“When Jesus heard of it, he departed…and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him…” Matthew 14:13
While Jesus sought out a solitary place, crowds of people, either through ignorance or sheer desperation, sought Him as well. When Jesus heard the news of John’s death, He made an effort to retire from the crowded throng, but when the multitudes heard He was departing, they invaded His solitary space with their own needs, seemingly oblivious to His.
While ministry and Christian service is a spiritual discipline and expected of all believers, taking time out for spiritual reflection and personal growth is an essential and integral part of ministry. And while His compassion moved Him to extend Himself to serve, immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, the Bible says in verses 22 and 23 that “straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship…while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” (Matthew 14:22,23 KJV) Jesus was eventually able to secure the solitary time for meditation and prayer which He had sought after learning of the death of John the Baptist. He first provided food for the needs of the multitude, then He provided nourishment for His disciples, and finally, He received strength and nourishment from His Heavenly Father in prayer.
The example Jesus left for us should serve as a striking example for us to balance work and rest, service and solitude. It should help us to understand the two sides of the intercessory work of our Savior – the work of Christ through us and the work of Christ in us.
This process is a part of the natural order found in creation. Our very heartbeat is nature’s way of reminding us of the balance between periods of rest and work. The revolutions of the earth, providing periods of sunlight and darkness, the transition of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, the metamorphic cycles found in living creation, all serve to remind us of the need to seek balance in both our physical and spiritual lives.
Conforming our existence to the natural rhythms of life is especially important for the believer. All too often I’ve struggled with the tendency to over-extend myself. I’ve met many others who struggle with this same issue. It places us out of rhythm when we don’t take time for growth and reflection. How often have we seen those engaged in the important work of ministry to “the least of these” burn out and lose the faith that they are encouraging others to embrace. Like Jesus, all of us long for a hiding place, a solitary place where we can find time to re-calibrate, reflect, and reconnect.
Just as Jesus sought space and time for solitude and reflection, so we as believers need to periodically seek out a hiding place, a sanctuary for the soul. Many who meditate on the account of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 can relate to the issues and challenges of life that seem to drive us to our dessert places. But how often have we ignored the call or deny ourselves the ability to replenish the soul? How often have we slipped into the warped thinking that seeks to justify our need to feel needed and resist again and again the soul’s cry for rest. Our excuse? No hiding place. We claim there is nowhere to go, no time to spend, to escape the demands and needs of life and ministry. No hiding place.
But rather than serve as a way to comfortably justify or deny the existence of a hiding place, the Master’s example helps us find it. Jesus does eventually send the multitude away. He is intentional about taking time for spiritual reflection. Although He came to engage in the most important work that has ever been done or ever will be accomplished on earth, He jealously guarded both space and time to spend recharging His humanity before the Father. May we do the same.