“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”Luke 5:16
Even though Jesus was God incarnate, He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
Even though He could heal, cast out demons, perform miracles, and transform lives, He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
Even though He knew His purpose and God’s ultimate will, He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
Even though He had disciples and crowds following, He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
Even though everyone wanted His attention, He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
On the Surface
Humans are incredibly curious creatures, and we are very easily addicted. We slowly adapt to our behavior and that behavior can quickly take us places we didn’t initially plan to go. We can increasingly justify behaviors or distractions we once considered extreme or ridiculous.Benjamin Hardy, reference
In today’s culture, with everything grabbing our attention, distracting us, cluttering our minds, and filling up our calendars, I find it hard to withdraw more often. We all want to feel needed and loved and wanted and important, so we get addicted to whatever makes us feel good and come back to it with no second thoughts of what it’s actually doing to our brains, our mental and emotional health, and ultimately our time on earth. Whether it’s our phones, comfort foods, books, tv shows, or straight up heroin or weed, we turn to what makes us feel good and come back to it as soon as we feel a little discomfort.
Not only is it hard to withdraw, but it’s difficult for many to find desolate, or quiet places. As soon as things cool down, we get uncomfortable with our own presence, maybe even afraid that the outside emptiness will creep into our own voids. That sounds intense but I don’t think I’m wrong.
This isn’t just our current society. This has gone on for generations! Even in Jesus’s day. From their social and economic standards to religious duties, beliefs, and traditions, they were just as distracted and busy. Yet, Jesus showed us what to do and how to do it.
He withdrew to desolate places and prayed.
I wanted to talk about three of the words mentioned in that phrase. Withdraw, desolate, and pray.
To withdraw means to remove or take away something from a particular place or position and to leave or cause to leave a place or situation. There’s often a negative connotation associated with this word. You might think of being emotionally, socially, or mentally withdrawn. You might think of withdrawals, which ranges from taking money out of the bank or reducing intake of a particular drug. Whichever route your mind goes, withdrawing involves a minus, take-aways, and removing.
The next word is desolate, which we define as a place deserted of people and in a state of bleak and dismal emptiness. Another adjective is feeling or showing misery, unhappiness, or loneliness. Or as a verb, it is to make a place bleakly and depressingly empty or bare. In the Bible, this word often refers to lonely or barren women, or deserted and ruined places or things. It’s not a happy word and implies emptiness and lack.
And the last word, pray, is our way of communicating with God. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s addressing God with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving. But I venture to say that prayer can often feel withdrawn or desolate for most of us. Whether it’s from our end or God’s. In our microwave-paced generation, we want immediate results, quick answers, and constant white noise. It’s as if (again), we’re afraid of the silence, awkward pauses, and moments of stillness.
Do Not Disturb
It’s interesting to think how in the Hebrew culture, prayer was (and is) a regular practice. We often misunderstand Paul’s translated notion to “pray without ceasing” and take it as praying mindlessly, or to remain unachievably in a mumble-state. But what he meant was to make it a daily practice, not out of legalism or religiosity, but for truly connecting with God.
In Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, when you pray, don’t heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Prayer isn’t about how much or what you can say. It’s not a one-and-done, check off the box type of thing. But it’s rather emptying yourself so that God alone can fill you. It’s withdrawing or removing yourself from the busyness of life, to desolate and distraction-less places, so you can recalibrate, refocus, and re-prioritize your life.
When I spend time with people, I like to put my phone on Do Not Disturb. It helps me focus and give undivided attention to the person, and it communicates the same message to them. They know that I’m all there. Similarly, in our relationship with God, there are moments when our calendars and demands need to be put on Do Not Disturb, so that we can give God our undivided attention and communicate the same message to Him. That you’re there and available.
When Jesus withdrew to desolate places and prayed, He put outside demands on Do Not Disturb and emptied Himself in every sense to get filled. Almost every instance where it says Jesus left to pray, sets us up to see miracles taking place right after.
There’s an implied emptying which takes place. Not emptiness, as the definitions might show, but emptying. This might feel like a loss at first, because it’s as if your flesh is shedding its desires. But the gain is ever more rewarding because God’s Spirit always brings life. John 6:63 says, it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
When you withdraw, you remove yourself from what’s currently captured your attention, focus, and time. You withdraw from the expectations, demands, and busyness of life. Not irresponsibly, but for your own’s sake, to be empowered by God to run the race more effectively; to re-prioritize, recalibrate, and refocus. You experience that minus and loss, but it’s only for the things that truly don’t matter.
When you find a desolate place, deserted of people, voices, noises, and distractions, where it’s you and only you, you make yourself available for God to till the ground. Imagine Jesus seeking a desolate place to pray–so must we, look for a place where it’s dry and distraction-less, so that we can more clearly recognize God’s voice and will for our lives, and make it our sole pursuit to hear Him when the world seems to get noisier.
And when you withdraw to desolate places and pray, you turn on Do Not Disturb, so that God would have (and know that He has) your full attention and you can grow deeper in your relationship with Him. Your prayer life becomes more full, direct, and intentional, not distracted and scattered with empty phrases. What you fill yourself with will come out.
Take some time this week to withdraw to a desolate place and pray.
Withdraw from the endless to-do list, to a desolate place without distractions, and clear your head with some prayer.
Oh, and don’t forget to press Do Not Disturb.
Leave a comment below: what are some ways to withdraw to desolate places?
As always, thank you for reading!