Yesterday I read the daily reading in My Utmost for His Highest, a daily devotional classic by Oswald Chambers. Oswald included one snippet of a verse that really got my gears turning. The conclusion I came to in just a few seconds of reflection is the subject of this post – coming away with Jesus versus going out with Him in ministry.
One might say that the theme verse of invitation for the Christian believer is Matthew 28:16-20, what has come to be known as the Great Commission: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is an out-of-comfort-zone type of passage. When I read it I think of a lifelong response to Jesus as He says, “Let’s get to work.” I take a deep breath, I roll up my sleeves, and I prepare to be active, exhausted, and uncomfortable as I seek to do what Christ has commissioned me to do as His follower.
Now, of course, there is great joy, peace, and such that come from a life devoted to living in God and fulfilling His soul-satisfying work. But here’s the truth: I am not one to be most energized by the passage above. I prefer the words of Mark 6:31: “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'” When I read this I respond, “Great! When do we get to leave? This is wonderful! How long do we get to stay with you by ourselves resting in the quiet place?” I am thankful to God that as I learn what it means to follow Him, He is also teaching me about myself and how He made me.
The pair of these verses challenges me on several different levels. First, I notice that Mark 6:31 is not a commission. Jesus does not beckon or send His followers to rest. The first passage is the commission. So, the challenge is that the Christian life isn’t about just resting in Jesus, but about ministering to God’s lost and broken world as we live in Him. A second observation follows this up – Mark 6:31 is an invitation Jesus gives His disciples after they have worn themselves out in Kingdom ministry. In Mark 6 leading up to this verse, Jesus had sent the disciples out to stay in people’s houses, preach repentance, cast out demons, and cure the sick. And as the verse says, they didn’t even have time to eat! They were busy and they were fully involved in Kingdom work. So Jesus’ invitation to come away with Him and rest is a reward that comes after the fulfillment of His commission, His sending. It’s a “filling up” after the demanding “drain” of outpouring ministry.
It’s easy for me today to read this verse and think, ‘Well that’s nice for the disciples. They walked with Jesus, didn’t they? So they get to hang out with Him at the end of a long day of ministry.’ Some might have this thought and conclude that we are now to interpret this commission and invitation as life and death. We live doing ministry and serving Jesus and when we’re done with our labor we get to die and go rest with Him. I don’t think this is accurate. In fact I think it’s fatally draining! I know from experience I can’t last a day serving Jesus if I am not also daily walking with Him, spending time alone with Him in “the quiet place,” and resting in Him. As followers of Christ we are both servant of God and child of God. As a child of God / follower of Christ (NOT just as a future pastor!) I am called to the uncomfortable, demanding, and draining task of participating in God’s Kingdom work. He is redeeming this world and He uses His church to bring people back into relationship with Him by living out and proclaiming the good news of Jesus and what He is actively doing in the world. But as I dedicate myself to this work I am reminded of the importance of getting away with God alone. Even Jesus Christ had to do this, getting away alone with His heavenly Father (Mt 14:22-23, Lk 5:16, etc.). We have the opportunity to spend time alone resting with Jesus and the Father in the Holy Spirit daily in the secret place. Daily time in prayer, daily time in God’s Word, daily time receiving His love and giving our love back to Him. This is the simple and classic, but biblically necessary gift that so many saints who have gone before have urged as devotional practice. We as Jesus’ followers have the gift of “coming with Him by ourselves to a quiet place and getting some rest.”