Jesus on Retreat
But despite Jesus' instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
We live in a culture that prizes success and celebrity. These often go hand in hand, one building on the other. Consider, for example, the case of Mark Zuckerberg. Seven years ago, he was simply a Harvard student with a creative idea and computer programming expertise. Today, as the founder of Facebook, he is one of the most well-known people on earth. Last year, Zuckerberg was depicted in a highly popular movie (The Social Network) and honored as Time Magazine's Person of the Year. He even voiced himself on an episode of The Simpsons. Talk about success and celebrity!
There isn't necessarily anything wrong with being successful or well-known. But both can be dangerous to our souls. We can begin to live, not for what matters most in life, but for achieving more or enhancing our image. Moreover, we can be tempted to fill our lives with more and more activities, neglecting our core relationships and even our own health. Last year, a number of the "most successful" Christian leaders backed away from their ministries in order to get their lives back in order. Though I haven't found myself in need of this level of retrenchment, I am easily tempted to overbook myself when people want me to do good things.
Thus, the example of Jesus in Luke instructs, challenges, and admonishes me. As Jesus' fame grew throughout Galilee, "vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases" (5:15). From our cultural point of view, he was becoming more and more successful, as measured by the numerical response to his ministry. So how did Jesus handle his success and celebrity? Yes, he continued to preach and heal. But, as Luke reports, he "often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer" (5:16).
It's no exaggeration to say that Jesus went on retreat, often, in fact. He knew that he needed time away from the crowds in order to pray. He didn't just sneak in a few moments of prayer between preaching gigs. He didn't just have a quiet time in the morning. Rather, Jesus took time away from his busy and growing ministry in order to be quiet with his Heavenly Father.
Think about it. If the Son of God, the one who experienced unique intimacy with the Father, needed to go on retreat, then don't you and I need to do the same? How can we expect to negotiate the challenges and opportunities of our lives if we don't back away every now and then so as to take time for rest, reflection, and, most of all, prayer?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When have you experienced refreshing times of retreat in your life? What keeps you from taking the time you need to retreat? What helps you to make the time?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, every time I read this section of Luke, I am impressed by your habit of taking time away from the crowds in order to pray. I quickly realize how little I do this and how much I need it. And I know I'm not alone. So many of us find our lives more than full. It can almost seem impossible to get away. Help us, Lord!
Teach us to build times of retreat into our lives. The details will vary with our life situations. There isn't one way to retreat in order to spend time with you. But, however we do it, we all need it.
Thank you, dear Lord, for your example in this text. Help me to follow it! Amen.
P.S. from Mark: A Note on Laity Lodge
One of the reasons I'm on the leadership team of Laity Lodge is that I believe people need times of retreat, and Laity Lodge does this as well as any retreat or conference center I know. All of our retreats offer content for spiritual growth, delivered by some of the finest Christian teachers and musicians. But every retreat also includes plenty of time for quiet, reflection, and prayer.
Plus, Laity Lodge is the only retreat center I've ever attended where retreat goers are told, "We have an agenda for this retreat, but we don't have an agenda for you. If you need to sleep in, we'll make sure you get breakfast when you wake up. If you need to skip a meeting to take a walk, that's just fine." When I first heard this invitation many years ago, long before I joined the staff, I was hooked. Laity Lodge was not a place for even more frenetic activity. It was truly a place of retreat.
I want to invite you to join us at Laity Lodge for a retreat. Those of you who live in Central Texas will find it easier to get here. But we often have retreat goers from across the country, or even from other countries. We have retreats throughout the year. If you're interested, you can check our schedule online. Also, if you would like to receive monthly (or so) news about what's coming up at Laity Lodge, you can sign up for our newsletter. That will keep you informed about our retreat schedule.