13 When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. 14 As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. 15 When evening came, the disciples approached Him and said, “This place is a wilderness, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.” 17 “But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to Him. 18 “Bring them here to Me,” He said. 19 Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of leftover pieces! 21 Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children. 22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Just like you and me, Jesus experienced sadness and difficult times. When He found out that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded, He responded by pulling back for a time of solitude. However, He wasn’t given the luxury of taking all the time He wanted to deal with His grief. (Sound familiar?) No, life continued, and the people followed Him.
He was often hard-pressed to find the time and space to be alone! (Again, sound familiar?) Scripture doesn’t tell us, though, that He felt annoyed and stressed out at the constant interruptions. He never told the weary and needy people who constantly sought Him out to go away and leave Him alone. Instead, He felt compassion for them and healed their sick.
Did you notice in today’s Scripture passage that, shortly after losing His cousin, Jesus performed a miracle in front of thousands of people? Did you notice that He also had the emotional strength to minister to people who relentlessly pursued Him, even while He was grieving?
Just before Jesus ministered and performed miracles, He withdrew to be alone. Similarly, immediately after He ministered and performed miracles, He got all alone to spend some time in prayer.
Jesus understood the importance of time alone in prayer so that He was refreshed and renewed and able to minister to all of the people the Father brought His way. He knew that with the strength gained from time alone in prayer, He would be able to minister to people in ways that were beyond human capacity. He could love them, heal them, and amaze them, all with the power of God
You and I also need to set aside precious time to be alone with God. It is this time that strengthens and prepares us to effectively minister to hurting people all around us. It also rejuvenates and renews our spirits after we have emptied ourselves out to love on and minister to others.
Jesus made His time alone with His Father a priority. He also trusted His Father’s timing and lived a life of flexibility. Often, while He was still praying, the people would find Him, and He would then minister to them.
As you and I set aside time for solitary prayer, we can follow Jesus’ example of flexibility, trusting in God’s timing rather than our own carefully constructed schedules. Even if you haven’t finished praying for everything on your list, and God sends someone to interrupt you, love on that person. Minister to them. Don’t send them away!
Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” His attitude, which often seems so backward to us, reflects the attitude of Jesus in today’s passage. Prayer must be the action that precedes our ministry, and it must be the action that fills us back up.
I must admit that I often begin the day quite the opposite. “Because I have so much to do today,” I think, “my prayers will have to be short.” What would happen if you and I prepared for our daily spiritual battles by making solitary prayer time a priority?
Of course, there is a ditch on both sides of every road. Just as it can be a temptation to skimp on time with God in prayer, there is also the temptation to be so committed to solitary time that we miss out on the ministry opportunities God wants to bring us. Be flexible. Don’t dictate your availability to God!
Time spent alone in prayer is necessary preparation for the daily spiritual battles. Make the most of this practice in these ways:
- Actively seek out time to spend in prayer each day. If you just wait for a quiet moment, it will never come.
- Consider your current schedule. What changes do you need to make in order to leave room for daily prayer ? Slim down your to-do list. Simplify. Put solitary prayer on the calendar as a priority.
- Don’t get so wrapped up in your spiritual schedule that you can’t be flexible if God brings you an opportunity when you least expect it. Sometimes, you won’t feel done praying, but God will bring someone or something your way.
- Receive opportunities with a glad heart. Instead of being annoyed or frustrated with the opportunities God has given you, receive them with compassion, knowing you will receive the strength you need through your time spent alone in prayer.