Luke 5: 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Serious athletes understand the need for group training. I’ve had the privilege of watching Olympic calibre distance runners train together on a local track. I’ve watched the strained looks on their faces as they endured an intense interval workout, pushing each other to exhaustion and often buckling over a garbage can trying to keep their lunch down between sets. Having a teammate next to you is invaluable when every message from your brain is telling you to stop rather than to carry on with the next interval. “There is no way I’m quitting, if he’s gonna keep going”, is a voice that often rung loudly in my ear during these times.”
However, serious athletes also understand the importance of individual training. The reality, especially for those who compete in “individual sports”, is that there will be a time where you cannot rely on your teammate to push you, or your coach. You will feel very alone and will have to dig deep into the experience of pushing yourself on your own. Were you able to motivate yourself on a cold February morning to run in the dark, perhaps trudging through snow? Did you complete all the intervals planned or did you cut it a few short? After all no one is watching, no one would know if you skipped just one. Were you able to get to the pool at 5:30am in the morning to swim repeats while your roommates lay comatose in a warm bed?
The Christian walk is similar in many ways. God encourages us to work as a team. He created the church to be our team and our fellow Christians to be our teammates. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrews said “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10: 24-25). However, there is also a critical part of our training that cannot be missed if we truly want to be disciples (followers) of Jesus, and that is our personal devotion time. Nothing can replace this alone time with God. In Luke 5:16 we read about Jesus that he often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Now you may say, but that is Jesus and it doesn’t relate to me. I can’t live up to his standards. The key is to recognize that it isn’t a matter of living up to some godly standard that we can never attain; rather it was the most natural thing that Jesus could do and it needs to become the most natural thing we do. For Jesus it started at a young age. In Luke 2 we read the story of Jesus travelling with his parents to the temple in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. The family and the large entourage left and travelled for a day before they realized he was missing. When they came back to the temple they scolded Jesus, but he said: “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
In Matthew 6 Jesus instructs us how to pray, and this prayer begins with “Our Father who art in heaven”. God is OUR Father, not just Jesus’ Father. So as Jesus desired and needed to be alone with His Father, how much more do we as mere mortals need to be with our heavenly Father. As life challenges us, as we can often feel enveloped in the darkness all around us, God invites us to come to him. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a). The great irony of this “individual training” is that when we go alone to God, when we retreat on our own with Him, we are actually never less alone than in this place. We are communing with our heavenly Father, but we are also communing with the almighty creator of this universe. What a glorious thing. What an awesome wonder. If you have not been spending daily time with God, stop robbing yourself of the immense pleasure of this time with your Father, the one who will never leave you nor forsake you.