Summary: In the midst of our busy lives and our ministry in service to Christ, it is not only necessary, but imperative that we remain connected with God through prayer.
A few years ago, “The Obstacles to Growth Survey” collected data from over 20,000 Christians around the world aged 15 to 88. The survey found that, on average, more than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they “often” or “always” rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it's “often” or “always” true that “the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God.” Christians most likely to agree were from North America, Africa, and Europe.
While busyness afflicts both men and women, the distraction from God was more likely to affect men than women in every surveyed continent except North America, where 62 percent of women and 61 percent of men reported busyness as interfering with their relationship with God.
By profession, pastors were most likely to say they rush from task to task (54 percent), which adversely affects their relationship with God (65 percent). “It's tragic and ironic: the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains,” said Dr. Michael Zigarelli, who conducted the study at the Charleston Southern University School of Business.
Busy-ness is a problem in today’s world when it comes to our relationship with God in Christ Jesus, and no one is immune from it, not even people working in the church, myself included. There was an article in the New York Times about three years ago that offered an analysis of what might be called “the busy trap.” Listen to this excerpt: “If you live in America in the 21st century, you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That's a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’”
The article goes on to say, “Busyness serves as a kind of…hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…[We're] busy because of [our] own ambition or drive or anxiety, because [we're] addicted to busyness and dread what [we] might have to face in its absence.”
Being busy may make us feel important, or it might hide feelings of emptiness or low self-worth, but it does nothing to enhance our relationship with God, even when we are busy in the Lord’s work. Just look at Jesus in today’s gospel lesson. For the last few weeks, up to and including today, we have been reading the story of Jesus’ first day of public ministry. Did you hear that, all that we have talked about in the last few weeks happened in one day, and the first day, no less! Jesus began very early as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God and calling disciples to follow him and “fish for people.” With his newfound companions in tow, Jesus then headed inland a little ways to the synagogue in Capernaum for Sabbath worship. There he taught with an authority all his own and then cast out a demon.
Where we pick up this morning, Jesus has now gone with his friends to the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. It was the custom after synagogue worship to gather for a midday meal, which would have been the primary meal of the day. Jesus and his companions must have gone to the home of Simon’s mother-in-law thinking they could eat there, but what they find is a very sick woman, whom Jesus immediately heals. Once her fever is gone, she begins working on that meal, but in the meantime, word is really starting to spread about Jesus and people are coming from all over the place to be healed. So Jesus begins to heal these people, too, one after another, all afternoon and into the night. Jesus was incredibly busy, wasn’t he? And this was only on the first day of his ministry!
But look at what Jesus did the very first thing on his second day of ministry. Mark tells us that very early, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, went to a deserted place, and prayed. Busyness, my friends, is not a badge to wear, it is a simple fact of life today that we must learn to cope with. And one of the best ways to deal with the chaos of our lives and stay focused on God in the midst of all the busyness? Prayer.
If you all remember, last week we talked about the power of God that was made known in Jesus Christ. As Jesus taught in the synagogue, Mark tells us he did so as “one having an authority all his own, not like the legal experts.” After he was done teaching, Jesus showed the power of that authority when he cast out an “unclean spirit” from a possessed man. But here’s the thing, even though Christ is one with God, he still had to be intentional about staying connected with God in order to maintain that power of God flowing through him. Jesus knew that the best way to do that was to talk to God, to get away from all the distractions and all the demands, to kneel in solitude, and to draw from God’s strength in prayer. And here’s the thing, what was true for Jesus is true for us too.