Distractions abound in our lives. Children clamor for the attention of parents. As parents, we worry about their choice of friends and their safety in athletics. We grieve when we cannot give them what others have; we weep when they make poor ethical decisions, or when they discover that we have. Well-crafted plays, movies, and books battle for our time. So, too, do athletics and community service projects. Team sports build community and the sense that one needs others to succeed. Community service ingrains within us our commonality with those who seem to have less than us. Work gives us income and fulfillment, yet takes large chunks of our time away from other pursuits that we enjoy. And these are just some of the better competitors for our time. We find it difficult to prioritize.
Jesus shared this difficulty. Some people struggle with this concept, but when the Bible says that Jesus was tempted, it means that in some way he wanted what was offered. Hebrews 4:15-16 says of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus “was tested as we are.” He confronted challenges of appetite, desire for approval by others, and the lure of power.
In Mark 1:32-34, the writer describes how a whole city brought their sick and suffering to be healed by Jesus. News of the healer spread quickly; many came to seek his help. That kind of service is important. Today, doctors and nurses travel in the name of Jesus to other nations to heal physical maladies of people who live in desperate poverty and have no access to medical care. People use vacation time to build houses for people who cannot afford them. Others volunteer to tutor, or to lead twelve-step recovery programs, or to teach life skills like financial management and improving relationships. Jesus probably felt a positive sense of fulfillment like they do. Jesus could have spent most, if not all, his time healing the sick. After that day of healing success, however, he withdrew to a deserted place and prayed. He would repeat this pattern at other times when faced with a choice of priority in mission.
Jesus prayed, it appears to me, for focus and perspective at times like that. In Mark 1, people wanted a healer of their physical and mental afflictions. In John 6, they wanted him to be a king who would rid them of the Romans and provide for their needs. On both those occasions, Jesus withdrew from both his disciples and the crowds to pray.
Simon and his companions find him praying the morning after the day of successful healing. “When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:37-39). Healing was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry; he continues to heal. However, he tells the disciples that spreading the message of the kingdom of God was his priority. He could have stayed in that city and continued to treat the ill. He went instead to other cities to preach the message.
We too struggle to find focus and to manage time wisely. Like Jesus, we must leave the frenzy of affirming activity and pray for focus, so that we may do what God most wants us to do.
O God who gives us clarity, so much distracts us. Temptations abound in our entertainment, in our work, among our relationships. Shield us from the darkness when it threatens to engulf us. Help us to see when good activities may distract us from more crucial mission. Grant us perspective that will keep us in the path that leads to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.