suffering from ‘non-slowness’, ‘non-peaceful oasis’, ‘non-God-time’. In our crazy world we elevate those clever folk who can multi -task. Why don’t we turn it round and focus instead on the value of non-tasking. In the case of Jesus, it was because he was so busy that he knew he had to make time for God. With so many demands about to made upon him, he had first to make some demands on his father. He faces a long day giving himself to other people; first he had to spend some time with his ‘other God’. This is not his ‘me-time’, it is his ‘me and thee time’, not so much chill-out as warm-up.
Everyone needs time and space, even you. Are you a busy, ‘get out of my way, I’m on a mission to change the world’ activist or a gentle, swan-like, ‘I’m in a special place to pray for the world’ contemplative? How much time do you spend rushing around after others, be they children, parents or friends? How much time is there left for you? Perhaps you have got the balance just right like Jesus. Prayer followed by action, action followed by prayer. Early in the morning, in a silent house with a cup of tea and the Bible open; out alone walking the dog whilst talking to God; sitting in your favourite armchair simply thinking about your life and turning it inside out to let God in, where is the time and space for you?
We live in a crazy, over-busy, over-working, over-rushing world. But God doesn’t really do quick fixes. He is not a fast-food, drop you a quick text, catch you later kind of God. He is more of a ‘be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here – let’s spend some time together God’.
Time and Space,
Help me Lord,
Help me to turn off the telly,
To turn off the car radio,
To slow down,
To sit down,
To come down.
From all my flying around,
Help me Lord,
And come to me as I come to you.