Time Alone for God

The Ageless Habits of Jesus Christ

Article by

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” —Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

It’s a sweeping claim, but it might just be the kind of overstatement we need today to be awakened from our relentless stream of distractions and diversions. How hauntingly true might it be, that we are unable to sit quietly? Four hundred years after Pascal, life may be as hurried and anxious as it has ever been. The competition for our attention is ruthless. We not only hear one distracting Siren call after another, but an endless cacophony of voices barrages us all at once.

And yet, long before Pascal, Jesus himself modeled for us the very kind of habits and rhythms of life we need in any age. Even as God in human flesh, he prioritized time alone with his Father. Imagine what “good” he might otherwise have done with all those hours. But he chose again and again, in perfect wisdom and love, to give his first and best moments to seeking his Father’s face. And if Jesus, even Jesus, carved out such space in the demands of his human life, shouldn’t we all the more?

“How many of us have the presence of mind, and heart, to discern and prioritize prayer as Jesus did?”

We may have but glimpses of Jesus’s habits and personal spiritual practices in the Gospels, but what we do have is by no accident, and it is not scant. We know exactly what God means for us to know, in just the right detail — and we have far more about Jesus’s personal spiritual rhythms than we do about anyone else in Scripture. And the picture we have of Christ’s habits is not one that is foreign to our world and lives and experience. Rather, we find timeless and transcultural postures that can be replicated, and easily applied, by any follower of Jesus, anywhere in the world, at any time in history.

Retreat and Reenter

For two thousand years, the teachings of Christ have called his people into rhythms of retreating from the world and entering into it.

The healthy Christian life is neither wholly solitary nor wholly communal. We withdraw, like Jesus, to “a desolate place” to commune with God (Mark 1:35), and then return to the bustle of daily tasks and the needs of others. We carve out a season for spiritual respite, in some momentarily sacred space, to feed our souls, enjoying God there in the stillness. Then we enter back in, as light and bread, to a hungry, harassed, and helpless world (Matthew 9:36).

Quiet Times Without a Bible

Before rehearsing Jesus’s patterns in retreating for prayer and then reentering for ministry, we should observe the place of Scripture in his life.

Jesus did not have his own personal material copy of the Bible, like almost all of us do today. He heard what was read aloud in the synagogue, and what his mother sang, and he rehearsed what he had put to memory. And yet throughout his recorded ministry, we see evidence of a man utterly captivated by what is written in the text of Scripture. And like Christ, we will do well to make God’s own words, in the Bible, to be the leading edge of our own seeking to draw near to him.

At the very outset of his public ministry, Jesus retreated to the wilderness, and there, in the culminating temptations before the devil himself, he leaned on what is written (Matthew 4:46–710Luke 4:4810). Then returning from the wilderness, to his hometown of Nazareth, he stood up to read, took the scroll of Isaiah (61:1–2), and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus identified John the Baptist as “he of whom it is written” (Matthew 11:10Luke 7:27), and he cleared the temple of moneychangers on the grounds of what is written in Isaiah 56:7 (Matthew 21:13Mark 11:17Luke 19:46). He rebuked the proud by quoting Scripture (Mark 7:6Luke 20:17). At every step of the way to Calvary, over and over again, he knew everything would happen “as it is written” (see especially the Gospel of John, 6:31, 45; 8:17; 10:34; 12:14, 16; 15:25). “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him” (Mark 14:21), he said. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31).

“Solitude is an opportunity to open up our lives and souls to him for whom we were made.”

Even though Jesus didn’t have his own Bible to page through in his quiet times, let there be no confusion about the central place of God’s written word in his life. He lived by what was written. What an amazing opportunity we now have today, with Old and New Testaments in paper and ink (and with us, everywhere we go, on our phones), to daily give ourselves to the word of God.

How Often He Withdrew

For Christ, “the wilderness” or “desolate place” often became his momentarily sacred space. He regularly escaped the noise and frenzy of society to be alone with his Father, where he could give him his full attention.

After “his fame spread everywhere” (Mark 1:28), and “the whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33), Jesus took a remarkable step. He slipped away the following morning to restore his soul in “secret converse” with his Father:

Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

What a ministry opportunity he left behind, some might say. Surely some of us would have skipped or shortened our private disciplines to rush and bless the swelling masses. To be sure, other times would come (as we’ll see) when Jesus would delay his personal habits to meet immediate needs. But how many of us, in such a situation, would have the presence of mind, and heart, to discern and prioritize prayer as Jesus did?

Luke also makes it unmistakable that this pattern of retreat and reentry was part of the ongoing dynamic of Christ’s human life. Jesus “departed and went into a desolate place” (Luke 4:42) — not just once but regularly. “He would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

So also Matthew. After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). But even then, the crowds pursued him. He didn’t despise them (here he puts his desire to retreat on hold) but had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). Then after feeding them, five thousand strong, he withdrew again to a quiet place. “After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23).

Praying, Fasting, Teaching

What was written animated his life, and when he withdrew, he went to speak to his Father in prayer. At times, he went away by himself, to be alone (Matthew 14:23Mark 6:46–47John 6:15). “He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). His disciples saw him leave to pray, and later return.

He also prayed with others. The disciples saw him model prayer at his baptism (Luke 3:21), and as he laid his hands on the children (Matthew 19:13), and when he drove out demons (Mark 9:29). He prayed with his men, and even when he prayed alone, his men might be nearby: “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him” (Luke 9:18; also 11:1). He took Peter, John, and James “and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). On the night before he died, he said to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). All of John 17 is his prayer for his disciples, in their hearing. Then they went out from that upper room and saw him pray over and over in the garden (Matthew 26:36394244). He not only modeled prayer, but instructed them in how to pray. “Pray then like this . . .” (Matthew 6:9–13).

“Christ himself modeled for us the very kind of habits and rhythms of life we need in any age.”

And he not only assumed they would pray (Matthew 21:22Mark 11:24–25Luke 11:2) but commanded it (Matthew 24:2026:41Mark 13:1814:38Luke 21:3622:4046). “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “Pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38Luke 10:2). Pray without show and without posturing (Matthew 6:5–7). He warned against those who “for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40Luke 20:47). “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

And to accompany prayer, he not only modeled fasting (Matthew 4:2), but assumed his men would fast as well (“when you fast,” not ifMatthew 6:16–18), and even promised they would (“then they will fast,” Matthew 9:15Mark 2:20Luke 5:35).

Come Away with Me

Jesus didn’t only retreat to be alone with God. He also taught his disciples to do the same (Mark 3:7Luke 9:10). In Mark 6:31–32, he invites his men to join him, saying, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark explains, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”

So also, in the Gospel of John, Jesus, as his fame spread, retreated from more populated settings to invest in his men in more desolate, less distracting places (John 11:54). In his timeless Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught all his hearers, including us today, not only to give without show (Matthew 6:3–4), and fast without publicity (Matthew 6:17–18), but also to find our private place to seek our Father’s face: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

And how today might our Father reward us any better than with more of himself through his Son?

Converse with God in the Quiet

In it all — in receiving his Father’s voice in Scripture, and praying alone (and with company), and at times, when faced with particularly pressing concerns, adding the tool of fasting — Jesus sought communion with his Father. His habits were not demonstrations of will and sheer discipline. His acts of receiving the word, and responding in prayer, were not ends in themselves. In these blessed means, he pursued the end of knowing and enjoying his Father. And so do we today.

We don’t retreat from life’s busyness and bustle as an end in itself. “To sit quietly in a room alone,” in Pascal’s words, is not an achievement but an instrument — an opportunity to open up our lives and souls to him for whom we were made. To know him and enjoy him.

The Value of Vulnerability – Crosswalk Couples Devotional – August 6

2020Aug 06

The Value of Vulnerability
By: Amanda Idleman

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” – Genesis 2:18

You are not made to be alone. All the way back at the start of creation, God saw man was in need of a companion, helper, friend, and one to love. So why then do we fight leaning in and leaning on our spouses? We resist dependence because of how vulnerable it makes us feel. Not only that, but pride stops us from being fully open with one another.

The word “helper” from this text describes an equal who provides vital strength to their partner. Man and woman as a team were made as equal partners who together create a balanced partnership. Each needing what the other possesses.

To be vulnerable means you are exposed. Making yourself fully known means you are susceptible to harm. For most of us, being fully known and unprotected from emotional harm is terrifying. By adulthood, we’ve learned too many times and in too many ways the value of guarding ourselves against possible emotional scars from others.

We get married and are supposed to somehow unlearn our emotional survival instincts. It’s time to finally fully let down our guard and let another person in. Yet, it doesn’t actually happen naturally. We have to choose to push past pride, fear, and the instinct to protect ourselves in order to be vulnerable together.

vulnerability

Thankfully, God helps us achieve this kind of open love. He knows that without His help, fear paralyzes us from experiencing vulnerable love. Romans 5:5 says, “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to love others with God’s love. 1 John 4 tells us that God’s perfect love casts out all fear in our lives.

Cultivating Vulnerability in Our Relationships

How can we practically cultivate more vulnerability in our relationships? How can we better recognize that we were made for each other and relying on each other is God’s plan not our failure?

1. Pray for more vulnerability

We can’t love on our own. We need God’s help to overcome our sinful nature that holds us back from living love-filled lives. Pray and invite the power of God’s spirit to help you move past the lies of the enemy that may be holding you back from growing closer to your spouse.

2. Quiet your “inner critic”

Most of us are in a daily struggle with an “inner critic” that likes to point out both the failures of ourselves and our spouses. This is the voice of pride saying that you should be able to get everything right on your own. It tells you that your spouse is incompetent and therefore shutting down the chance to see them as an equal partner to lean on.

When you start hearing those voices of negativity, start flipping the script in your mind. Remind yourself that God designed you for interdependence! You were not made to get everything right on your own. You were made for community.

God created men and women as equal partners. When we start entertaining negative thoughts about our spouse’s abilities, start thinking through the ways you are thankful for them. Focus your mind on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

3. Practice sharing your thoughts and feelings with each other

Practice makes perfect in all things! If we want to have a vulnerable relationship, then we have to practice sharing our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Set a daily time to express how you are doing and what challenges and joys that day brought your way. It may feel awkward at first but one day those daily check-ins will become the lifeline of your relationship.

In marriage truly no thought, fear, joy, or experience is too insignificant to be worth sharing with one another. If in doubt talk it out. Openness begets more openness. Start the cycle of sharing and watch your mutual vulnerability with one another bloom!


Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for the Daily Bible Devotions App, she has work published with Her View from Home, also for the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her blog or follow her on Instagram.

For More Great Resources for Christian Couples, Visit Crosswalk’s Marriage Channel.

Do you struggle with fear, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions? You are not alone. In our FREE podcast, Faith Over Fear, author and speaker Jennifer Slattery helps us see different areas of life where fear has a foothold, and how our identity as children of God can help us move from fear to faithful, bold living.
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10 Resolutions for Mental Health

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

On October 22, 1976, Clyde Kilby, who is now with Christ in heaven, gave an unforgettable lecture. I went to hear him that night because I loved him. He had been one of my professors in English Literature at Wheaton College. He opened my eyes to more of life than I knew could be seen. Oh, what eyes he had!

He was like his hero, C.S. Lewis, in this regard. When he spoke of the tree he saw on the way to class this morning, you wondered why you had been so blind all your life. Since those days in classes with Clyde Kilby, Psalm 19:1 has been central to my life: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

“Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.”

That night Dr. Kilby, who had a pastoral heart and a poet’s eye, pled with us to stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, but instead to drink in the remedies of God in nature. He was not naïve. He knew of sin. He knew of the necessity of redemption in Christ. But he would have said that Christ purchased new eyes for us as well as new hearts. His plea was that we stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things. He ended that lecture in 1976 with a list of resolutions. As a tribute to my teacher and a blessing to your soul, I offer them for your joy.

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

Did God Save Me to Call Attention to Himself?

Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Over and over in the Bible, it appears that God saves us in order to draw attention to himself. This is nowhere clearer than in the first chapter of Ephesians. There we are told that God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” Why? “To the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4–6). Again, just a little later it says God predestined us. Again, why? “To the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). And then Paul says even our eternal security is “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Why? “To the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14). Why does God predestine us, save us, adopt us, and eternally secure us in order to draw attention to himself? Here’s how Pastor John explained it in a 2010 sermon.

You cannot experience consciously the love of God for you — you cannot — apart from omnipotent, divine, supernatural power enabling you to experience it. Here’s a prayer from Ephesians 3:18–19. This is Paul now praying for the Ephesians, and also the way I pray for you, for myself, for my family: I pray that you “may have strength . . . to know the love of Christ.”

You can’t know it without power. Does that strike you as odd? You should give a lot of thought to that: Why can’t I know what it is to be loved without divine power?

Mind-Blowing Love

I’ll keep reading that prayer. Paul prays that the Ephesians “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

“The love of Christ, the love of God, surpasses the powers of the mind to comprehend.”

The love of Christ, the love of God, surpasses the powers of the mind to comprehend and the powers of the human heart to experience. It surpasses our fallen capacities to handle with our brain and to experience with our heart. It goes beyond what you’re able to do, which is why Paul is praying and why I pray for myself this way and for you this way: may you have strength to comprehend the love of Christ — soul strength, heart strength, mind strength. May God give this to us now.

This is why Paul said in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The love of God pours into you not by any human agency, but by the Holy Spirit. It’s a divine thing to know yourself loved by God; you’re not able to on your own.

Apex of Our Praise

Now, the question I posed last week was this: Why is it that the Bible reveals the love of God for us, including God’s making so much of us, in ways that constantly call attention to his own glory? Why does he do it that way? And the answer is this: if God didn’t do it that way — if he didn’t love us in a way that constantly called attention back to his glory as the source, as the essence, as the goal — we would be so much more likely to turn the love of God into a subtle means of self-exaltation. We would use his love to make ourselves the deepest foundation of our joy — instead of himself. God would become the servant of our slavery to self. We would take our preciousness to God and make that very preciousness to God our god.

But I argued: God loves us so much — we are so precious to him — that he will not let that happen. We are so precious to God that God, in great mercy, will not let our preciousness to him become our god. We will indeed — hear this carefully — through all eternity, enjoy being made much of by God. That will be a profound ingredient in our joy in God: that he makes so much of his sons and his daughters.

But he will work in us such a holiness, such a sanctification, such a freedom from sin that he will protect us from making that the bottom of our joy. The bottom of our joy will always be that he’s the kind of God who delights in us. The bottom of our joy will always be that he’s the kind of God who makes much of the likes of me. This grace will be the apex of my joy, the apex of my praise forever. It will never terminate here on me; it will always go back there to him.

“From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). God himself will be the beginning, the middle, and the end in his love for me.