"Come ye yourselves apart,... and rest awhile."
One Friday night the youth of our church reminded me of the verse in Mark 6:31, as they discussed how they might use their summer vacation from school. Of course, there was the usual emphasis on the "need" for more socials, recreation, games, and youth activities, but they also talked of the importance of a plan to use the three months profitably lest they slip away without any real goal being achieved during this time.
Just as the youth gain more from their three-month vacation by planning for it, so the minister profits more from his two- or three-week vacation by planning where to go and how to use the time. After the disciples completed their evangelistic mission and returned, enthusiastic but weary, to Jesus, we are told, "It was their duty to rest."—Gospel Workers, p. 243. In commenting on this point we read, "If we would give heed to His word, we should be stronger and more useful."—The Desire of Ages, p. 363. Strength follows weariness only if adequate periods of rest intervene. This principle applies to the worker for God just as it does to any other type of worker. In the Spirit of Prophecy this rest is termed a necessity:
In a life wholly devoted to the good of others, the Saviour found it necessary to turn aside from ceaseless activity and contact with human needs, to seek retirement and unbroken communion with His Father. . . . He did not urge upon them [His disciples] the necessity of ceaseless toil. . . . To His toil-worn workers today as really as to His first disciples He speaks these words of compassion, "Come ye yourselves apart, . . . and rest awhile."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 58.
Christ could have worked a miracle to restore their depleted reserves of physical and spiritual energy and revive their nervous and mental powers. Instead, "He directed His worn servants to go apart into the country and rest."— Gospel Workers, p. 243.
The Lord of the harvest rarely demands the sacrifice of the workman for the sake of reaping the grain. "He would show His disciples that God does not require sacrifice, but mercy."— The Desire of Ages, p. 360. The work of God has often been crippled by the premature sacrifice of valuable workers. On this point Ellen G. White writes: There is need that God's chosen workmen should listen to the command to go apart and rest awhile. Many valuable lives have been sacrificed because of a disregard of this command. There are those who might be with us to-day, to help forward the cause both at home and in foreign lands, had they but realized before it was too late that they were in need of rest. These workers saw that the field is large and the need for workers great, and they felt that at any cost they must press on. When nature uttered a protest, they paid no heed, but did double the work they should have done; and God laid them in the grave to rest until the last trump shall sound to call the righteous forth to immortality.— Gospel Workers, p. 245.
All nature observes cycles of rest following activity. The day of work is followed by the night for sleep. The six days' labor is followed by the Sabbath of rest. Winter follows summer. Even that most constant of ail working organs, the heart, observes a regular, brief period of rest following every contraction.
Periods of rest, of quiet and communion, are especially vital to those doing creative work. Mental and spiritual leadership demand a time to "be still, and know . .. God." "Like Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, like David among the hills of Judea, or Elijah by the brook Cherith, the disciples needed to come apart from the scenes of their busy activity, to commune with Christ, with nature, and with their own hearts." —The Desire of Ages, p. 360.
The Secret of Creative Thinking
Herein is the secret of creative thinking: relaxation, solitude, communion with God, with nature, and with one's own heart. These were, bound together in the experience of Jesus when He often withdrew from the multitudes to be alone in the mountains. In these hours alone with God He received guidance for the days ahead. He received from His Father spiritual power and direction. The same thing can happen to spiritual leaders today who plan a time of quiet for rest and communion.
There are in the human brain some two billion tiny storage batteries that all need revitalizing by contact with the Source of all power. This is difficult in the press of the throng and the rush of modern city life. Hence the command, "Come apart and rest." "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." To "be still, and know" is the "effectual preparation for all labor for God. . . . He who is thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. He will receive a new endowment of both physical and mental strength."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 58. Vacations of this type are not wasted time. Rather they are valuable preparations for the entire year's work. The pen of inspiration points up this need for change in order to accomplish the most with the mind:
Those who are engaged in constant mental labor, whether in study or preaching, need rest and change. The earnest student is constantly taxing the brain, too often while neglecting physical exercise, and as the result the bodily powers are enfeebled, and mental effort is restricted. Thus the student fails of accomplishing the very work that he might have done had he labored wisely.—Counsels on Health, pp. 563, 564.
A Time for Spiritual Preparation
Spurgeon has this to say about the value of time spent away from the rush of life in spiritual preparation, in the following two examples:
Isaac Ambrose, once pastor at Preston, who wrote that famous book, Looking Unto Jesus, always set apart one month in the year for seclusion in a hut in a wood at Garstang. No wonder that he was so mighty a divine, when he could regularly spend so long a time in the mount with God. I notice that the Romanists are accustomed to secure what they call "Retreats," where a number of priests will retire for a time into perfect quietude, to spend the whole of the time in fasting and prayer, so as to inflame their souls with ardor. We may learn from our adversaries.
That was a grand action of old Jerome, when he laid all his pressing engagements aside to achieve a purpose to which he felt a call from heaven. He had a large congregation, as large a one as any of us need want; but he said to his people, "Now it is of necessity that the New Testament should be translated; you must find another preacher: the translation must be made; I am bound for the wilderness, and shall not return till my task is finished." Away he went with his manuscripts, and prayed and labored and produced a work—the Latin Vulgate—which will last as long as the world stands; on the whole a most wonderful translation of Holy Scripture.—Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students (ed. by Fuller), pp. 46, 47.
The summer vacation has been made a time of vital planning and inspiration by a number of successful ministers. Phillips Brooks had a little cottage at Andover, Massachusetts, where he stole away from Boston in the summer and read book after book and meditated on the needs of his people as he rested.
William Lyon Phelps, who wrote twenty-five books and delivered one thousand lectures on literature, besides preaching for nearly twenty years, was asked how he could do so much work. He replied: "Most of my writing has been done in the long vacation in my summer home in Michigan, where we enjoy isolation and the absence of a telephone. We rise at six every morning (remember, this is a vacation he is talking about), which gives me five good hours at my desk before letter-writing."— Wilbur M. Smith, quoted in Chats From a Minister's Library, pp. 201, 202.
The famous divine of Edinburgh, Alexander Whyte, was a firm believer in the value of the vacation, so long as it was not simply a time of recreation. At least two summer months, and in later years three, he spent away from Edinburgh, and shorter times at Christmas and Easter. "But these weeks or months were not in the ordinary sense vacations, for they were closely packed with reading, meditation, and sometimes writing."—G. F. Barbour, Life of Alexander Whyte, D.D., p. 286. During this time the outlining of his winter classes and sermons was his chief concern. His classic work, Bible Characters, was developed during these summer holidays and delivered to his classes in the evenings each winter for several years, as were the three volumes of biography, The Great Evangelical Succession.
Wherever Whyte took his vacation he took with him specially constructed boxes, packed with books, to serve as temporary shelves when he reached his destination. Each day he was up at daylight and at his studies, storing up material for the coming year's preaching. Most ministers would welcome the length of his vacation. But what about the depth and productiveness of his self-discipline in the use of time? Whyte's two or three months off proved to be a profitable arrangement for the church as well as for himself. They fed all winter from his harvest of the summer months, and he grew both in wisdom and in usefulness. He spared himself the agonizing question, "What shall I preach next Sabbath?" which so often frustrates the preacher who has not planned his subjects ahead. Much of Whyte's reading for the winter series was done during the summer, although he outlined only the main headings for each sermon.
S. Parkes Cadman was a prodigious reader who customarily spent most of his vacation time reading and planning for the fall and winter sermons. After long insistence by Mrs. Cadman he agreed one summer to leave his books at home and try some fishing. He rented a boat but could not enjoy himself teaching the worms to swim, so sent for some of his books and manuscripts. When he came home day after day without a single fish Mrs. Cadman became suspicious, and upon investigation found him lying in the boat with the books and manuscripts spread around him. The next year he took the Encyclopaedia Britannica along for recreational reading.
Nature's Ideal Therapy
The ideal spot for a vacation such as Jesus recommended for the disciples, and which He often chose for Himself, is described in The Desire of Ages:
Near Bethsaida, at the northern end of the lake, was a lonely region, now beautiful with the fresh green of spring, that offered a welcome retreat to Jesus and His disciples. For this place they set out, going in their boat across the water. Here they would be away from the thoroughfares of travel, and the bustle and agitation of the city. The scenes of nature were in themselves a rest, a change grateful to the senses. Here they could listen to the words of Christ.—Page 361.
There is therapy in nature for modern city-dwelling disciples, away from the confusion of automobiles, telephones, television, and all that makes up our culture. The restful colors of the woods, the relaxing song of the birds, the wind in the pines, or the water in the brook, open the heart to the still small voice, and the lost art of meditation and communion is revived. In such settings our great Example took His vacations and prepared His soul for His incomparable task. We read:
He found recreation amidst the scenes of nature, gathering knowledge as He sought to understand nature's mysteries. He studied the word of God, and His hours of greatest happiness were found when He could turn aside from the scene of His labors to go into the fields, to meditate in the quiet valleys, to hold communion with God on the mountainside, or amid the trees of the forest. The early morning often found Him in some secluded place, meditating, searching the Scriptures, or in prayer.—Counsels on Health, p. 162.
What a contrast is the common vacation of today—in the car, rushing from Maine to Florida, from California to New York and back, visiting relatives, seeing the works of man, and returning mentally and physically exhausted, having profited only by the change. Wordsworth says in "The Tables Turned":
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
To come apart and rest awhile, to meditate, read and pray, to commune with God, with nature, and with our own hearts is re-creation indeed of the mental, spiritual, and physical powers. It is profitable for both minister and people. In a pleasant, restful atmosphere Christ will inspire with vision and a plan for the year ahead.