How Jesus Met with God

The Pace and Patterns of a Perfect Life

Cross Conference | Louisville, KY

One of the more controversial issues in missions today is speed. How quickly do we expect the lost to be saved? How soon will new churches plant new churches? How fast should a new believer move into a leadership role? How long should cross-cultural missionaries work on learning a language?

In our times, we will do well to carefully interrogate our assumptions about speed and pace. Our internal speedometers are being conditioned to the quickening pace of modern life with its rapid flow of technological innovations. So, in our “age of accelerations,” pressing questions relate to speed — not only for effective Christian mission but simply for healthy Christian lives. Will we be driven by the hurried pace of our world? Or, with the help of God’s word and his Spirit and his church, will we find a more timeless (and human) pace for life and mission — a pace that has produced health and fruit across the ages?

In his book Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global, Andy Johnson says this: “The work of missions is urgent, but it’s not frantic” (67). That’s good, and the same is true of the Christian life and of the health and growth of our own souls.

Unhurried Habits of Jesus

So, let’s sit together at the feet of Jesus, and consider the pace and patterns of his life and ministry. He was not idle. Nor was he frenzied. From all we can tell from the Gospels, Jesus’s days were full. I think it would be fair to say he was busy, but he was not frantic. He lived to the full, and yet he did not seem to be in a hurry.

In Jesus, we observe a human life with holy habits and patterns: rhythms of retreating from society and then reentering to do the work of ministry. Even as God himself in human flesh, Jesus prioritized time away with his Father. He chose again and again, in his perfect wisdom and love, to give his first and best moments to seeking his Father’s face. And if Jesus, even Jesus, carved out such space in the demands and pressures of his human life, what might we learn from him, and how might we do likewise?

Now, we have only glimpses of Jesus’s habits and personal spiritual practices, but what we do have is by no accident, and it is not scant. We know exactly what God means for us to know, in just the right detail — and we have far more about Jesus’s personal spiritual rhythms than we do about anyone else’s in Scripture.

And the picture we have of Christ’s habits is not one that is foreign to our world and lives and experience. Rather, we find timeless and transcultural postures that can be imitated and applied by any follower of Jesus, anywhere in the world, at any time in history.

So, what might those be? Let’s look at three.

1. Jesus retreated and reentered.

Jesus made a habit of withdrawing from the world (and the engagements of fruitful ministry), and then reentering later to do more good.

So too, the healthy Christian life is neither solely solitary nor constantly communal. We learn to withdraw, like Jesus, “to a desolate place” to commune with God (Mark 1:35), and then we return to the bustle of daily tasks and seek to meet the needs of others. We carve out a season for spiritual respite — in some momentarily sacred space — to feed our souls, enjoying God there in the stillness. Then refilled, we enter back in to be light and bread to a hungry, harassed, and helpless world (Matthew 9:36).

For Christ, “the wilderness” or “desolate place” often became his momentarily sacred space. He got away from people. He regularly escaped the noise and frenzy of society to be alone with his Father, where he could give him his full attention and undivided heart.

There is, of course, that especially memorable instance in Mark 1. After “his fame spread everywhere” (Mark 1:28) the day before, and “the whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33), Jesus took a remarkable step the next morning. He was up before the sun and slipped away from town to restore his soul in secret communion with his Father. “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

Given the fruitfulness of the previous day, some of us might scratch our heads. What a ministry opportunity Jesus seemed to leave behind when he left town! Surely some of us would have skipped or shortened our private spiritual habits to rush to the demands of the swelling masses. How many of us, in such a situation, would have the presence of mind and heart to discern and prioritize prayer as Jesus did?

The Gospel of Luke also makes it unmistakable that this pattern of retreat and reentry was part of the ongoing dynamic of Christ’s human life. Luke 4:42 tells us that Jesus “departed and went into a desolate place” — not just once but regularly. Luke 5:16: “He would withdraw [as a pattern] to desolate places and pray.”

So also Matthew 14:13. After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” But even then, the crowds pursued him. And he didn’t despise them, but here he puts his desire to retreat on hold and has compassion on them and heals their sick (Matthew 14:14). Then after feeding them, five thousand strong, he withdraws again to a quiet place. “After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23).

This leads to a second principle — and not just that he withdrew but why. What did Jesus do when he withdrew?

2. Jesus withdrew to commune with his Father.

He got away from the distractions and demands of daily life to focus on, and hear from, and pray to his Father. At times, he went away by himself to be alone (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46–47; John 6:15). His disciples would see him leave to pray and later return. He went by himself.

But he also drew others into his life of prayer. The disciples had seen him model prayer at his baptism (Luke 3:21), as he laid his hands on the children (Matthew 19:13), and when he drove out demons (Mark 9:29). And Jesus brought his men into his communion with his Father. Even when he prayed alone, his men might be nearby. “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him” (Luke 9:18; also Luke 11:1).

3. Jesus taught his disciples to do the same.

Jesus didn’t only retreat to be alone with God. He also taught his disciples to bring this dynamic of retreat and return, communion and compassion, into their own lives (Mark 3:7; Luke 9:10).

In Mark 6:31–32, Jesus invites his men to join him, saying, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark explains, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”

So too, in the Gospel of John, as his fame spreads, Jesus retreats from more populated settings to invest in his men in more desolate, less distracting places (John 11:54). And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches all his hearers, including us today, not only to give without show (Matthew 6:3–4) and fast without publicity (Matthew 6:17–18), but also to find our private place to seek our Father’s face: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The reward is not material stuff later but the joy of communion with God there, in that moment, in the secret place.

Your Pace and Patterns

Jesus made a habit of retreating from the demands and pressures of everyday life and ministry, and he did so to commune with his Father, to hear his voice, and respond in prayer. And then Jesus reentered society to bless and teach and show compassion and love and do good. And he also invited his disciples into this pattern and taught them to do the same.

So, let’s close by asking about your pace and your patterns. First about pace, ask yourself, How deeply do the world’s assumptions and expectations about speed and productivity affect my life and ministry? How hurried is my life?

And your patterns. How about rhythms of retreat and reentry? Do you get away daily to commune with God in his word and prayer, in an unhurried, even leisurely way — resting, restoring your joy, feeding your soul in the grace of his presence? And what are your patterns or rhythms of life for retreating from the noise of the world to focus on and hear from the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, and then come back to meet the needs of others?