The disciples, who had left all to follow the Master, were busy men. They labored earnestly for the people. Heavy demands were made upon their time and strength. They were kept so occupied that there was scarcely time to eat. The details of the work demanded every moment of their time and attention. In their many activities there was grave danger that they would lose in spiritual power. Jesus saw this danger; hence His urgent invitation, "Come ye yourselves apart, . . . and rest awhile."
Jesus knew the value of withdrawing from the people for communion with His Father. He knew how necessary it is to get away from the crowd to gain new strength, courage, and power in intimate fellowship with God. He did it repeatedly. After a busy period, it is recorded in Luke 6:12, "He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." On another occasion, after He had been surrounded by the multitudes, the record tells us, "He went up into a mountain apart to pray : and when the evening was come, He was there alone." Luke indicates that the disciples joined Him later: "And it came to pass, as He was alone praying, His disciples were with Him."
Jesus knew what it meant to constantly give Himself to the people, to spend His time, strength, and energy in feeding the multitudes. He knew what it cost to lead them in the spiritual way. He looked at His disciples and saw them worn and tired, but not so much physically tired as in dire need of spiritual rest. He was keen to observe the irritations that came, keen to detect the slightest signs of nervousness and any indications of laxity in private prayer. He saw it all ; so He bade His disciples to come apart and rest awhile. They had been busy giving out of their storehouse; now they must take time to replenish their spiritual supplies from divine resources. They needed spiritual relaxation, time for introspection, time for examining their own hearts and enjoying meditation one with another and with their Lord.
What does this mean to us as workers today? Is the practical application of this invitation of the Saviour to be found in a ministerial institute, a workers' meeting, or a departmental convention? What is usually the nature of these gatherings? We spend anywhere from three to ten days together. We have periods for devotion and for Bible study. Methods and plans of work are studied. There are short recesses; we take time for meals; and some time is spent in committee work. We begin early in the morning and we close just in time to retire for the night. Is this what the Lord means when He calls His workers to turn aside and rest awhile? Does this arrangement meet the Master's ideal? Are_ our institutes and conventions times of rest? True, they offer opportunity for change from the regular routine of work, but are they the kind of meetings or seasons of rest which the Lord had in mind?
Personally, I think not. As leaders, presidents, institutional workers, and departmental secretaries, as pastors, evangelists, and Bible workers, we are under the strain and stress of the times. Everything moves quickly, and we are bound, to a degree, to keep pace with the urge and rush of this age. We seek to do much for the Lord. We are busy men and women. Many even try to crowd into one day the activities of two, and when this can be achieved, they feel particularly pleased with the attainment. But how we all need to heed this invitation of the Lord: "Come ye yourselves apart, . . . and rest awhile."
Some religious bodies arrange what is known as "a retreat" for groups of workers, where men can retire and enter into communion with God and their own souls. Usually there are periods of study and devotion, but a large part of the time is taken up in quiet meditation and examination of the heart and life. Such an arrangement might be studied with profit.
Whatever may be the meaning of the Saviour's observation, one thing we may profitably think of is our own spiritual experience, and how we can maintain it. We all know the perils of these days when things move so rapidly. We are deeply conscious of the dangers in the multitudinous duties that make demands upon us, and we do well to think about our personal seasons of devotion. How much time do we as workers spend in private prayer? How much time do we take for actual Bible study? I am not thinking of the preparation of sermons or Bible studies, but what is involved in such expressions as, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them." Jer. 15:16. It is in "eating" the word that we receive spiritual life and power and grow strong in the Lord. Do we really feed upon the word of God, or do we hastily read the Morning Watch texts, or perhaps a chapter or two each day in order to follow the Bible Year ? Do we make the casual perusal of the Sabbath school lesson a substitute for feeding upon the word of God?
These plans are excellent, but as workers we need not only to read the Morning Watch texts and study the Sabbath school lesson, but we need to feed upon the word of God. This alone will give us spiritual poise, enable us to keep restful in the Lord, and to know His peace in our hearts. Is it not a fact that many of us are becoming nervous like tho,se about us? That many are slaves to this age of rush and turmoil? That many are rushing here and there without taking adequate time to think, and still more important, time to pray? Fellow workers, we need in these days to spend much time with the Lord in quiet meditation, in fellowship with Him and with our own souls.
With what force the word of God comes to- us in these days of hurry: "Be still, and know that I am God." Ps. 46:10. Remember that God speaks to us in the quiet hour ! It was in this way that His voice came to Elijah. It was not in the wind, or in the earthquake, but in "the still small voice." How we need to learn how to seek the Lord in the silences of life ! The messenger of the Lord through the years has given very earnest counsel on this matter:
"Remember that prayer is the source of your strength. A worker cannot gain success while he hurries through his prayers, and rushes away to look after something that he fears may be neglected or forgotten. He gives only a few hurried thoughts to God; he does not take time to think, to pray, to wait upon the Lord for a renewal of physical and spiritual strength. He soon becomes weary. He does not feel the uplifting, inspiring influence of God's Spirit. He is not quickened by fresh life. His jaded frame and tired brain are not soothed by personal contact with Christ."—"Testimonies,' Vol. VII, p. 243.
"We do not half pray, we do not half believe. . . . Pray, believe, strengthen one another. Pray as you never before prayed that the Lord will lay His hand upon you, that you may be able to comprehend the length and breadth and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth ,knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." —Id., p. 214.
In a little book entitled "Power Through Prayer," there is found this searching message:
"The little estimate we put on prayer is evident from the little time we giye to it. The time given to prayer by the average preacher scarcely counts in the sum of the daily aggregate. Not infrequently the preacher's only praying is by his bedside in his nightdress, ready for bed and soon in it, with, perchance, the addition of a few hasty snatches of prayer ere he is dressed in the morning. How feeble, vain, and little is such praying compared with the time and energy devoted to praying by holy men in and out of the Bible! How poor and mean our petty, childish praying is beside the habits of the true men of God in all ages! To men who think praying their main business and devote time to it according to this high estimate of its importance, does God commit the keys of His kingdom, and by them does He work His spiritual wonders in this world. Great praying is the sign and seal of God's great leaders and the earnest of the conquering forces with which God will crown their labors."
"It may be put down as a spiritual axiom that in every truly successful ministry, prayer is an evident and controlling force—evident and controlling in the life of the preacher, evident and controlling in the deep spirituality of his work. A ministry may be a very thoughtful ministry without prayer ; the preacher may secure fame and popularity without prayer; the whole machinery of the preacher's life and work may be run without the oil of prayer or with scarcely enough to grease one cog; but no ministry can be a spiritual one, securing holiness in the preacher and in his people, without prayer's being made an evident and controlling force."—Pages 20, 22.
In order to obey the invitation of the Saviour, "Come ye yourselves apart, . . . and rest awhile," we may find it necessary at times to shut ourselves up in our rooms for a whole day, and fast as well as pray. We may find it necessary to disappear for the day, perhaps away in the country under the canopy of heaven, where we can enjoy uninterrupted, unbroken communion with the Lord. But whatever we do, however we find this relaxation, let us determine in the strength of God in these times of stress and strain that we will obtain the blessing of the Lord, even though we have to wrestle for it like Jacob of old, when he 'cried: "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me."