Did you know today’s gospel lesson features a word which is used one time in the entire New Testament. Just once….Can you guess which one it is?
Hunted. It’s such an unusual choice of words that it nearly jumps off the page. "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him" (Mark 1:35-36). They hunted for him like he was wild game or a missing child. They were desperate for him and they would stop at nothing to find him. We’ve likely all experienced the kind of desperation the disciples were feeling, that need to find something, maybe even to find God. Yet what I find most fascinating about this passage, is what it has to teach us about Jesus, and in turn ourselves.
Jesus just had an exhausting twenty-four hours. He taught in the synagogue and healed a man with a troubled spirit. He went with his four disciples, including our two guys Andrew and James, to Simon and Andrew’s family home. There they discovered Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. Jesus went to her bedside, took her hand, and lifted her out of bed. Her fever disappeared and then she even felt well enough to provide them with some hospitality.
At this point, it had already been a very long day. I’m sure Jesus was ready to kick off his sandals and head to bed. Instead, the entire village gathered at the door and he began to minister to each of them, offering his words, his touch, his presence. He cured those fighting illness, healed those with fractured minds, and mended those with broken spirits.
The next morning in the dark, early hours Jesus left the house where his friends were still sleeping. He knew he was exhausted, and there was only one way to remedy the situation. He wandered off to a deserted place to pray. He took the time he needed to pause for prayer. When Jesus hits the pause button on his life to pray, he peels back all the layers, all the expectations, all the needs of those he serves. When Jesus pauses to pray, he is not the Messiah, the Savior; he is not Mary and Joseph’s son; he is not a teacher; he is not a healer; he is not a miracle worker. He is simply a young man, a beloved child of God, really, the beloved child of God.
Throughout Jesus ministry, we see him widen his circle of care. He begins his ministry by healing one man with a troubled spirit in a synagogue. The same day he widens his circle of care by healing a relative of his disciples. He could have stopped there, and only used his gift for those in his innermost circle. Instead, what we see Jesus do is widen his circle of care so that it includes every aching soul in that village. Jesus knows his calling is to continually expand his ministry, but if he’s going to do so, he has make it a priority to pause for prayer. In doing so, he deepens his connection with God. In deepening his relationship with God, he discovers he has more endurance, more patience, and more energy to help his disciples learn to expand their ministry. When Jesus’ anxious disciples discover him alone, praying, he redirects their anxiety towards their call to widen the circle of care. He says to them, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38).
I bet, we’ve all experienced exhaustion. Whether you’ve been the caretaker of children, parents, siblings, friends; a caretaker of a staff or colleagues, of a ministry or a community--you know that it takes endurance, patience, and self-care. And when we don’t take the time for self-care, our patience and endurance run out. There’s a reason flight attendants instruct fliers to put their own oxygen mask on before assisting their fellow passengers. Destin Sandlin, an engineer and aspiring astronaut, explains the science behind this rule in a video where he enters a special chamber with an astronaut to find out what happens if you don’t put on your mask. After a few minutes without sufficient oxygen, he starts to lose brain function and can’t identify basic shapes. Soon, he can't even speak or put his mask on and someone must step in and put it on for him to prevent him from dying. So always put your own mask on first before helping others because, by the time you've helped everyone else, you may not know how to help yourself.
Unlike many of us, Jesus seems to understand this. If he is going to be ministering to others, he has take care of himself. How does Jesus ensure he is well cared for, that his well won’t run dry? By pausing for prayer. Throughout his ministry he will wander off by himself to a deserted place and pauses for prayer. By reconnecting with God, he’s able to widen his circle of care, while also calling his disciples, and us, to do the same. As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus’ example of evangelism, ever widening the circle. Yet we can only sustain ourselves, sustain the circle we are already in, let alone widen it, if we make a practice of pausing for prayer. Jesus needed to, and so do we. How do you find yourself pausing for prayer these days?
I know I am prone to get caught up in my tasks, so the last couple months I have changed how I begin my morning routine, working hard to be intentionally slow, snail like slow, in my morning rituals. Because once I’m buzzing around like a bee, it’s hard to stop, it’s hard to slow down and simply be present. So right now, I am slowing down, savoring the silence with God over a cup of coffee. Beginning a conversation with God during exercise. Lifting up prayers on my meditation mat, before engaging the silence once more or sitting with scripture. Only then, am I ready to begin helping my children wake up and get ready for school, or come to the church and begin my work here or in the community. One of my favorite ways to pause for prayer is to get lost in the woods. The walking works off my buzzing, and I begin to slow down, and the great silence takes over.
So again, I ask how do you find yourself pausing for prayer these days? Has it been sufficient? Has it restored you enough that you are able to widen the circle as our faith calls us to?Lent is just around the corner, and this is just as good a time as any to begin thinking of how you might use that season of intentionality to deepen your spiritual practice. How might God be asking you to pause for prayer between now and Easter? Amen.
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