(continuation from One Habit That Changes Everything)
Jesus was an expert at setting aside time to be alone with the Father. If his life & ministry depended on these moments, then how much more does ours.
In their withdrawal, the Desert Fathers and Mothers were patterning themselves after Jesus. When you look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels, one of the things that immediately strikes you is his habit of withdrawing both from his disciples and from the crowds to seek the face of God. According to the witness of the Gospel writers, that habit seems to have been a profound source of strength and clarity for him:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:35-38).
Once it begins, the ministry of Jesus accelerates quickly in the Gospels. He is baptized, then tempted in the desert, and then enormous crowds appear—men and women and children hanging on his every deed and word, pressing in on him for healing and deliverance and wisdom about the Kingdom.
And so Jesus gets up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and heads out to what Mark calls “a solitary place” so that he could pray. When Simon and the other disciples find him, they express some measure of exasperation: Jesus! What are you doing here? The movement is underway, and you are the star of the show. Everyone is looking for you. They need you. You have responsibilities and obligations. This is no time to run away. You need to be present to keep the momentum going!
And Jesus does something stunning. He tells Simon that it is time to leave—whatever momentum they have in that area notwithstanding—and preach the gospel “somewhere else,” because “that is why I have come.” Jesus’ mind is profoundly clear. He refuses to get caught up in the hysteria of his emerging celebrity. Instead, he perceives the voice of God underneath the noise of the moment and declares that it is time to move on.
Jesus’ habit of withdrawing anchored him in another reality: the truest, most real reality—the very will of God.
The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once said that if pastors want to fulfill their calling to bring “a word from elsewhere,” they would have to “live . . . from elsewhere.” No one embodied this better than Jesus. His habit of withdrawing from the noise of the crowds and the clamor of his disciples, consistently turning to prayer and intimate communion with the Father, anchored him in another reality: the truest, most real reality—the very will of God. Because he lived elsewhere, he was free even from his own success to hear and respond to the voice of the Father. He could cut through the illusions and pretensions and demands of people in order to yield himself fully to the will of his Father. That is why I have come.
To add a bit more depth to the picture, the word that Mark uses in this text to designate Jesus’ place of prayer—erēmos— is the very same word he used to designate the location of Jesus’ temptation in verse 12: namely, the wilderness. The same place where Jesus, for forty days, fasted and prayed, doing battle with the devil, being ministered to by angels, and coming forth with strength and clarity of purpose for the mission was the place where he regularly withdrew to renew his strength and clarity of purpose for the mission.
Jesus’ life continued to be marked by frequent and regular moments of withdrawing from people in order to renew his communion with the Father, his sense of what the Father was calling him to do and be. Jesus knew how to find strength, clarity, and resolve in the presence of God.
Every time Jesus withdrew to the wilderness for prayer: He emerged from it in the power of the Spirit.
Many of the most pivotal moments in the Gospels take place in and around moments like these. The choosing of the Twelve. John the Baptist’s death. Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer. His agony and bloody sweat in Gethsemane on the night he was handed over to suffering and death. Luke remarks that, following Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, he “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). I think that serves as a description of every time Jesus withdrew to the wilderness for prayer: He emerged from it in the power of the Spirit.
Taken from Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers and Mothers by Andrew Arndt. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Andrew Arndt is the lead pastor of New Life East, one of seven congregations of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Prior to joining New Life’s team, he served as the lead pastor of Bloom Church, a network of house churches in Denver. He is the host of the Essential Church podcast, a weekly conversation designed to strengthen the thinking of church and ministry leaders. Andrew received his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is currently working on his DMin with Western Theological Seminary. He has written for Missio Alliance, Patheos, The Other Journal, and Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Streams in the Wasteland and All Flame. Andrew lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Mandi, and their four kids.