The Power of Devotional Time

Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-13; Mark 1:35-39

As we continue our study in Mark on this Sunday, we go through Mark 1:35-39. As noted by the liturgist, it is a continuation of what went before. But I think it’s an important event for us to look at and understand, because it shows us where the heart of Jesus is, and it gives us some very good instruction on facets of the way we should live our own lives.

We all have busy lives. We all seem to actually enjoy our busy-ness in many ways. It’s even become a sort of saying. There was an article in the New York Times several years ago that offered an analysis of what might be called the “busy trap.” Listen to this excerpt:

If you live in America in the 21st century, you have probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It has become the default response when you ask anyone how they are doing. “Busy! So busy. Crazy busy.”

I know I like to say “running around like a chicken with my head cut off.” It is, pretty obviously, according to this article, a boast disguised as a complaint. The stock response is a kind of congratulation: “Well, that’s a good problem to have” or “Better than the opposite.”

The article goes on to say something, though, that was interesting. Busy-ness serves as a kind of hedge against emptiness. Obviously your live cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, so completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. We’re busy because of our own ambitions or drive or anxiety, because we’re addicted to busy-ness, or dread what we might have to face in its absence.

Being busy may make us feel important or it might hide feelings of emptiness or low self-worth. But it does nothing to enhance our relationship with God, even when we are busy at the Lord’s work.

Related to that, I think, as a slight aside, is noise. We also fill our lives with noise. Again, this is something that I came to realize as I was going through my studies on this topic this week. I study here at the church, and I study at home, and I don’t have TV but I stream through the computer, so I really do have TV in a sense.

I recognized that I would frequently turn on a show and let it stream while I was studying. I really wasn’t paying any attention to the show, or at least only half-attention. I know that a couple of times – and this is one of the nice things about streaming compared to a live show – I’d say, “What?” and then I’d be able to go back a little, and hear it again.

The point was, I had it playing, even while I was studying. Most kids these days have to have music playing or the TV going or something, while they’re studying. What is it, with having to fill our senses, our lives, with all this other stuff? Like we’re afraid to be quiet. We’re afraid of silence. We’re afraid of solitude, or being alone.

And please note, you can be alone and not be lonely, and you can be in the middle of a crowd and still be lonely. It’s not loneliness that we’re talking about, but solitude and being alone. We seem to have a terror of that. I don’t know if it’s because we are afraid of what we might think about if we’re by ourselves. We’re afraid of what we might have to face. We put it off, and fill our lives with busy-ness.

Jesus didn’t do that. As busy as Jesus was – and right before this, boy, was he busy! He preached in the synagogue, he drove out a demon, he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and then in the evening, he had the whole town, as we talked about last week, probably three thousand people, come to the front door of Peter’s house, all banging on the front door and wanting to be seen and healed and touched by Jesus. And it says he healed them all, and drove out many demons.

It was a long day. And I bet he was really tired. It’s easy to say, well, he was God, so he had the power of God, so all that really wouldn’t have impacted him that much. But he was also fully human, and we know that he got tired. We know that he got tired in a number of different places.

The most direct one that I know, and it’s one of my favorite stories, and when I get to Mark 4 it’s going to be covered, and that is the storm. Jesus is sleeping. He’s so tired, he’s sleeping in the stern of the boat, in the middle of a very bad storm, bad enough that the disciples, who are experienced fisherman, are afraid they’re going to die.

This is not the Queen Mary II. This is about a twenty or twenty-four foot sailboat, probably with no cabin, because they needed space to hold their catch. So there he is, with his cloak as a pillow, in the middle of a driving rainstorm, with thunder and lightning and wind. And he is asleep. And he was cranky when he wakes up – we’ll get into that too. He’s tired.

So Jesus was probably really tired after that long day of work there in Capernaum. But it says that early in the morning, while it was still dark out, he went out and went to a lonely place, by himself. That was probably 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning, roughly. Now me, if I have to get up at 4 a.m., I might as well just stay up all night. I’m not a morning person. I’m a night owl.

But it’s important that Jesus set a time aside. And he does that continuously through his ministry. He set a time aside to go and speak with the Father, to go spend time with the Father. In that devotional time that he had, I believe that he was recharged, he was refocused, and he was renewed in his relationship with the Father. We all can experience that as well.

An illustration from a sermon that I read said a pastor had a conversation concerning Sunday morning worship with some of the parish members. Each of them shared his or her favorite of the service. One person said it was the Nicene Creed, because that was the moment he was able to stand up and declare his faith.

Another said it was the music. The songs and hymns deeply moved her. And one elderly lady said it was the liturgy. She shared that it meant so much to her to know that they followed the same worship structure as that of the early church.

Another person said it was the prelude. The pastor looked at the person and was somewhat taken aback. “The prelude? Don’t you mean the sermon?” “Oh, no, pastor, it’s definitely the prelude.” When asked what made the prelude so meaningful, he said his whole week is always so full, so busy, so intense. But when he enters the sanctuary and the prelude begins, it is the only time all week he could just sit back, be quiet, and experience the presence of the Lord.

Sit back. Be quiet. And experience the presence of the Lord. How often do we have that in our lives today? How often do we even make the attempt to have that in our lives today? It’s critical for us to do so.

Jesus, when he spent that time alone with the Father, had a purpose too. And I couldn’t help but think, when the disciples where hunting for him in the morning – and mind you, Capernaum was a decent-sized town that had two to three thousand people in it, and he went outside the bounds of town, I’m guessing – they had some idea where he was, or they probably wouldn’t have found him for a couple of days.

When they find him, they say, “Everybody is searching for you,” and I couldn’t help but remember the gospel of Luke, when Jesus was twelve years old. Jesus’ extended family had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover, and they left at the end of Passover. It took them a full day before they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. They probably thought he was running around with the cousins over here, or the cousins over there. But they came to realize, after twenty-four hours, that he wasn’t there.

So they went to Jerusalem, and searched everywhere for him. They found him in the Temple. If you remember, at that time Mary chastised him and said, “What are you doing? Where have you been?” And Jesus said, “I’ve been in my Father’s house, doing my Father’s business.” The way he says it makes it obvious it’s like “What did you expect, Mom?” Right after that it says that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and the Spirit, which you could take to mean he learned not to talk to his mom like that.

But he had a purpose why he was there, and it hadn’t changed in all of his growing up. He took time and he went away. The disciples say the same thing: “Everyone has been searching for you. Where have you been?” And he doesn’t answer them. Instead, he says, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.”

During this time Jesus had alone with the Father, first of all he had recharged his batteries, as it were. He had drained them, pretty much, with all of the stuff he did the day before. He recharged his batteries. But he also became refocused. It would have been very easy and very human to have simply gone back to Peter’s house.

Everybody already knew where he was. His fame had spread throughout Galilee. People from the surrounding areas came into Capernaum to see him and stand in front of Peter’s house that evening. He could have stayed there, become a famous faith healer, smacked people on the forehead and said, “Be healed,” and then they’d go away and they were healed and he’d get lots of money, and he wouldn’t have to go anywhere. He’d have good meals with Peter’s mother-in-law.

But he had a different purpose, that the Father had given him, and he needed to go. I believe he discovered that during this time of prayer. I’m sure he had an inkling of it ahead of time. He knew what he purpose was ultimately. But he knew, from his time with the Father, that he needed to go on to the next town, because that’s why he came, to preach the good news, “The kingdom of God is at hand. There is forgiveness for your sins. There is healing for your soul.” He tells his disciples that. It doesn’t mean that he forgets everything good he did.

We frequently wonder, and struggle ourselves, in our lives, with our focus. We want to be like Jesus, and there is a huge risk sometimes of ending up being lived by others, unless we actively resist. As Christians, we so often feel we’re expected to be nice to others, to please others unselfishly, to give to others what they ask from us and even more. After all, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give what others demand from us with a bonus on top. And if you’re a little bit snarky about it, it also even says in the Bible twice that “in so doing, you’ll heap burning coals on their head.”

It’s not that we shouldn’t do that. I would say yes and no to that. “Yes” when it comes to living an unselfish life. That is certainly what Jesus expects from his followers. But “no” when it comes to who sets the agenda for our lives. That’s where prayer comes in. That’s where we get reminded of our purpose. That’s where we get reminded of our focus and get re-centered on where we need to be. And we know our next step.

It’s not our ultimate goal. Psalm 119 says “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” and the word that’s used for lamp is that of a night watchman’s lamp. It doesn’t shed much light, just enough for the next step or two. Not a spotlight that shines way out like the brights on your car when you’re on your way home because you’re watching for deer.

(That reminds me of a meme I saw on Facebook the other day. The top line said “Watch out for deer on your way home.” The caption said “Midwesterners’ way of saying ‘I love you.’”)

But it’s not that kind of spotlight. It shows the next step in the path. I believe that’s intentional, because we see clearly in our devotional time with God where we’re supposed to go next, but we have to keep coming back. Once we’ve taken those steps, we need to come back and get the next step, and then come back to get the next step, and then come back again, and again and again.

In the process of coming back for that refocusing, for that sense of purpose and direction, we also get recharged by the Holy Spirit, and we also renew our relationship with the Father, the one that Jesus said we can call Abba, Daddy. Not some formal relationship that is restricted, but we can just come to Him with anything.

So we need to take that time for devotional prayer. We need to set it aside intentionally. It probably is best in the morning. That’s when Jesus did it. There was a famous nineteenth century Scottish preacher who once said, “I never speak with anybody before speaking with God, I never do anything with my hands before getting on my knees, and I never read the papers until I’ve read the Book.”

I’m sure that sets you in a right perspective. It helps you set your priorities right. I would encourage you, if you’re a morning person, to do it that way. Take the time that’s needed to start out that way, so that you get the rest of your day set in line. You’re thinking ahead. There is a time for thinking back – it’s called the examen. But this devotional time like Jesus had, I believe, and he calls for us to do it, is to think ahead, to look forward.

And when we do that devotional time, I want to give you another word of advice. It’s one that preachers really have problems following. Don’t talk much. It’s easy to stay focused as long as prayer is about talking to God. I know people who always pray out loud even when they’re alone. As long as we hear ourselves, our own voice – which we all love, don’t we? – as long as we hear that, we can focus. Again, I admit to being guilty of this. I process things verbally.

One of the struggles I had at CREDO, that conference that I went to a couple of weeks ago, is they had a wonderful thing, they had personal reflection time for everyone after various seminars. The problem was that everyone got up and left to go do it.

But I process by talking to people. I need a sounding board for my ideas. You don’t have to be really responsive, just enough so that I think you’re engaged. “Yes … um-hum … cool … good.” You husbands, you ought to know what I’m talking about. I didn’t have any opportunity to do that, so I had to talk to myself. Which I guess is OK – my dad said as long as I don’t lose an argument with myself, it’s all right.

But instead, sometimes we need to focus, instead of on ourselves, instead of on our laundry lists of requests for Him, on our time with God. Tune into God. Open our hearts to what He wants to say. That is far more challenging. We don’t like to have quiet. We don’t like to be alone. The thing is, we’re not, when we’re spending time with God, in His presence.

So we need to have that time, just as Jesus did, to recharge our spiritual batteries, to refocus us from the distractions of life on what God wants us to do, and then to renew our relationship with Him, so we are constantly in communication with Him, doing what He calls us to do. It’s no easy task. But it’s necessary.

And if you don’t do it in the morning, you need to set aside some time during the day or in the evening, and do it every day. It’s that important. Like brushing your teeth. Well, it’s more important than brushing your teeth. I challenge you to set aside that time, to be deliberate.

You have help, as well. You have the prelude on Sunday morning. We’re going to have Communion in a couple of minutes, and that is a time for us to reflect on what God has done for us, in his sacrifice and in his victory over death, to be renewed and recharged, as we sense the presence of Christ, and we are recharged and refocused and renewed in him. But it’s not enough by itself. You need to do it every day.

May you find the time and the space to go to God, to hear God’s call, and then, like Jesus, to go forth and carry it out, bringing praise to the Father in all that you say and all that you do, experiencing the joy that comes from knowing Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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