The Tyranny of the Urgent
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16, NIV).
“The enemy of the best is always the good.” That’s what one of my mentors, Dr. Charles Farah would say. People who are popular will have many others pulling at them. Anyone with multiple responsibilities will daily face the decision to leave something undone.
What comes first?
What is the most important decision you will make every day? Is it what suit or outfit to put on? What engagement to say no to? Which calls to return? How to prioritize the many tasks pulling at your limited time? Or, is it the decision to spend time with the Lord and pray the first thing in the day?
In my training as a school superintendent one of the last exercises every new applicant faced was the “in-box” test. The challenge was to take an in-box of ten items and prioritize them in importance as to which you would tackle first for the day and what others could wait to be addressed later. I learned that invariably, disguised in the ten items, there would always be a safety item that was difficult to identify. A safety item is something that related to school safety. Safety items always take priority above every other administrative task and are always first priority for school administrators. And so it is in our spiritual lives. The safety item for our relationship with Christ is investing time alone with Him every day, preferably time at the start of the day, time in prayer and the Word.
Lord of my habits
The key word in this text of Luke 5:15-16 is “often,” or “frequent.” The ISV says, “However, he continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying” (Luke 5:16, ISV). He made it a habit to go away and pray. No matter how busy it seemed, no matter how many people were clamoring for His attention, He often withdrew; it was His practice. If it was His practice, how much more should it be ours?
His habit begs the issue, what are your habits to start the day? A habit is defined as something that is your custom or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. The most widely accepted studies on habit conclude that it takes on an average sixty-six days to form a new habit. One of the difficulties with forming a new habit is that we may be attempting to break habits that have been formed over years and years. And all of us know that one of the raging conflicts we face in life is breaking bad habits and forming positive habits.
One morning in my quiet time before the Lord I heard Him as clearly as if words had been spoken, “It’s time to put the newspaper down.” I laughed out loud as I contemplated that thought. For fifteen years I had worked a second job to supplement my income as a school administrator. It was a purposeful decision I made to facilitate my wife staying home to care for our children and home school them. My second job was delivering newspapers every morning from 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Every morning for fifteen years, seven days a week (one day off each year when the paper was not printed), I delivered 500-plus newspapers, then sat down at a coffee shop and read the paper for a few minutes. Now I had finally come to a place in my career where I didn’t need to work a second job, but I still started the day the same way, newspaper in hand, sitting at the coffee shop. Now I could relax, enjoy the newspaper and not be in a hurry. The newspaper was the first thing I meditated on every day. It took more than the average of sixty-six days for me to break the newspaper habit, but I did break it. I replaced the newspaper habit with another compulsive-like habit, meditating on God’s Word. For more than fifteen plus years I have devoured the Word of God habitually. Most of us have a character trait, skill, or gifting for which we are recognized or identified by others. For some of us it is being an artist, being well read, having a degree from a prestigious school, or perhaps being mercy motivated. For me, most people who know me would quickly characterize me as a man of God’s Word. It is what many know me for. This is one compulsive habit that has served me well.
Lord of my time
One of the great lessons of life and relationships is that there is no substitute for time. Here is an even greater truth: there is no substitute for time alone with the Lord. In any relationship, time is the vital element. From friendships to marriage, you cannot cheat time. It takes time to develop intimacy. Dennis Jernigan, the great gospel songwriter, says, “Intimacy is… into me see.” No matter what excuses a person gives, no matter what a person says, show me where time is spent and I will show you what is important to the person. Where a person spends his or her time is a view into the soul. Consider these thoughts:
A daily quiet time with God is a dramatic necessity for relationship with the Lord. It is in our daily quiet time that we study the Bible, pray, and listen to the Lord. These practices bring life and vitality to our soul. But, the morning watch is not the goal; it is not the end. The goal is not to be so disciplined that we habitually have a quiet time with the Lord every morning for an hour. No, the whole purpose of time with the Lord in the morning is know Christ, have His presence in our life, to be connected with Him throughout the entire day.
The goal of spending time with Christ is to have His character become our character. For our life to be hidden in His life, His nature to become our nature, and His habits our habits. It is possible to become so intimately acquainted with a practice, a way of doing something that you can do it without thinking. It becomes second nature, natural. When we find the secret place of abiding in Christ, our ordinary, daily interactions with people will become oh such more than mundane. They will be majestic opportunities to fulfill God’s purposes. We will become fruitful Christians. All fruitfulness of this kind flows out of intimacy with Him.
There are two great hindrances to prayer. Listen carefully with your spirit as I write. Revelations 3:6 states, “Let him that has an ear to hear listen to what the Spirit is saying.” The two great hindrances to prayer are busyness and worldliness. Busyness steals our time to pray, and worldliness diverts our will from prayer. If a person is too busy to pray, they are too busy to live a life that is wholly given to Jesus.
You cannot give to others what you do not possess yourself. It is truly in our private times of prayer and devotion that His presence increases within us. If your heart’s desire is to influence others for Christ, give hope to the hopeless, and speak words of encouragement to the weary, then you must have the presence of the Lord in your life. A presence that is attained by spending quiet time with Him is the one constant that must be present in your life.
Jesus withdrew to a lonely, deserted place. He knew where he had to go to be alone. Do you have a place to pray? If you don’t, that may indicate that you probably don’t pray often.
Crowds of people came to hear him
The news was spreading and spreading farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear him and be healed. Can you imagine what that must have been like? As a young man, I witnessed the phenomenon of Kathryn Khulman in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California and in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The impact was the same in both places: thousands came to hear her, lining up for blocks, waiting 10-12 hours before the doors opened. Why? The news spread that you could come and be healed. Where the power of God is rumored, people will come. And, oh yes, I do remember hearing Kathryn say that she prayed for as many five hours or more before she would minister and pray for people.
In our culture today, there is a great danger that the masses will celebrate those who move with authority, charisma, or anointing. The craving of people to exalt a minister of the gospel is difficult for any normal human to resist. Every successful minister faces this test.
I recently had lunch with a young man who has dedicated himself to the Lord since an early age. He carries an anointing from the Holy Spirit. He is committed to purity and transparency. And he is a man of prayer. As we spoke, I could sense that he did not want to give in to the enticements to have a ministry that would be of celebrity status. For this young man, there will be many who will encourage him to pursue those things that will exalt him personally. I believe he will stand strong and lift up the Lord Jesus. However, couple the influence of others with our natural propensity for pride and you have the most dangerous of elixirs for those who minister. Almost any minister is vulnerable. I’ve heard it said from many different stalwarts of the faith in various ways, but the message is the same, a person doesn’t need to be spiritual or holy to teach or preach today. In our media driven culture, a person with personality, self-confidence, and charisma, can gain a following and move the masses. This kind of message impacts men, prayer impacts souls.
The conjunction “but” is used to suggest a contrast in Luke 5:15-16. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In spite of the crowds growing larger and larger and the news spreading about him, Christ made it a habit to withdraw far away to the desert to pray. Crowds or their clamor did not sway him from being with the Father. He knew that the needs of the people were so great that He must spend time in prayer with the Father.
Do you see your desperate need to spend time in prayer? Neither success nor failure precludes our need for continual prayer. We must watch that we do not fall prey to the pride that lurks around the corner with every success in life. The Lord is giving an invitation. The invitation is to join Him every morning and every day, continually in a spirit of prayer.