Our Lord at times desired to have time apart from the demands of His ministry. He was often entirely alone, retiring to mountains where He could not easily be found. Sometimes His attempt at seclusion was frustrated through the demands of others for His presence and attention. Sometimes He called his disciples to come with Him into seclusion.
This is all tremendously needful, refreshing, and helpful. Who does not desire some time apart? Who of us can say that at every waking moment he is entirely ready and willing to carry out the ministry of the gospel? No honest man could answer “Yes.”
But there is a danger in the desire for rest. Rest is not only the resort of the hard-working. Rest is also the refuge of the lazy man who is unprepared for life’s demands. Rest throughout the week, not only on the Sabbath, is what a man does with himself when he is not carrying out his God-given tasks.
How much have we been resting from spreading the gospel? How much preparation time, reflection time, and downtime do we need until we are ready to spread the kingdom of God the Lord? How many books and conferences and modules and workshops on evangelism does one man need? How many years will pass in which we seek conversions only from other forms of Christianity rather than the ever-increasing number of people in our country who have never known Christ in the least? Godly rest and relaxation and meditation and prayer are one thing. Ungodly sluggishness and laziness and most of all apathy are another altogether.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man. (Prov. 6:9-11)
We are most apt to rest prematurely when the work is hard. Calling up a friend and sharing ecclesiastical gossip is easily accomplished. Firing off a profound theological put-down on social media is easily accomplished. Assembling one’s theological books for an Instagram gem is easily accomplished. We are more apt to put off things like calling on a parishioner who has some beef with us or to do the hard work of engaging and evangelizing a completely new person because those things require hard, uphill, back-breaking, and at times spirit-breaking work.
But the Lord has said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We do not say these things only to condemn. We say this, as our Lord said what He did to his lazy, restful followers in Gethsemane: Would you not watch with Me? If our lazy, apathetic flesh could not remain awake for the betrayal of God’s Son, how likely is it to remain watchful for the hard but much smaller tasks of the ministry, including doing the work of an evangelist?
Honesty about our apathy is honesty about ourselves, about what we are most prone to love (our flesh) and most prone to neglect (our hardest tasks). Honesty about our apathy is like every confession the gate to a new path. We see head-on how ugly and untimely and niggardly our apathy about the gospel and the spread of the gospel is. We see how captivating and world-changing and bounteous is our Lord’s compassion for sinners. Knowing our hearts and knowing His mighty love and purposes, we set our hands to the hard tasks, the things we’d rather stay in bed than get up for, the things that call sinners out of their slumber into the wakefulness of the dawning light of Christ:
Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light. (Eph. 5:14)