The Quiet Place

Reading: Mark 6.30-34,53-56
A house plan designates many of the important activities of our life. It may have a living room or lounge, a rumpus room, various bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a laundry, a garage, a garden... These days we may well want to add a craft/sewing room and a computer room.

These aren't rigid divisions. For the student, the bedroom probably doubles as a study room. Big school or sewing projects may come out onto the dining room table, The garage may house a saw bench and lathe as well as the family car...

Having said all this, we aren't suggesting that all we do in life is encompassed by the walls - and boundary/fence - of house and garden. Much work, shopping, social contact, cultural activities... take place elsewhere.

Rev. Gordon James, then senior lecturer in Divinity Studies at the University of Queensland, told us he believed every house should include a prayer room. Such a room had been set apart in their home. He was thinking of a specifically Christian home.

Across the years, I don't think I have come across a home which has a prayer room - certainly not in the seven manses in which we have lived! In our home, we prayed and read the Scriptures mainly in our bedroom and, as a family, at the meal table.

The issue isn't where we are when we reflect on God's Word and pray. Rather, these are important in building and maintaining our relationship with God. Like our meals, prayer and Bible reading should be regular, not spasmodic. A prayer room will only be of use if we use it - if it helps us maintain a regular time and place with the Lord.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles, had a very large family. There wasn't much space or time she could claim for her own. It is said she would throw her apron over her head. The children knew not to disturb her - it was her prayer time.

A Quiet Place

Jesus had that same problem. Wherever he went, people crowded in - listening to his words and seeking healing. Son of God on earth - no trouble to him! Open his mouth and the right words will come. Stretch out his hand and the sick will be healed... At least, that's how we imagine it to have been!

In Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing [literally, emptied himself], taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (2.6-8).

That's it! He emptied himself. He was living on earth with the same limitations as you and me - and with the same access to the Father as you and me. Sometimes we have thought of Jesus as a tremendous example, but - whoever could follow him? After all, as Son of God, think of all his advantages!

But he had emptied himself. When he walked a long way, he became tired and thirsty. When the Roman lashes hit his back, they drew real human blood and caused searing human pain. They nailed him to a Roman cross and he died a real human death. Of course, that wasn't the end of the story. Paul goes on, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (vv. 9-11).

In the life of heaven, Jesus was in constant relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Having accepted human limitations, it was critically important that he spend much time in prayer.

Today's reading begins with the apostles' report about the mission on which he had sent them. But the crowds gathered round - they couldn't even fit in a meal. "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mk 6.31b). So they climbed into a boat to go to "a solitary place" (v. 32).

It wasn't very solitary when they arrived! "But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them" (v. 33). So Jesus, in his compassion, began teaching them many things.

The story goes on in the section we didn't read together. As people listened, it became late. The people were hungry, and Jesus fed the crowd of five thousand on five loaves and two fish. Jesus then sent his disciples ahead of him in the boat while he dismissed the crowd.

"After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray" (v. 46). At last, a quiet solitary place. It wasn't easy for Jesus to get that quiet solitary place for prayer. A busy schedule? Vital time!

In the middle of the lake, the disciples were having a hard time - the wind was against them and they were straining at the oars. Jesus came out to them, walking on the water. He climbed into the boat, and the wind died down.

Our present reading takes up at v. 53 when they arrived at Gennesaret. When the people saw it was Jesus,they descended on him again, this time bringing sick people to be healed.

Jesus had expressed the need for "a quiet place" in v. 32. He was under constant pressure. In all the turmoil and excitement of ministry described in these twenty-seven verses, just one of them gives us the key - "After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray" (v. 46). Constant communication with the Father was essential to his ministry.

Standing in the Need of Prayer

There's an old spiritual that goes

If Jesus, the Son of God, needed regular prayer during his earthly life, why do we imagine we can get away with less? Someone has said that, the busier we become, the more time we need to spend in prayer. But we don't seem to work it that way! Sadly, the busier we are, the more likely we will find less - or no - time for prayer!

Martin Luther said that he found he needed to spend at least an hour in prayer daily, and, if he didn't spend two, the devil would get the better of him.

We need to pray because our lives depend on our heavenly Father - we need to stay "plugged in" to him. How we do that in practice may vary from person to person. For some the "prayer room" concept may be helpful, but for all of us there are principles that can help build "a quiet place" - in terms of both space and time - into our lives.

The King James Version puts v. 31 this way, "Come ye yourselves apart... and rest a while". Someone has said that, if they don't "come ye apart and rest a while", they soon reach the "come-ye-apart" phase.

We need the quiet place because we need God, because we need to refocus our lives, because we need to draw on his grace and his Spirit. Value the quiet place when you can be alone with God. Then you will know that he is with you, reaching out through you, in the hassle and turmoil of the rest of life.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 20 July 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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