We live in a culture that prizes success and celebrity. These often go hand in hand, one building on the other. Consider, for example, the case of Mark Zuckerberg. Not long ago, he was simply a Harvard student with a creative idea and computer programming expertise. Today, as the founder of Facebook, he is one of the most well-known people on earth. In 2010, Zuckerberg was depicted in a highly popular movie (The Social Network) and honored as Time magazine's Person of the Year. He even voiced himself on an episode of The Simpsons. Talk about success and celebrity!
There isn't necessarily anything wrong with being successful or well known. But both can be dangerous to our souls. We can begin to live, not for what matters most, but for achieving more or enhancing our image. Moreover, we can be tempted to fill our lives with more and more activities, neglecting our core relationships and even our own health. Awhile back, a number of the "most successful" Christian leaders backed away from their ministries in order to get their lives back in order. Though I haven't found myself in need of this level of retrenchment, I am easily tempted to overbook myself when people want me to do good things.
Thus, the example of Jesus in Luke instructs, challenges, and admonishes me. As Jesus's fame grew throughout Galilee, "vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases" (Luke 5:15). From our cultural point of view, he was becoming more and more successful, as measured by the numerical response to his ministry. So how did Jesus handle his success and celebrity? Yes, he continued to preach and heal. But, as Luke reports, he "often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer" (Luke 5:16).
It's no exaggeration to say that Jesus went on retreat, often, in fact. He knew that he needed time away from the crowds in order to pray. He didn't just sneak in a few moments of prayer between preaching gigs. He didn't just have a quiet time in the morning. Rather, Jesus took time away from his busy and growing ministry in order to be quiet with his heavenly Father.
Think about it. If the Son of God, the one who experienced unique intimacy with the Father, needed to go on retreat, then don't you and I need to do the same? How can we expect to negotiate the challenges and opportunities of our lives if we don't back away every now and then so as to take time for rest, reflection, and, most of all, prayer?
Mark Roberts is a regular contributor to TheHighCalling.org and the Senior Advisor and Theologian-in-Residence for Foundations for Laity Renewal. This article is adapted with permission from his original article "Jesus on Retreat" at TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.