“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.”
Like most young boys my sons always enjoyed an unscheduled stop at the local pet shop. On one of those trips they spent quite a bit of time watching several small white mice running together on a wheel. The mice were definitely getting a lot of exercise, but also expending a lot of energy while going nowhere. Finally one of the four footed guys appeared to have had enough, but seemed to have difficulty finding a good stepping off point. Suddenly as though it was thinking, “I’m done with this!” it jumped over another mouse, stumbled clumsily off the wheel, licked its foot, ran to the corner, and didn’t look back.
The books and articles about why Americans are so busy, stressed, and not very happy are numerous and all too accurate I fear. While I agree with the findings, unfortunately I am often a victim of over extension and suffer the resulting self-inflicted wounds. There is sufficient evidence to support the negative effects of this lifestyle on us physically and emotionally, yet like the small mouse it is difficult to find a stepping off point.
Jesus and his disciples once embarked on the most valuable and purposeful mission in all of history. They experienced the pressures of being over extended and exhausted and yet even in the midst of this highly important sensitive mission He established a rhythm and system of recharging spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He knew how and where the stepping off point was for Him and His team and the necessity of going off to a quiet place. If He needed it, thought His team needed it, we need it!
Deep in the Buffalo River region of Arkansas is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. I have been there enough times that it has become a familiar friend, a place for solitude and spiritual refueling. It is a location to provide a “stepping off place” from life’s storm, clutter, and distraction.
Within the small village of Ponca, sitting next to a very picturesque creek that runs through the distance of the township sits, Cedar Crest lodge. The main industries of Ponca are canoe and overnight cabin rentals, and the Lost Valley General Store where you can pick up a few food staples, one kind of coffee, and an ice cream bar on a hot summer’s day. If a broad selection of food items is necessary, a longer drive will be necessary also. All of this is comfortably nestled at the north end of Boxley Valley, a place worthy of some National Geographic attention, but then I am a little biased.
Almost daily elk can be seen quietly grazing in large open fields against the back drop of breathtaking limestone cliffs and forest covered hills that host and escort the Buffalo River on its meandering southern journey to the White River. Not far away from the lodge, beavers and Trumpeter swans are often traversing a spring fed millpond, and occasionally a bald eagle can be spotted perched on one of the many trees at water’s edge.
It was here one cold January morning while on a personal quiet retreat I was reading the Sermon on the Mount when I reached the Lord’s Prayer. I slowed my reading pace considerably to again allow the beauty and wisdom of Jesus’ words to soak in deeply. I am always amazed at His brilliance, focus, and simplicity and His passionate heart of love for His Father in heaven and His Father’s will. Within these brief sentences Jesus strategically provided His new disciples and all who would later join them with the divine design for a successful prayer life and the whole of life as well.
This prayer is as relevant today as it was the moment it flowed from His lips to the ears of those positioned around Him. Though brief and woven with simplicity, it is embedded with power, divine brilliance, and instruction for the life well lived.
Unfortunately as with several things within Christianity, over the course of time the lack of proper recognition and use has caused a veil of familiarity to conceal and lessen the true value of the rich treasure within this prayer.
In some cases this masterful work has been reduced to a quick twenty-five second verbal recital of indifferent words. Not that it can’t be sincerely spoken or recited with beauty, affect and brevity, but many times it is unfortunately delivered with all the depth and sincerity as repeating one’s name and street address when renewing a driver’s license at the local DMV. John Stott writes,
“It is comparatively easy to repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer like a parrot. To pray them with sincerity, however, it has revolutionary implications, for it expresses the priorities of a Christian. We are constantly under pressure to conform to the self-centeredness of secular culture. When that happens we are concerned about our own little name (liking to see it embossed on our notepaper or hitting the headlines of the press, and defending it when it is attacked), about our own little empire, (bossing, influencing, and manipulating people to boost our ego), and about our own silly little will (always wanting our own way and getting upset when it is frustrated). But in the Christian counter-culture our top priority concern is not our name, kingdom, and will, but God’s.”[i]
Prayer in general and more specifically what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer was one of the primary objectives of Jesus when teaching His disciples the principles for a life well lived. He lived and modeled a life of prayer and desired all His followers to do the same knowing it was critical to ongoing spiritual health and the accomplishment of His mission.
Jesus gave us this prayer to be lived as part of His divine design offering to us the life-giving architecture of heaven using these components in a preferred sequence:
- First, acknowledge God as the Father of all life, who is holy and alone worthy of worship.
- Second, pray and seek for the establishment of God’s kingdom and will in all things
- Third, ask the heavenly Father for the resources to accomplish His desires.
- Fourth, utilize one of the most powerful and effective forces in existence: forgiveness.
- Fifth, trust His ability to lead and navigate us away from things harmful that would draw us away from Him.
- Sixth, pray and faithfully walk trusting Him to protect us from evil as we venture forward with God.
- Seventh, attribute in honor and worship the unequaled dominion of His kingdom, power, and glory.
I once received a request from a friend named George in the village of Ganda, Uganda. He is the pastor of a small church which also established a school focused on helping the children of the village with the possibility of providing hope and a future for them. He has an incredible story of survival during the era of Idi Amin, known as the “Butcher of Uganda” because of his ruthless and barbaric leadership over the country in the 1970’s. George’s request was simple “We have 18 children desiring to be part of our school which we want to help but do not have the extra resources. One of them is a young girl named Mayi who is 11 years old. Her father died and she helps feed her mother and 7 brothers and sisters by selling charcoal.” He added, “She loves to sing. Can you help us?”
Right after that I received another message from my own little village of Van Buren concerning an auto accident in which a young driver lost control of his car struck a culvert and killed one of his passengers, his mother. Both situations left me stunned and with the thought of the mental and emotional pain the young driver must be experiencing and of a young girl named Mayi who represents so many children in the world in need and wanting help.
“What can I do and where would I begin? Prayer!” I could begin by praying and use the entry point for all good prayer whether here in my familiar geographical region or that of a young 11 year old half a world away. “You are our Father in heaven, you are holy. Your Kingdom come and Your will be done because You alone know what to do and what is best. Please provide the needs in both of these overwhelming situations.”
Maybe if we began to spend more time in that quiet place Jesus referred to, the one He often visited Himself, and followed the pattern for life He designed for each of us, we might discover something so sought after by the human heart: fulfillment, purpose, and security.
Even if you don’t do it well at first, even if you stumble over something in the process, take that stepping off place.
On a side note, with little resource we began to help Mayi and other children in this small but growing primary school which led to starting the non-profit mission group we call Village2Village. As of this writing we have completed a school building that will facilitate the care of approximately 400 students. You can see the progress and these beautiful children experiencing a little hope at www.village2village.co.
[i] John R. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Downers Gove: Inter-varsity Press, 1978, p 147,148.