Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 6 of series: Missional and Formational?
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If you read through the Gospels looking for connections between formational and missional, you’ll discover plenty of them. In today’s post I’ll cite and comment on one pregnant example. Consider this passage from the Gospel of Mark:

35   In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  38 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.”  39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

First of all, note that Jesus got up very early, went to a place of solitude, and spent ample time in prayer. When Peter told him that “everyone” was searching for him, we might have expected Jesus to be thrilled that his ministry was becoming popular. But instead of responding to his adoring audience, Jesus decided instead to move on to “neighboring towns” so as to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.
In the flow of this short episode, it seems as if Jesus’ unexpected decision to spurn popularity in favor of fulfilling his true mission was connected with his extended time in prayerful solitude. Though we’re not told the content of his conversation with his Heavenly Father, the narrative suggests that this allowed him to discern his next steps in his mission.
As a pastor, I have often thought about this passage from Mark’s Gospel. One of the greatest dangers for pastors and other Christian leaders is popularity. The more popular we become, the more we are tempted to play to the crowds. To more people like us, the more we can become drunk on the elixir of human approval, and therefore less likely to discern God’s direction for our lives and ministries. One way to avoid this trap, it seems to me, is to imitate Jesus’ example of extended time in solitude and prayer. I know many pastors and Christian leaders who do this on a regular basis. But I also know how hard it is to maintain this discipline, especially when the demands of ministry and family cry out for attention. In fact, the more popular you become in some area of ministry, the more difficult it will be for you to find time to get alone with God.
When I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I found extended time of conversation with God to be absolutely essential to my leadership, my personal well-being, and my family life. I was blessed to live only about twenty minutes from a three-mile stretch of secluded beach. For many years, I tried to spend at least an hour at least once a week walking along the beach and praying. I can’t tell you how many times I began these ambling prayer sessions by telling God that I wanted him to do something, only to discover that my initial requests were not consistent with God’s will for me or my ministry. As I prayed, the Spirit of God was forming and reforming my own spirit, helping me to desire the things of God and to discern what those things were. (Photo: My favorite prayer spot in Southern California, the beach of Crystal Cove State Park.)
I don’t think that what I’ve just described is only for pastors and other “official” Christian leaders. All of us need to find times and places where we can be alone with God for long enough to bear our souls so we can begin to listen. If Jesus needed to do this, how much more do we need the same!

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