By Pastor Glenn Pease
The hospital supervisor sent for a young surgeon and lauded his efforts in the operating room the previous day. "Marvelous bit of work," he said. "You operated just in time. One more day and the patient would have recovered without it." Whether or not this was good timing depends on the perspective from which it is seen, but all agree that timing itself is important. God built His whole universe to operate like clock work. Timing is essential for beauty, power, and harmony. Take a photograph at the wrong time and you will ruin it, and fail to capture the beauty you intended to get because of too much or too little light. Poor timing lets the precious smile pass, and you catch the smirk or frown instead. Poor timing in your motor leads to loss of smoothness and power. Illustrations could be multiplied to show that timing is an important factor in all that is good and pleasant.
Jesus is the author of all beauty and harmony, and the author of time itself. He was a master of good timing. His life from the very start was perfectly timed. He was not born just any old time. It was in the fullness of time that He was born of a woman. The time was just right. We cannot examine the whole life of Jesus, but even a glimpse of a few major events show it to be a life of precise timing. His entry into Jerusalem; the Last Supper; and His crucifixion, were all precisely timed in proximity to the Passover so as to fill these events with symbolic significance and prophetic fulfillment. When His hour was not come, they could not take Him. But when His hour had come He submitted to the cross. His timing of His resurrection on Sunday morning; the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, are further examples of the importance of timing in the life and plan of Jesus.
All of the Gospels show that Jesus believed and practiced the wisdom of Eccles. 3:1. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Jesus had His time of preparation; His time of testing in the wilderness, His time for baptism and public ministry, and His time for withdrawal to rest and pray. Jesus had the perfect life because it was a balanced life. He knew how to use time fully and wisely.
Mark gives us an example of the wisdom of Christ in this connection that none of the other Gospels portray. It is of unique value because it is a picture, not just of good timing of Christ in His own life, but in relationship to His disciples. In other words, there is valuable teaching here for all who love and follow Christ. The disciples have been sent on a mission of preaching, casting out demons, and healing. John the Baptist was killed while they were on this mission. Verse 30 brings us to the point where the disciples have returned to report to Jesus all they have done and taught. Verse 31 tells us they had such a response that they were mobbed, and so busy they didn't even have time to eat. They were tired, and no doubt saddened and discouraged by the tragic news of John's death.
It was time for something to happen: But what? Jesus, the Master of timing and the Great Physician, prescribes rest. He says to them, "Stop what you are doing and come away by yourselves and rest awhile." This is the same Jesus who said, "Work for the night is coming," and who stressed the urgency of getting laborers into the harvest. Here were masses of people eager to be ministered to, but Jesus says to His disciples that they should come away from it all, and go to a deserted place. Jesus is saying there is even a time to let go and leave off of doing the good and the best things of life. Jesus hallowed holidays, and magnified the value of vacations. He authorized periods of time off from service.
G.Campbell Morgan says of this passage, "If the story is a revelation of His understandingness, of His care, I could go further and say it is a stupendous revelation of His wisdom. It is a rebuking revelation to some of us." There are Christians who think they are wiser than Christ. They think they can neglect the law of timing and rest that He has built into the very fiber of reality. They give themselves to activity all out of proportion to time spent in restful mediation. They ruin their health and spoil their fruit, and then wonder why God did not honor their dedication and protect them from poor health.
The answer is obvious. When you break a law of God, it breaks you. No one ever has a right to break a law that God has built into the framework of life, and expect to escape the consequences. The law of rest is universal, and if we had the time, we could see how it applies in all realms. Metals need rest or they will break. Certain woods will shatter on a lathe if not given resting periods when you work with them. God demanded that the Israelites not only give their servants a rest, and their animals, but even their land, for land that gets a rest will be more productive. Rest is a universal law, and the great physician always prescribes that we obey such laws for health and holiness.
The context makes it clear that we are out of order if we expect God to work miracles to save us from the consequences of neglecting the law of rest. The disciples had just been performing miracles, and while they were in seclusion in a remote place, Jesus performed the marvelous miracle of feeding the five thousand. They were in the very midst of miracles, and yet Jesus did not restore them to new strength and vigor by a miracle. He calls them to obedience to the natural law: Come apart and rest. The implications of this prescription by Christ are far reaching, and should have a profound influence on each of us. The Christians wise enough to listen to the doctor's orders will have a solution to one of the major problems of our age, which is the problem of meaningful use of time. Karl Jaspers says our world, "has completely lost the faculty of creative repose."
Books galore are written on the subject of rest and leisure. There is a desperate search for answers as to how to rest and make leisure meaningful. Charlotte Buhler concludes, "A meaningful use of time is only possible within the total framework of a meaningful life." This being so, Christians should be shining examples of success in the balanced life. Unfortunately, in this realm as in others the children of darkness are often wiser than the children of light. We let humanists get the credit and the honor for leading the way when Christ should get that honor through us. We want to look in more detail at the problem and the prescription of Christ in hopes that we can learn something that will aid us in developing a pattern of life that leads to greater health, holiness, and happiness in our relationship to God and man. First consider-
I. THE PROBLEM.
The problem is simply that we are finite and have limitations. Our psychology professor at Bethel, Swan Engwall, emphasized that Christians must learn to accept their limitations. He said that every person has a breaking point, but many have a devil may care attitude expressed in these lines:
I burn my candle at both ends.
I know it will not last the night,
But Oh, my foes, and Oh, my friends,
It gives forth such a lovely light.
Such an attitude leads to irresponsible living with total disregard to the laws of health ordained of God. Charles Aked writes, "We live faster than men ever lived before. We burn the candle at both ends, and then for fear our neighbor shall get ahead of us, we light it in the middle too. We are consumed by the fever of living."
One little boy who had seen his parents so seldom because of their running to this event and that, heard them debating if they should go out again. He conveyed to them his feelings with the reversal of a well known statement. He said, "Don't just do something-stand there." The problem is that many have been on the treadmill so long they don't know how to stop and be still. William Davies wrote, "A poor life this, if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare."
A restlessness characterizes most people today. In spite of all the wealth available people are not content because money cannot buy the values that can be gained only through a wise use of leisure. Bertrand Russell the atheist even saw this and wrote, "To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization." The result is, men try and kill time, and instead it kills them. Ralph Barton, the illustrator for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, left this suicide note: "I have run from wife to wife and from home to home in a ridiculous effort to escape from time. I'm fed up with the effort of living 24 hours a day." Here was a man who did not know how to use time meaningfully. He had no concept of rest and repose. There was no balance in his life. He lived for the body only, and let his soul shrivel.
You may say, but he was not a Christian. But is it necessarily different with a Christian? Many have a Martha spirit, and they are compelled to be ever on the go with no ability to buy up the treasures of rest and repose. They develop a perpetual motion complex that makes them feel guilty if they stop long enough to let the dust settle. They have a million things to do and cannot stop a second. It is possible to be a Christian and be shallow all your life if you do not learn the art of stillness that leads to depth. We can be just like the superficial secular sightseer described by Mathew Arnold.
See all sights from pole to pole,
And glance, and nod, and bustle by,
And never once possess their soul
Before they die.
The problem then is that it is possible for any of us to get in a rut of restless activity which may be for good or evil ends. Even if it is for a good end, it can lead to the loss of the ability to be still and commune with God, and grow in the values that come from solitude. All of us suffer from this problem to some degree. Let us, therefore, look away from the problem and look at-
II. THE PRESCRIPTION.
Remember that Christ, as the Great Physician, is not prescribing here for a group of old men. Some of them were very young men, and He was only in His early thirties. He was in the prime of life and in perfect health, but yet He felt the need for rest, quietness, and solitude. We are talking about a medicine that is for those in good health, and who are young and full of energy. The law of rest does not apply just to the aged. It is a preventative prescription that keeps a man in good health, as well as a curative medicine that restores one to good health. It is good for all of us. All of us need an Alabama. An Indian tribe after a long toilsome march pitched their tents on the banks of a river and called it Alabama. It means, "Here we rest." Even Christians must show their confidence in Christ by learning to retreat from the battle, believing that the kingdom will not be defeated because of their absence.
Knowing that whate'er befalls us,
He will order for the best.
We can say with hearts confiding,
Alabama! Here we rest.
Jesus said to come apart by yourselves to a lonely place. You have to get away, for a change of scenery is vital to good health. You know from experience that escape from a monotonous routine is restful. Variety is the spice of life is a proverb Jesus could recommend. He recommends getting out of the rut and getting away by yourself. The wise person will not wait for a vacation to do this, but will everyday get away for a few minutes of solitude.
Charles Lamb always complained that he was never just Charles Lamb, but Charles Lamb and company. If you find you are never alone, and never with just yourself and God, you are in trouble. To never be alone is to be in an environment not good for spiritual and mental health. We need to beware, however, less we jump to the conclusion of getting alone and resting means doing nothing. This leads to boredom, and boredom can be as bad as being busy beyond your capacity. Pascal said, "Nothing is so insupportable to man as to be completely idle, for he then feels all his nothingness, all his loneliness, all his insufficiency, all his weakness, all his emptiness." Solitude in order to be a healing power for body, mind, and spirit, must find a balance between boredom and business. Cowper said, "Absence of occupation is not rest. A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed."
Our minds must be active along new and fresh channels to gain a rest. We must aim to fill our solitude with the presence of Christ. Jesus did not say to go apart for a while, but to come apart. He invites us to be with Him in our rest. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Christ is to be our Lord in leisure as well as our Sovereign in service. It is He who gives rest, and so fellowship with Him is the essence of rest. A Christian vacation is to be one in which he does not seek to escape from God, but seeks to escape from all else in order to draw nearer to God.
A rest that really lasts must have some relationship to eternal rest. Eternal rest will be a state of full and final fulfillment when we see Christ as He is, and become like Him. Our vacation then should lead us to a clearer vision of Christ. We must look at the beauty of God's creation as we travel, not just for the aesthetic value, but for the spiritual value. We can expand our soul's capacity for fellowship with God by letting the grandeur and majesty of God's handiwork fill us with awe. We must steep our souls in the beauty of the mysterious. Emerson said, "There is one means of procuring solitude which to me, and I apprehend to all men, is effectual, and that is to go to the window and look at the stars." With practice you can look at a flower or body of water, or any aspect of nature, and enter into solitude in which you rest in the presence of God. This is a mystical experience open for all Christians, and is a key to soul expansion and rest. The poet wrote,
Ah, once more, I cried "Ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!
We need to let nature expand our souls so we can have deeper fellowship with its Creator. The purpose of a vacation, rest, and solitude ought to be to increase our efficiency in fellowship and service. Rest and success said W. G. Benham are fellows. Men of wisdom have always recognized that knowing how to rest is the key to effective work. There is an old story about two farmers who had to get their grain in before the rain came. It was back in the days when they had to cut the grain with a scythe. One began immediately, for he decided he had no time to do any sharpening. The other took time to carefully sharpen his tool. The first got a head start, but when the rain came the second had finished his field, and the first had not. His dull scythe made his work go slower, and the quality of it was poorer, and he was more tired. It is the wise man who recognizes that time is not wasted which is spent in sharpening his tools. One who was opposed to this way of thinking never took a vacation. He said the devil never takes a vacation. His wife had to remind him that we do not take Satan as our example, but our Savior, and he did take a vacation.
Rest, solitude, prayer and meditation, are for the sharpening of the tools for effective living. St. Augustine said centuries ago in his book The City Of God, "In leisure a man ought not to revel in the luxury of having nothing to do, he should be occupied with either the investigation or the discovery of truth." Jesus is the truth, and He urges us to come to Him and rest. There is no greater rest for the total man than to come apart with Christ, and grow in the knowledge of truth through quietness and meditation. It is always difficult to follow good advise, however, when it is radically different from the pattern of life we are use to following. Following doctor's orders is a task that often calls for a rigid discipline. May God help each of us to give heed to the Great Physician, and enter into the rest He prescribes.