One of the most profound verses in the gospels to me personally is Luke 5:16, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” I find it so intriguing that the physician Luke was the one who made this observation. The demands of Jesus’ ministry were great. Everyone wanted a piece of Him. If you’re a parent of young children, you know that feeling. If you’re in any kind of management position, you also know that feeling. Perhaps, you are just in a season where you feel as though you can’t keep up with the demands of life. It’s comforting to know that Jesus understands. He, too, was limited to a 24-hour day. He too felt tired and needed rest and renewal. Jesus listened to His body and responded in wisdom.
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, author of Sacred Rest, encourages readers with the following profound words: “I challenge you to be brave enough to listen to what your body is saying and respond by rectifying any problems you find. Learn to speak your body’s love language”(1). Jesus knew how to speak His body’s love language and how to speak His soul’s love language. He often withdrew to a lonely place – times alone with the Father.
Why don’t you stop, open your Bible, and circle the words, “often,” “withdrew,” and “lonely”?
Often. The pattern of Jesus’ life was that He withdrew often for the purpose of enjoying God the Father’s company and pleasure. For many years I read guilt into that. I felt awful if I missed my quiet time. I felt guilty if I didn’t read through the Bible every year or if I missed a day. Here’s the thing: nowhere in scripture does it say, “Read 3 chapters of the Bible every day.” About 20 years ago I changed. I began to think of my time with Jesus as an invitation to simply be with Jesus and enjoy Him. What does that look like in my life? I enjoy some moments with worship music before I ever even open my Bible. I read until I sense an invitation from the Lord or a promise from Him. Then I sit quietly with that promise or invitation. I read for transformation, not information. As I began to enjoy the invitations I received from God, I started becoming excited to spend time with Him.
Withdrew. As I view Jesus’ life I see that there is a time to engage and a time to withdraw and refresh. Jesus didn’t go, go, go all the time. Here in the Western world, we worship those who accomplish and are successful. We need to adopt the rhythms of grace. What if success in God’s eyes is abiding in Him (John 15)? When you feel the pressure building, anxiety and tension rising, learn to view it as God’s invitation to withdraw for time to relax in His presence. Friend, hear this, in our busy, overstimulating, constant, and continual world, there is wisdom in withdrawing! We live in a world filled with constant input coming at us – our brains need time alone in silence with Jesus to recalibrate. How do you do this? One practice I have found helpful is to take a long walk outside in silence. I listen for the birds, the quiet wind, the leaves rustling, and I hear all of creation praising God. I allow my eyes to take in the beauty of the flowers, trees, mountains, and streams, all of which remind me of God’s creative power.
Lonely. Lonely is an interesting term. We bristle against it. I mean, who wants to feel lonely? I love people. However, we need time alone with God. Solitude. Being before doing. I read recently in Peter Scazzero’s profound book, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, that early church fathers were first anchored in a life of prayer and being with God: “Their service flowed out from that abundance and experience with Jesus”(2). Friend, your service for Jesus needs to flow out of the abundance of your lonely times with Him. The times when you sit at His feet and simply enjoy His presence. The truth is, He’s dying to spend time with you and simply love on you. Don’t view time with Him as another thing to check off on your to-do list; view it as enjoying the time when you feel most deeply loved. He loves and cherishes you completely. Hang out with Him and enjoy Him.
The wisdom of withdrawing is profound. Follow Jesus’ example. Withdraw, often and to lonely places, and allow yourself to simply enjoy God’s presence.
1) Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, Sacred Rest (New York, Nashville: Faith Words, 2017), 42
2) Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2021), 44