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 or coach to push you. Are you able to motivate yourself on a cold February morning to run in the dark, perhaps trudging through snow? Do you complete all the intervals planned or do you cut it a few short? After all no one is watching, so no one would know if you skipped just one. Are 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. God encourages us to work as a team. The church is our team, and our fellow Christians are our teammates. The Apostle Paul 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.” (Hebrews 10: 24-25). However, there is another part of our training we can’t miss as 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 that Jesus 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. But it isn’t a matter of living up to a godly standard, 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 early. In Luke 2 we read 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 it 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. 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.