“What is distracting us from a loving relationship with our Lord and a clear devotion to His mission?”
The start of a new year is often a time when individuals, families or even organizations go through a process of appraisal. Have the right priorities been maintained? Has the focus of our pursuits proved beneficial? Have we been available for the truly important things in life? Do we need to change how we spend our time, energy or money?
The question we have asked in this series is, “If Jesus were physically living in Canada today, how would He spend His time, energy and money?” We have noted that Jesus’ first priority was to walk in intimacy with the Father. Then, empowered by the Spirit, He devoted His time and energy to His two-fold mission of pursuing the lost in order to see them reconciled to the Father who loves them, and discipling a core group of followers to continue that work.
So, to be like Jesus, we need, first of all, to walk in intimacy with Father. Then, empowered by the Spirit, we need to carry on His mission of pursuing the lost and making disciples through genuine and loving relationships.
This brings us to a critical point. In order to maintain His intimacy with the Father and His focus on the mission, Jesus exercised two key spiritual disciplines—solitude and simplicity. As followers of Jesus, we need to value and practise these disciplines in order to keep first things first. If we fail to do so, we will find ourselves wondering why our priorities are out of whack, and why our pursuits are unfruitful.
Jesus often withdrew to a solitary place to commune with the Father and clarify His purpose. In Luke 4:40-44 we read:
“At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.
“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
Jesus comes back from the solitary place and clearly states what He will and will not do, where He will and will not go. He comes from solitude with a renewed strength for the ministry focus He has received.
Spending time in a solitary place—either alone or with His disciples—was a regular practice for Jesus, especially when He was facing major decisions or overwhelming circumstances. It was not uncommon for Jesus to withdraw from a place of opposition or public pressure in order to be renewed. As Luke tells us, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15,16).
Jesus also practised the spiritual discipline of simplicity. He taught that a lifestyle of simplicity promoted singleness of devotion and freedom of spirit.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mathew 6:33,34).
Jesus told one would-be follower, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). The simple lifestyle He Himself lived was to mark His followers. Without a commitment to simplicity our lives become cluttered with mixed motives. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt’” (Luke 9:1-3).
Jesus’ commitment to simplicity eliminated distractions and freed Him to respond to people with generosity and compassion. His interaction with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 illustrates this point. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Here is a question for us at the start of 2018: What is distracting us from a loving relationship with our Lord and a clear devotion to His mission?
“Lord, I pray that this year each us will discover the joy of the solitary place where You shape our single-minded devotion to You and Your kingdom. Help us to simplify and unclutter our lifestyles so that we are free to serve You and the people around us with generosity and compassion. For Your glory. Amen.”