THE QUIET HOUR AND THE CHALLENGE OF ACTION
Very early, when it was still night, Jesus rose and went out. He went away to a deserted place and there he was praying. Simon and his friends tracked him down and said to him, “They are all searching for you,” Jesus said to them, “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages, that I may proclaim the good news there too, for that is why I came forth.” So he went to their synagogues, all over Galilee, proclaiming the good news as he went, and casting out demons.
Simply to read the record of the things that happened at Capernaum is to see that Jesus was left with no time alone. Now Jesus knew well that he could not live without God; that if he was going to be forever giving out, he must be at least sometimes taking in; that if he was going to spend himself for others, he must ever and again summon spiritual reinforcements to his aid. He knew that he could not live without prayer. In a little book entitled The Practice of Prayer, Dr. A. D. Belden has some great definitions. “Prayer may be defined as the appeal of the soul to God.” Not to pray is to be guilty of the incredible folly of ignoring “the possibility of adding God to our resources.” “In prayer we give the perfect mind of God an opportunity to feed our mental powers.” Jesus knew this; he knew that if he was to meet men he must first meet God. If prayer was necessary for Jesus, how much more must it be necessary for us?
Even there they sought him out. There was no way in which Jesus could shut the door. Once Rose Macaulay, the novelist, said that all she demanded from this life was “a room of her own.” That is precisely what Jesus never had. A great doctor has said that the duty of medicine is “sometimes to heal, often to afford relief, and always to bring consolation.” That duty was always upon Jesus. It has been said that a doctor’s duty is “to help men to live and to die”–and men are always living and dying. It is human nature to try to put up the barriers and to have time and peace to oneself; that is what Jesus never did. Conscious as he was of his own weariness and exhaustion, he was still more conscious of the insistent cry of human need. So when they came for him he rose from his knees to meet the challenge of his task. Prayer will never do our work for us; what it will do is to strengthen us for work which must be done.
Jesus set out on a preaching tour of the synagogues of Galilee. In Mark this tour is dismissed in one verse, but it must have taken weeks and even months to do it. As he went he preached and he healed. There were three pairs of things which Jesus never separated.
(i) He never separated words and actions. He never thought that a work was done when that work was stated; he never believed that his duty was completed when he had exhorted men to God and to goodness. Always the statement and the exhortation were put into action. Fosdick somewhere tens of a student who bought the best possible books and the best possible equipment and got a special study chair with a special bookrest to make study easy, and then sat down in the chair–and went to sleep. The man who deals in words with no actions to follow is very like that.
(ii) He never separated soul and body. There have been types of Christianity which spoke as if the body did not matter. But man is both soul and body. And the task of Christianity is to redeem the whole man and not just part of him. It is indeed blessedly true that a man may be starving, living in a hovel, in distress and pain and yet have sweet times with God; but that is no reason at all for leaving him in such a case. Missions to primitive races do not only take the Bible; they take education and medicine; they take the school and the hospital. It is quite wrong to talk about the social gospel as if it were an extra, or an option, or even a separate part of the Christian message. The Christian message is one and it preaches and works for the good of a man’s body as well as the good of his soul.
(iii) Jesus never separated earth and heaven. There are those who are so concerned with heaven that they forget all about earth and so become impractical visionaries. There are those who are so concerned with earth that they forget about heaven and limit good to material good. The dream of Jesus was a time when God’s will would be done in earth as it is in heaven, (Matt.6:10) and earth and heaven be one.
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