This morning, living in our fast-paced world at times seems to suffocate and smother every drop of time in our lives. Have you ever had days or weeks when you turned around and they were gone? Has life at times seemed to push to the point of ceaseless waves of activities and other things to occupy the mind? Has there ever been, at different times and seasons, such a busy time in the Lord and His service that some of the “feel” had been lost? Man will commonly lose that “special feeling” about something if done without respite. Of course, the answer to the last question about being tired and weary in service to God is not to absent from Him for a while, but when dealing with the hustle and bustle of life, how do we cope with worn-down nerves and mental thoughts, even when worn down after a Godly fashion?
One of the most clear injunctions of the New Testament is that God comes first with everything that we have. In Matthew 22, Christ calls this the first and greatest commandment. Undoubtedly, the magnitude of serving the Lord with fulness and heartiness is unequivocally laid out. Yet, even though serving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and might is His due from us, He understands that we do have physical needs of rest and repose that must be met. As one that has felt of the same, He understands that we cannot be at the house of God indefinitely (though there have been some meetings in my life where I would have liked to try). But, even when we need to “relax” somewhat from the strains and pressures of life’s activities, He can and should be found during the moments of quiet and peace.
While not all non-carnal/non-sinful relaxing activity is of the spiritual sort, how does one engage in spiritual downtime? Let us notice first the context of our verse above. For the past several chapters in Acts, we read of endless activity in the life of the Apostle Paul. At the start of Acts 16, he is seeking where to go preach, and finally sees in a vision where he should go. Acts 17 sees him (after being imprisoned at Philippi) dealing with very superstitious people in Athens. Acts 18 sees him spending a great deal of time at Corinth and Ephesus, and finally Acts 19 starts his purposeful journey back to Jerusalem. In all of these things, his life has been in jeopardy repeatedly, he has preached and laboured abundantly, and Acts 20 starts off again on his journeys right after a “mad mob town session.”
Paul has been a long time now labouring for the cause of Christ, suffering many things for His name’s sake, and observing the working of the Holy Spirit among the people that he has been sent to preach the gospel unto. The early verses of Acts 20 describe in detail who went with Paul during this portion of the journey (Verse 4). While in their travels, Paul engages an “all night sermon” or at least a “half night sermon.” He preaches till midnight, raises a congregant back to life that fell asleep out of the loft to hit the floor dead, and then talked until the break of day (Verses 7-12). Knowing how taxing one hour of preaching can be on the body – particularly the voice – consider how tired Paul must have been after preaching and then speaking that long. With an already tired body from these other journeys, what taxation he must have felt!
If you were to be in Paul’s shoes after the “all night meeting,” what would you want to do? Being physically drained and mentally taxed, what would be the first order of business? Sleep would probably be a very common answer (and good sleep is nothing to be condemned). Food and quiet relaxation would be high on the list for others (again nothing to be condemned). Notice what Paul does after all of this. He impresses all those travelling companions of his to enter the ship and meet him further down the coast. He decides to walk on foot while they enjoy the rest of a boat ride! After such punishing schedules, what could be the point of such an exercise?
Quite often, situations like Paul finished after the all night meeting hang heavy on the mind not allowing for good sleep or restful repose. When I experience these moments, one of the best things to recharge the batteries as it were is to find alone and quiet time with the Lord to chew and meditate on what I have recently experienced. During a weekend meeting, I enjoy a good walk to contemplate all the rich food that I have received at God’s house. When in quiet solitude and contemplation, I have the opportunity to “talk with God” in a way that I do not when in company of others. Notice that Paul was not removing himself from the rabble of worldly rioters. Rather, he was removing himself from the very Godly companions that suffered and laboured with him.
Christ also engaged a similar attitude when He concluded the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. He constrains His disciples to get in a ship, while He departs alone – away from both His disciples and the multitude – into a mountain to pray. (Matthew 14) This “alone time” allows not only the meditation on all that has gone before, but also to walk with God, much like Enoch may have done before His translation. (Hebrews 11:5, Genesis 5:24) Sometimes our friends might think it strange to want to be alone, but these “down times” are not trod alone. Rather, they are sweet moments of peaceful solitude with God lifting the heaviness and weariness that we feel.
Doubtless Paul slept again in his life (probably after entering the boat), and Christ doubtless ate and drank again after rejoining His disciples. Yet, sometimes these rich experiences, draining though they may be mentally, need to be followed with a walk with God away from everyone else. Quite often, I see preachers (knowing they are going to preach) want to walk alone and apart from everyone else. While that sometimes is my course, I often seek solitude after services and times of spiritual visitation from on high to speak quietly with God,allowing the body the rest and the mind the peace that it needs.
Friends, life will do its dead-level best to crowd out the things of God, but may we never let it be so. Sometimes spiritual service can drain the faculties to the point of loss of feeling and mental freshness. Whatever the reason for the drain, may we seek some “down time” by stealing away to talk with our God, feel His warm embrace, and hear the gentle whisper of peace in our ear that calms our fears and rejuvenates our person. Yes, there will be times to fellowship with our fellow pilgrims and strangers again. There will be times to actively pursue natural rest, and certainly there will be times of fervent and hearty worship of God in His house once more. However, may we perceive and seize upon the moments to depart with God alone and walk with Him for a while.
I love to steal awhile away
From every cumbering care,
And spend the hours of setting day
In humble, grateful, prayer.
I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear,
And all His promises to plead
Where none but God can hear.
I love to think on mercies past,
And future good implore,
And all my cares and sorrows cast
On Him, whom I adore.
I love by faith to take a view
Of brighter scenes in heaven;
The prospect doth my strength renew,
While here by tempests driven.
Thus, when life’s toilsome day is o’er,
May its departing ray,
Be calm as this impressive hour,
And lead to endless day.