It perhaps should not be surprising that Mark would write in this way, because he wrote his gospel from accounts given to him by the Apostle Peter (as it is commonly thought), with whom he traveled on his preaching circuit. Peter himself was a man who was usually very economical with his words and was, as we know from the descriptions of his activities, a man who quickly moved from one event to the next.
Although Mark may have written in the hurried style of the ministry that he shared with Peter, I have my doubts if Mark was of this same, impetuous temperament in his own personality. Mark sometimes writes as if he is a little out of breath as he followed the Apostle Peter in his travels. For instance, of all the gospel writers who, in telling about the ministry of Jesus with his disciples, only Mark mentions not only once but a couple of times that they were so busy that they did not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20; 6:31).
I find it a little amusing that Mark writes in this way, since he was not even present with the disciples when these times of going without meals occurred.
The Need for Solitude
More than any of the gospel writers, Mark seems to take note of the times when Jesus went off by himself to a secluded place where he could be alone for a little while. And Mark is the only one of the gospel writers who makes note of one specific thing that Jesus said to his disciples at a crucial point in their lives. Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples on this occasion was not so significant, and yet, it is significant enough for Mark to have recorded it.
On this particular occasion, Jesus had just sent the twelve disciples out on a journey. Actually, they went out in pairs on separate journeys. Jesus told them to take nothing for their own preparations except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money, nothing. What Jesus did give them for their journey, however, was authority over unclean spirits.
So the disciples went out and “preached that people should repent.” We are told that the disciples also “drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil, and healed them” (Mark 6:12-13). I am sure that their journeys were filled with activities of all sorts, and the demands upon them and their time were great.
On these types of ministries, sleep is never adequate, and fatigue begins to build. After a time (we do not know how long), the disciples returned very excited about their short-term mission trip. They were full of stories about all that they had seen and what they had done.
The very next event in the lives of Jesus and his disciples after this one is the significant and famous story of the feeding of the five thousand people. Before the telling of that story however, all three of the synoptic gospel writers mention that at the return of the disciples from their travels, Jesus took the disciples with him to a place where he could have some rest.
It is understandable that Jesus felt this need. He had just learned of the beheading of John the Baptist, his friend, relative and forerunner. Certainly, we can understand why Jesus would seek out a quiet place. However, in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, neither of them say anything about Jesus communicating this need also to the disciples (Matthew 14:13; Luke 9:10).
Mark, in his ordinarily action-packed style of writing, we would expect him to next write, “Immediately after these things,” and then move on to the next event in the life of Jesus and the disciples. Indeed, both Matthew and Luke pause very little at this point in the narrative. In their writings, they quickly begin telling about that next event of the feeding of the multitude.
But Mark breaks with his normal style of writing to tell us of a simple phrase that Jesus said to the disciples at this point.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told his disciples (Mark 6:31 NAS).
Mark then pauses further to emphasize the fact that many people were coming and going, and to mention, as he had on one other occasion, that Jesus and his disciples did not even have time to eat. He then continues, “They went away in a boat to a secluded place by themselves.”
A Society That Discourages Solitude
The often-heard phrase concerning occupational stress in these days is “burnout.” It is a catch-all term that describes an emotional condition that comes about by continual pressures of work and relationships. In my own work, I hear of burnout in the lives of missionaries or of pastors.
“Missionary Smith quit and went home. He just got burnt out”
It happens with missionaries and pastors, but of course it can and does happen in any occupation. Just as our physical bodies become fatigued and in need of rest, so it is true of our emotional lives. The difficulty is that we do not recognize emotional and mental fatigue as easily as physical.
With physical exhaustion, our bodies send us continual reminders of how tired we are. The need for rest becomes very obvious to us.
Emotional fatigue is not quite so clear. Even when we are at the point of emotional exhaustion, another exciting event in our lives often gives us renewed energy. We get a renewed surge of adrenaline so that our exhaustion is masked and we think that we are ready to move on to the next event.
This is the way that it seemed to be in the narrative that Matthew and Luke wrote. The disciples came home from their short-term mission trip all fired up and ready to move on to the next big event—something like having an outdoor meeting with five thousand people.
Not so much with Mark’s writing. Jesus knew of the need: “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” he told his disciples.
Jesus’ words about going to a secluded place demonstrate a need that we all must address in our lives. It is something that is reflected in Jesus’ own life. Jesus often sought quiet times, even though it was sometimes difficult for him to find those times.
It is also difficult for us. Ours is a society that is constantly on the move and in which personal solitary times are becoming increasingly rare. We have for so long lived without solitude that we no longer even know how to be alone.
Some people are actually uncomfortable when they are absolutely alone. Any observation of the mannerisms of people shows us that it seems that if we do ever find ourselves alone, we must either be plugged into our electronic devices, chatting online, or talking on our cell phones in order to drown out the noise of silence.
Lives that are to have meaning cannot continue in this way. In order to understand and process all of the activities that are going on around us and in which we ourselves are involved, we must seek some time when we can and find a “secluded place.” We need moments of quiet and uninterrupted silence to reflect on all that is happening and to bring it all before God. We need solitary times to process that which is occurring in the course of our lives. Not to do so will result in ourselves being carried along by changing circumstances and the capricious nature of life instead of ourselves directing where our life should carry us.
Quiet reflection in thought is vital for discovering your true direction in life.
The Pattern for Solitude
Mark took special note of this need of solitude. In one of the very first incidents that he records in the life of Jesus, Mark tells of how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been lying sick and with a fever. When the news of that healing began to be spread about the town, Mark writes:
When evening came, after the sun had set, they [the people of the city] began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. (Mark 1:32-34 NAS)
This event in the life of Jesus demonstrates the nature of the daily pressures that were upon him. The crowds were constantly pressing in on him from every place. Their needs were numerous and very grave. These needs were not merely physical needs such as need of food and healing of illnesses, but they were also spiritual in their nature. The pleas of the people included the casting out of demons.
Jesus found himself in constant battle with the demons. It is in the midst of all of these pressing needs that Mark again tells us of something that Jesus did. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35, NAS).
Alas, the time for Jesus in his secluded place was short-lived. His disciples were searching for him and found him out. “Everyone is looking for you,” they told Jesus. Indeed. The demand was constantly there.
So Jesus continued his ministry, because, as he told the disciples, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38-39 NIV).
True to his word, Jesus continued. His time alone cut short by the needs of the people, he continued to travel throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
“I Know the Feeling”
In terms of having moments alone cut short, I at least can relate to Jesus on that level. Perhaps many of us can. In our culture, as in the days of Jesus, times alone do not come on their own. We must seek them out.
Believe it or not, it is actually much easier to find times alone in our western society than in some of the places I have personally lived in the past. I recall many times living in a village in a third world county finding it quite impossible to be alone. Even if I would head off into the fields to try and find some solitude, someone would inevitably come walking along and begin to tell me of something that they needed from me.
It was not that I did not want to help, but just not now. It sometimes seemed like everyone was looking for me.
I think many moms of small children know this feeling. Perhaps you also know the feeling.
If Jesus saw the need to be alone, we also must see this need to find a solitary place.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told his disciples.
The opportunities may be rare, but they need to be sought. We do not always have to have the cell phone in our pocket. We do not always have to have the TV on. We do not have to have our evenings and our weekends filled with activities.
We plan all of this activity because it seems like a “fun” thing to do, but what it is actually doing is draining our lives of all that has meaning.
Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
For my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor rest on God, my strong rock;
My refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge.
God has spoken once;
I have heard this twice:
That power belongs to God.
(Psalm 62:5-8, 11 BSB)
(1 Kings 19:11-13 How God spoke to Elijah)
Then the LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Behold, the LORD is about to pass by.”
And a great and mighty wind tore into the mountains and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then suddenly, a voice came to him.
But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6 BSB).
And whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21 BSB).
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge (Proverbs 18:15 ESV).