The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

Getting Away with Jesus
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
 In his book entitled Margins: Restoring emotional, physical, financial and time reserves to overloaded lives, Richard Swenson writes these words:
Why do so many of us feel like air-traffic controllers out of control? How can the salesman feel so stressed when the car is loaded with extras, the paycheck is bigger than ever, and vacations lasts four weeks a year? How is it possible that the homemaker is still tired despite the help of washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and vacuum cleaner? If we are so prosperous, why are the therapists' offices so full? If we have ten times more material abundance than our ancestors, why are we not ten times more content and fulfilled?1

Swenson's thesis is that something has gone wrong in our society. Our lives have become overloaded-emotionally, physically, financially, and socially. One of the causes is an overloaded schedule. We try to cram too much into too few hours. We are reluctant to admit that we are not infinite. We watch TV and see runners and swimmers breaking old records nearly every year. These athletes keep getting bigger and faster but the day will come when the records will no longer be broken. Athletes will not run the 100-meter dash in 1 second. They will not run the mile in less than a minute. Someday the athletes will reach a built-in physiological limit. 

At some point each week, we also reach a physiological, psychological, and spiritual limit. We do not have an inexhaustible source of energy. We cannot run on empty. We have real limits to what we can accomplish. Another book on time management, another day planner or another time saving device will not help us get more done in fewer hours. Swenson's writes that limits are real. Limits are not the enemy. "Overload is the enemy."2

Jesus knew about limits. He knew about the importance of margins. So after his disciples returned from their preaching mission he tried to take them away from the crowds; away from the busyness of life; away from all the activity of ministry to a quite spot in the desert. He wanted to be alone with them so that they could be refreshed. He wanted to enjoy their friendship without the pressures of life interrupting their solitude. He wanted them to enjoy their relationships with one another.

Have you ever considered that Jesus would like to be alone with you? Have you ever thought about the importance of having time that does not require anything of you except your presence? Swenson refers to this time as margins. Time between the edges of life and the activity of life. Time in which nothing happens. Time in which we sit in quite solitude and relax without a TV or a radio, without the buzz of a cell phone and the endless chatter of another person. Time to enjoy our friendship with God.

Unfortunately we live in a society that craves companionship and even fears begin a lone. Richard Foster writes: 

"The fear of being left alone petrifies people. A new child in the neighborhood sobs to his mother, "No one ever plays with me." A college freshman yearns for her high-school days when she was the center of attention. ' Now, I'm a nobody.' A business executive sits dejected in his office, powerful, yet alone. An old woman lies in a nursing home waiting to go 'Home.'"3
Our fear of being alone drives us to crowds and busyness. We hang a radio or CD player on our hip to take our walks so that if no one else is with us, "...we are not condemned to silence."

But getting alone with God is not prison sentence to loneliness. Being alone with God is time for growth, renewal and refreshment.

 One of the reasons getting alone with God or creating margins in our lives is important is because it prevents overload.

One day the legendary Greek storyteller Aesop was seen playing childish games with some little boys. A man approached Aesop and asked him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.

Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian,

"Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies."

The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it."5

We are very much like the bow. If we do not take time to rest we will snap.

Taking time to be alone with God also not only gives us rest but it strengths our inner being. Scientists have discovered that it takes twenty times more amphetamine to kill an individual mouse as it does to kill them in a group of mice. They have determined that a mouse that is not given any amphetamine will be dead within ten minutes if placed in a group of mice on the drug. "In groups they go off like popcorn and firecrackers." Dallas Willard has observed, "Western men and women, especially, talk a great deal about being individuals. But our conformity to social pattern is hardly less remarkable than that of the mice-and just as deadly."6

Two men began arguing about who was the better woodsman. One challenged the other to contest of strength and skill. They agreed to an all-day wood chopping contest. They duel began early in the morning. With the first swing of the ax, wood chips began flying. The challenger attacked the logs with a passion. All morning long, he swung his ax, taking only a brief lunch break. Throughout the afternoon the intensity of his work never diminished. At the end of the day they measured the stack of wood. The challenger was surprised to discover that the other man's stack was higher than his own was. "I don't get it," he said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did." "But you didn't notice," said the other woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."7

Time alone with God in solitude is the most fundamental exercise in the spiritual life. It strengthens our inner spirit. It is time to sharpen our ax.

When we are alone with God we are reminded that we are loved for who we are not what we have done. We live in a world the measures self worth by how much a person accomplishes; how many projects they have completed; how many programs they have started; how much money they have raised; how much they have increased profits. When we are alone God reminds us that he loves. PERIOD.

Monday morning is my time alone. After taking Abigail to the swimming pool, I return home and sit in a chair by the window to read aloud a few psalms. Then I just sit in silence and imagine myself sitting in the lap of God. This time is a time of refreshment and renewal. I try not to think about what I need to do during the week that comes latter. For just a few moments, I bring my world of activity and busyness to a grinding halt and simply think about how much God loves me.

A friend gave me a verse that many of you have found beneficial from Zephaniah 3:17:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A warrior who gives victory:
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will renew you in his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
My friend encouraged me to listen to the angels singing. So Monday morning is my time to-listening to the angels sing and remind myself that God loves me.

We are a tired and worn out generation. Workaholism has become the trademark of our society. We push ourselves from nine to five to get all the work done in the office or factory, than we rush home, gulp down a supper and start on our personal TBD list. We have even submitted rest with leisure and amazement thinking that life will be more enjoyable if we have something to do during a day off. Getting alone with God seems either more a luxury than a necessity or a boring alternative to the thrill of a weekend on jets. 

Years ago a company advertised a liniment which promised to bring relief to the aches and pains by penetrating deep into sore tired muscles. We have forgotten that God calls us to step away from the crowd and get alone with him so that he can penetrate into the deepest levels of our fatigue.

1. Richard A. Swenson, Margins: Restoring, emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), 15.
2. Swenson, Margins, 77.
3. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 84.
4. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 84.
5. Daily Bread, June 6, 1994 quoted by Online:
6. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of Disciplines: How God changes lives, (San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1988), 160,161. 
7. Online: quoted from an unknown source.

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390