Jesus understood the importance spending time with God outside of service to others and of taking time to Himself for rest. (Luke 5:15-16). He understood the importance of taking time with his very closest friends. (Luke 9:28). And He understood the importance of taking time with his circle of friends. (Matthew 26:36-38). Hosea 6:6, twice quoted by Jesus in The Bible[i] reads,
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
God wants a relationship with us above everything else. Does He want us to actively love people? Yes! But not in lieu of a relationship with Him. All that ministry is ritualistically sucking time from God and sapping our spirits.
Let’s look first at Jesus commitment to time alone with The Father. Before He began His ministry He spent 40 days alone with God, fasting and praying. He was then tempted by Satan to end His fast, to skip His purpose and be the king of the world instead of the King of kings. But after the temptations, before He left the wilderness He spent time recuperating and letting angels minister to Him, He rested. (Matthew 4:1-11). Matthew 4:11 reads,
“Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”
Jesus spent a lot of time truly doing good for others. He healed the sick, exorcised demons, taught God’s word and will, and spoke with people everywhere, but He never neglected to spend time with God and in doing so, He took care of His own spirit as well. Luke 5:15-16 says it this way,
“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Do we really think we are so much better than God that we do not need to spend time with Him, that we do not have to take time for Him and ourselves sometimes? Not all of Jesus’ time alone was spent in prayer. He took rest where and when He could. When He and His friends were on a boat, He left the boating to the professionals and slept. He knew if they needed Him, they could wake him. (Mark 4:35-41). That wasn’t very Christianese of Him? Shouldn’t He have spent that time being an example, looking good, and doing some sort of busy work? We can sleep, we can rest, God gave us the gift of rest. He tells us to rest. And we can trust that just because we sleep, doesn’t mean He isn’t being God. We can sleep in the midst of trouble, in fact we need to have enough faith to rest. Psalm 3:4-6 reads,
“I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.”
Are we tired? Are we dragging ourselves through the day, with not enough sleep and rest? God doesn’t want that for us. He gives us sleep. He gives us rest. He refreshes us. Jeremiah 31:24-26 reads,
“And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. 25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
26 At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.”
It is not our skipping sleep to mow our neighbor’s lawn which satisfies our weary soul, it is The Lord God! It is not our missing prayer time to make dinner for someone which replenishes our souls, it is God. If our neighbor is a widow, then it is probably a good service to mow her lawn for her or make her dinner for her, but not in place of time with God. Not all service is for God and His glory. And it doesn’t glorify God for us to be so tired we can’t even pray. Busyness doesn’t glorify God.
When Jesus visited the home of siblings Lazarus, Martha, and Mary who would become three of His dearest friends, it was an instant party. Martha was busy cleaning, cooking and serving. But Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet and spent time Him. She chose not to serve the crowd in her home, she served herself by spending time with God. And He commended Mary’s choice, not Martha’s. (Luke 10:38-42). In Luke 10:41-42 Jesus said,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha’s busyness looked better and it met unnecessary short-term goals, which could have been met by the people she was serving. If someone wanted to eat or drink, they could get themselves a drink or ask. Mary’s choice would benefit her for eternity. How often do we meet needs for people that they could have met themselves or asked God to meet? How often do we take away a chance for a person to see the greatness of God, because we practice Christianese culture and will not say no? Sometimes we are supposed to help, but what are we forgoing to do the services we are doing? Are we losing a chance to rely on God, are we stripping someone else of that privilege? Are we sacrificing time with our spouse or child? Are we giving up time with the Lord? Are we depriving ourselves of rest, peace, or health?
Serving others, should never come before God and it should never replace God. I’ve seen service and ministry become idols. Ministry should not take time from your spouse or children. Paul explained how a husband and wife belong to one another. They do not have sole authority over their bodies or time, they share that with each other. Even sex comes before ministry and abstaining must be mutually agreed upon and brief. He was single and so He could devote more of His time and energy to ministry, but the married have to put each other before others. 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 reads,
“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”
We cannot love others well if we do not love ourselves well. This is not about self-esteem, “love yourself, you’re super.” It is about concern for one’s welfare and health. Leviticus lists many of the rules The LORD gave Israel for beneficence. Leviticus 19:9-10 reads,
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
Does it say “give your entire harvest to the poor?” Does it read, “Ignore your field and harvest your neighbors for him?” No! It says, “when you reap,” when you collect the benefits of your work leave a little and let the poor and the sojourner come in an gather the extra God gave you for themselves. We love ourselves and we gather for God first and ourselves second. We give to others after that. Leviticus 9:15-18 continues to explain what it means to do good for others.
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves means being concerned with justice for them just like for ourselves, with not wanting them hurt just as we do not want ourselves hurt, and with letting God be God for them just as He is God to us.
There is nothing noble or Christian about working ourselves to the bone and neglecting ourselves to be busy with ministry. That may be Christianese but it is not biblical. Jesus, God With Us, took time to be alone, pray, and rest. We are not better than He is. If He rested, then we need to as well. If He purposely made time to be with God alone, then we have to as well.
Believer, I have to repent from replacing God with serving. I hope that if you recognize this in you too, that you will also repent and spend time with God and let Him refresh your spirit and soul, revitalize your body.
[i] Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7