“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled, and recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
The longer I am a Christian, the more amazed I become with how little time we actually spend alone with God. Yet all that we are, anything we might accomplish in life that is worthwhile, grows out of the time we spend with Him.
John 15:4 tells us that “as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” We are nothing apart from Christ. Yet so many of us simply do not take the time to grow in our relationship to Him. And we wonder why we don’t see fruit in our lives.
Recently, I began thinking about fruit. Creating fruit is quite different from creating a table or a model airplane. In fact, the best tasting fruit comes about in a seemingly secondary way. To create an orange, for instance, I don’t take a few orange seeds and begin by pasting the flesh of the orange around them, and wrap it all up with orange peel. No, creating the orange doesn’t begin at all with the fruit itself. It begins, rather, with the soil.
After finding an appropriate plot of dirt to plant an orange tree, I proceed with making the soil good for planting. I till it to make it fallow. I may add some fertilizer, or particular elements the soil lacks, such as nitrogen or phosphorus (which, by the way, requires examination of the soil to determine what it may be lacking). This prepares the soil.
Then I plan my seed. Not just any seed – if I want oranges, I plant orange seed. I water, weed, continue to fertilize when necessary and before long a sprout appears. Over time, as I care for this sapling, pruning when necessary, an orange tree grows. After more time and when the appropriate season comes, this tree bears the fruit I desire.
I could have never created an orange by first focusing on the fruit. I had to focus on creating an environment in which the fruit could grow – that which may have appeared irrelevant to the production of oranges – in order to yield the desired fruit.
Now that illustration may sound simple, even silly. But how many of us desire spiritual results, yet never pay attention to the things resulting in fruit?
Allow me to set the stage here in Acts. Peter and John were on their way to the temple for prayer, and they passed by a lame beggar. Peter called on the name of Jesus to heal the man and He did. Peter then preached his second sermon after Pentecost. Just then, the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees arrested them. The following day they brought Peter and John before the ruling council to ask “By what power or in what name have you done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Had the apostles not spent the time that they did with Jesus, the present company would soon have confounded them; but they spoke with so much power and authority that the whole Sanhedrin was confounded. Because he who is taught in spiritual matters by Christ Jesus has a better gift than the tongue of the learned. He who is taught in the school of Christ will always speak to the point, and intelligibly too; though his words may not be polished.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Well, we could stop here and leave with that one thought, which in and of itself is quite a statement of their lives. “They recognized that they had been with Jesus.” But that won’t do.
I think the question begs itself, what does that mean? Or better yet, what does that look like? Is it my hurried 10 minute devotion and a prayer while I’m driving to work? Is it bringing my petitions to God? While it certainly may include these things, what I have in mind here is something quite foreign to many Christians.
Time with Jesus, real time with Jesus, requires two primary components, you might say disciplines — silence and solitude. And in our hectic world, that seems quite out of kilter. In his book “Intimacy with the Almighty,” Charles Swindoll writes, “I am more convinced than ever that there is no way you and I can move toward a deeper, intimate relationship with our God without protracted times of stillness, which includes one of the rarest of all experiences: absolute silence.”
Oswald Chambers writes, “Is silent prayer to us an experience of waiting upon God, or is it a “cotton wool” experience utterly dim and dark, a time which we simply endure until it is over? If you want discerning vision about anything, you have to make an effort to call in your wandering attention. Mental wool-gathering can be stopped as soon as the will is roused.”
How often do we sit in silence before God? Even in church, if during prayer it’s silent more than 15 seconds, people began to get nervous and fidgety.
When evening came, after the sun had set, they 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. 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 1:32-35
But Jesus himself provides us the example. In Mark chapter one, Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee preaching and healing. We find him here in Capernaum. If there ever was a man both compelled to spend time with God in solitude and silence and a man who’s life can be characterized as fruitful, it is our Savior. His schedule was at times very hectic. Yet we see in this example that he did nothing apart from God.
Henri Nouwen speaks to this very idea in his book, “Silence and Solitude.” As you read this quote, let the words sink in.
“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and wend off to a lonely place and prayed there.” In the middle of sentences loaded with action — healing suffering people, traveling from town to town and preaching from snynagogue to synagogue — we find these quiet words: “in the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”
In the center of breathless activity we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude.
The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.
In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own. He reminds us constantly: “I can do nothing by myself … my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30).
And again, “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (Jn 14:10). In is in the lonely place, where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father, that his ministry is born.
Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures.
The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.
I believe Nouwen hit on something critical to our lives as Christians. We must, hear me, we must spend time with our Father – time alone, in silence and solitude. For without it, we can become so easily distracted by the world.
But when we do, when we go off to a lonely place and encounter the Father, we return changed. Maybe we don’t notice. Maybe it’s not even readily apparent to those around us. Maybe it’s just slight. But rest assured that any encounter with the God of this universe results in a readjustment of our lives.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus.
I can’t state with certainty, but if I had to call it, I would say that Peter and John weren’t thinking about the time they had with Jesus during this event. They were simply responding as an outflow of the power within them through the Holy Spirit that came from their time with Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the sort of testimony I want said of me. When others encounter me, I would love nothing more than for them to recognize that I have been with Jesus.
Many times my life has been very stressful. I often to do the very thing I know not to do – get up earlier, and work later or try harder.
In the process, I’ve squeezed out my time with God. It’s like starving yourself. At first you don’t notice. Then one day you realize that you’re beginning to atrophy spiritually.
But God is merciful and He opens my eyes to it. He helps me to see that when I place my significance in something other than Him, I’ll crash and burn.
Sometimes I think that I need to focus more on spiritual disciplines. But then my Christian walk becomes a series of checks on my to do list. Eventually I realize that the very intimacy I desire and the evidence of fruit I lack isn’t because he has forsaken me. It’s because I’ve become too busy to spend time with him, or because I’ve turned my relationship with him into a task.
I have recommitted to getting alone with God daily, to spend time with him in silence and solitude – listening and enjoying his presence.
They recognized that they had been with Jesus. What a testimony.