A Deserted Place
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"A Deserted Place"
A friend of mine who is in the computer business and real estate business used to have a sign hanging in his office which maybe you've seen. The sign reads: "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle awakens. It knows it must run faster than the lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion awakens. It knows it must run faster than the gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle -- when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
I know how both the lion and the gazelle feel, don't you? Have you noticed, there seems to be an unwritten motto or code in our society which says "the busier you are, the happier you are." We buy into it and so we strive to be busy. Sometimes we work hard at staying busy. But busy-ness for busy-ness sake is a mistake. It can even be detrimental to your health. We need to look to Jesus and see how He handled the hustle and bustle of life.
I. JESUS WAS BUSY:
If you look at our passage for this morning, there was no one any busier than Jesus. From the beginning of his ministry crowds surrounded him everywhere he went. His disciples thought it was great and they really couldn't understand why Jesus didn't share their enthusiasm. According to worldly standards Jesus was a huge success, an overnight sensation, a smash hit. If it had been today, His picture would have been on the cover of Rolling Stone, Time, People and a dozen other magazines. He would have been a popular seminar leader and convention speaker. Jesus was one busy man. He washed dirty feet, fed hungry mouths, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, cleansed the lepers, chased out demons and evil spirits. All of that while preaching and teaching the crowds and trying to teach the disciples what it meant to be a disciple. As a consequence, His fame spread everywhere, the quiet, domestic scene at Simon Peter's house in Capernaum was transformed into another long night. Barely before supper was over, word had spread throughout town that Jesus was there and had the power to heal.
Without even thinking about it, Jesus saw that Peter's mother was sick with fever. He walked over, took her hand and as she stood, she was healed. Word went out like wildfire. By dusk Mark says the whole city was at Simon's house looking for Jesus. They brought their sick and needy and Jesus couldn't "Just say no!" It wasn't in his nature to turn people away in their need. So he worked late into the night, healing and comforting all those who came.
Jesus must have been exhausted. Who knows how late it was when they all finally left. Yet early the next morning, before anyone else in the house woke up, Jesus left in search of a deserted place; a place where he could be alone; a place where the crowds would be unable to find him; a place where he could catch his breath and pray. Jesus, who had given so much of himself to others, needed some time alone with God to recuperate and refuel his life and spirit once again.
He had to stay connected as Dr. J. D. Phillips, pastor of St. Luke's UMC here in Arlington says. J.D. said, "Until you're forty, you run on batteries but when you turn forty you better be connected."
II. CHARGING OUR BATTERIES:
A. J.D. knows what he's talking about. He knows and practices the secret of Jesus' energy for ministry. And it's a secret we can all practice. PRAYER. Jesus knew that to do God's will and to maintain the energy and focus He needed, he had to spend time with God in prayer. And we're no different.
Our lives are like the rechargeable batteries in our portable phones, laptops, and Camcorders. They provide just the right amount of power for whatever task we are doing, whether it be talking on the phone, crunching numbers or filming your child's recital. But they don't do any good if they're not charged. Or if they only have a partial charge.
I don't know how many times I have seen people who were right in the middle of recording something, like a wedding or baptism or school play only to have their camera quit because they didn't take the time to charge the batteries. I was talking to my brother on my cellular phone one night when all of a sudden it quit. I had grabbed the wrong battery. I grabbed the one that hadn't been recharged. All of a sudden it ran out of juice.
Our lives are a lot like that of the gazelle and the lion, constantly on the run. Consequently, our spiritual batteries need charging and re-charging on a regular basis. That's where worship helps. You may not think you get much out of worship. But you sit through my sermons because you know you're supposed to. But believe or not, even just participating in the service helps charge your batteries.
Taking the Sacrament helps as well. Worship attendance and the sacrament are both what John Wesley called Means of Grace. Means by which we receive and connect with the Grace of God. Worship and the Sacrament of Holy Communion are means by which we are fed and nourished spiritually.
And just as we need good food to survive daily, we need spiritual food to survive spiritually. The most potent nourishment of our souls, the most nutritious part of our spiritual life is prayer. For in prayer you have direct contact with the source of our power. No wonder Jesus spent as much time in prayer as He did.
Peter and the disciples didn't understand that, that's why they seemed so put out and disturbed when they found Jesus in the deserted place, praying. Peter didn't say, "Lord, what are you doing out here praying? What are you wasting time doing that for, when there's so much to do and so many people to see." Peter didn't say that but his attitude sure implied it. Peter eventually came to understand that prayer was the main source of Jesus' power.
B. Unlike most of us, for Jesus prayer wasn't just something you did to waste time or to pull your bacon out of the fire. We usually only pray when we need something or when we find ourselves in a situation that WE can't control. Then we ask for divine intervention. For Jesus, prayer was the source of His power.
Donald J. Shelby tells how the composer Brahms was once being interviewed along with a circle of friends. The conversation turned to inspiration and genius. Brahms listened thoughtfully as his friends discussed the questions. Then he asked, "What is genius anyway?" One of his friends replied with a definition by Carlyle, "The transcendent capacity for taking trouble."
Brahms disagreed and said, "The best definition of genius is found in the Bible, in John 14:10: 'the Father who dwells in me does his works.'" The real genius, Brahms insisted, draws on this Infinite Source of Wisdom and Power, as Milton and Beethoven. Jesus was the world's supreme genius, Brahms said, because he appropriated what is the only true Source of Power as no one else ever has. Any genius must tap that same Source. Without God, without prayer, we can't tap that source of power. (2)
III. THE LIFE OF PRAYER:
A. Jesus' early morning sojourn to that "deserted place" for private prayer was both rejuvenation from the previous evening's ministry and preparation for more of the same the next day. As he looked ahead to the next three years of ministry, he must have felt like the small child, who, just before beginning the first grade, was reflecting on the new experience of school. "After the first grade, I'll be in the second, then the third, then ...." All of a sudden a look of mild panic, then resignation, covered his face. "I've sure got a long way to go!" (2)
Like that little boy, Jesus did have a long way to go. The road to Calvary would be a long and winding, rough and tumble road. Jesus knew he needed all the spiritual energy that he could muster. So he spent much time in prayer. He is our model for the life of prayer.
B. And it doesn't have to be some elaborate multi-syllabic petition in the proper theological and biblical language. God understands the thoughts of our hearts. All your prayer has to be is heartfelt conversation with God. God wants us to come to Him as friend to friend and as children to a parent. God wants us to come in prayer so that we can be empowered for living the faith.
When Norris Dam was first built in the hills of East Tennessee, a worker on the night shift noticed how strange it was to hear the great dynamos humming in the quiet of the night and then look across the lake and see cabins lit with kerosene lamps. When he asked why this was, he was told that the transmission lines had not been laid yet. Even though those folks lived in the shadow of that great hydro-electric dam, they could not receive its power, because there were no lines linking the dam to their homes.
Where does your power come from? What is the source of your energy? There are many demands and obligations on all of our lives. There are things that constantly call for our attention and time and make us feel like we're caught on the treadmill of perpetual motion. But if we are going to manage to go through life with the energy and vitality we need to live our faith, then we need to spend time in prayer. There is no better way to charge our batteries and the creative spirit of life then in the presence of the very Creator of life. We need that connection. This passage challenges us to spend time in prayer and meditation, not seeking our will but keeping our focus on God's will, and meditating on how and where God wants to use us.
As you come to the Lord's Table this morning, be fed by God's grace and spend a few minutes in quiet rejuvenating prayer with your Creator.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Homiletics, January-March 1994, p. 25.
2. Lovett Weems, Jr., The Gospel According to Wesley (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1982), 34.
3. From "IN THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES" a sermon by King Duncan, Dynamic Preaching, 1990