The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest
The background to these verses is that Jesus has sent his disciples out to spread his message without him. The disciples have returned to Jesus joyous because of what they had experienced but drained by the work. The text does not tell us that the disciples were exhausted or burnt out, if anything it suggests they only felt excited. But Jesus saw a different need, Jesus recognized a need for the disciples to rest. I wonder what the disciples thought about this imposed rest. How many of them thought they were good, how many felt energized like they could take on the world, and yet Jesus calls them away from the activities for rest. I know a number of people who are in the disciples’ position, they are in the midst of their first real mission for Jesus and the excitement has them stoked, they are ready to go all out, and it is at this moment Jesus says rest.
Over the past two years stress, depression, exhaustion, and burn out have been major topics of conversation. Our culture is unable to deal with the circumstances of life and this reality is even true of pastors, who find themselves unable to cope with the demands they face. We face new demands that have upset the rhythms of our lives and the result is mental, emotional, and spiritual fatigue. As a culture we are just discovering the importance of mental health and are years away from discovering the need for spiritual health. But Jesus understood this rhythm and encouraged his disciples to change their way of approaching life to cope with the change in stress. He did not encourage his disciples to get away because they were physically or mentally exhausted, he encouraged them to get away so they would stay healthy. Jesus himself, in Mark 1, walked away from the crowds as they began to gather around him, he walked away to pray and connect to God; here in chapter 6 he encourages his disciples to do the same. His encouragement is not because they are tired, it is to prevent exhaustion.
We all have heard the saying there are two kinds of people– those who wait for the needle to go past E and those who fill up when they have half a tank of gas. While there is humor in this saying there is also some truth, and the same is true of our Christian walk, Jesus encouraged his disciples to be the kind of people who filled up with half a tank left. There was probably little chance the disciples were truly exhausted by the work they had done. Jesus seems to encourage them to rest and recharge so they would not become exhausted. The Gospel accounts present a picture of Jesus which shows a man committed to a practice of regularly resting for spiritual recovery. Including a time of rest into our regular cycle of life is important. This is the point of the command to remember the Sabbath, it is to make rest a regular part of life. Our calling includes a time of recovery, not simply a time of doing nothing but a time of rest with and worship God.
Imagine your spiritual life like car with a broken gas gauge you never know when the tank will run empty. If you pay close attention you will have an idea when your tank is getting close to empty but if you do not you will burn out without ever realizing there is a problem. Jesus calls all disciples to be poured out for the world, that is to empty the grace and presence of the Spirit present in us for those around us. If we are constantly emptying ourselves for others we need to be continuously refilling ourselves with God.
I think of the Prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19, he had just confronted the king and the prophets of Ba’al, but he was so burnt out and so disconnected from God he took forty days to recover. Elijah was had poured out so much that he had become disconnected from God’s presence and did not understand God’s plans. It is easy to understand Elijah being spent after his encounter with the king and so we recognize the need for him to recover, but his state is the same state we often find ourselves in. What was God’s treatment rest, silence, food, prayer, and worship. What then is our responsibility, is it only to rest when we feel burnt out or stressed? Are we to wait until the tank is empty before we fill up? No we are to commit to making rest and recovery as part of our monthly, weekly, and even daily rhythms. We are to commit to always have enough in the tank to share with others. We are called to be disciples, people who share the work of God in the world and to do that we meet take the time to rest in God.