“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:15-16
The scene depicted in this passage of Scripture is nothing less than a dream come true, for most preachers. With everything going right all around Him, Jesus got up and left town.
When Jesus left for The Wilderness, it was no fit of encore anxiety. It was his personal habit, and deeply ingrained in His character. Withdrawing to The Wilderness was a clear reflection of His dependence upon private intimacy with The Father. Jesus valued intimacy with The Father over the intensity of public ministry.
“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to the wilderness and pray.”
Jesus made a habit of slipping away to pray. Those who fail to follow His lead will fail to deal with the temptation of celebrity. They soon slip up and stray. His followers, but especially His preachers should follow His lead, and get away to pray, before they slip up and stray.
Public ministry sometimes leads a preacher into the spotlight, and blinds Him to the danger of stepping too close to the flame of the footlights. Those who don’t make time to pray are drawn towards the light like a moth to a flame. Mesmerized by the siren sound of their own voice, they head towards the rocks. This only happens…EVERY TIME.
There is genuine danger in spending too much time on the stage, and too little time in The Wilderness. Enjoying the sound of one’s own voice, and walking into one’s own afterglow leads to a fall. The wise preacher will follow Jesus and withdraw from the crowd. The Wilderness provides the climate where weary followers can listen to The Father’s voice to receive His fresh direction, protection and correction.
I recall having lunch with a famous pastor who was in transition. He had resigned a prestigious pastorate and taken a sales position to provide for his family. I asked him what caused him to make such a drastic change in his life. His response remains one of the more prophetic statements I have ever heard. The following quote is a summary of his remarks, and a faithful tribute to him and to his journey.
“There was a time when there wasn’t a banquet, barn raising or barbecue in this state that wasn’t complete unless I was on the program. I began to enjoy hearing my own introductions, and reading my press clippings. The more I was on stage, the more blinded I was by the seductive light of celebrity. Eventually, I fell off the stage and found myself in the orchestra pit.”
It pleases me to say that this preacher has been restored to active and effective service. His journey has been painful to watch. It must have been excruciating to live. God’s grace really is amazing. But I digress.
Who needs The Wilderness? Every Christ follower must continue walking with Jesus. He has never rescinded His first call. “Follow Me!” Jesus often went to The Wilderness. The wise go wild, not mild. Get with Jesus.
What is The Wilderness? It is separated space, away from others, where there is enough solitude to offer enough silence to hear from God, not others.
Where is The Wilderness? It may be a distant place, but it can be as close as a chair, a corner, a closet, or a corner of a table in a coffee shop. It may be a place or a time of day.
When do I go to The Wilderness? OFTEN. The word used for “often slip away” communicates a spirit of compliance and a willingness to let go of what God has provided. Those who have success in ministry will not try to hold onto it with a white-knuckled grip. Those who experience failure will not consider it a permanent condition. Anytime success or failure interferes with personal intimacy with The Father, it is a time of crisis. Both conditions offer an opportunity to go to The Wilderness.
Preachers must hear from The Father, as well as gifted commentators. Downloading sermon notes of the guru of the week may provide something to say on Sunday, but only spending time alone with The Father will anoint a preacher with a fresh word from God.
How can I get to The Wilderness? This is a question each person must answer on an individual basis. At the very least, it requires the shifting of priorities, and the carving of time out of schedules already tightly packed with what appear to be very urgent matters. Seasons of life change. How one gets to The Wilderness may change, but the discernment between the urgent and the important is found in The Wilderness.
In The Wilderness prayer warriors are, “deprived of the aid and protection of others, especially of friends, acquaintances, and kindred.” Blue Letter Bible Commentary
There is no easy road to The Wilderness. Obstacles and excuses block the way to the flow of milk and honey. Go there anyway.
Prayer matters because intimacy mattered to Jesus. He chose what was important over what was urgent, and found a time and a place to get alone His Father in The Wilderness. Those who follow Jesus will often get away with The Father in The Wilderness. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!