June 7, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 5:15-16 (NRSV)
But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
No matter how busy our lives might be, all of us would benefit from setting aside even a modest amount of time for solitude. When we’re by ourselves, like Jesus, we’re not really alone. Rather, we’re away from people so we might draw near to God. As we do, our imaginations will be unleashed so that we might participate creatively in God’s work in the world.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
When my son, Nathan, was in college at New York University, he had the extraordinary privilege of being in a writing seminar taught by Zadie Smith. Smith was a highly-acclaimed author, known especially for her novels. She was also a deeply committed teacher who invested many hours in helping her students become better writers. Nathan would say that Smith was one of the most influential professors he had during his years of higher education.
Back in 2010, the Guardian asked Zadie Smith, whom they regarded as one of “the most esteemed contemporary authors,” for “golden rules” related to writing. Among Smith’s ten rules were these: “Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.” “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” If you’re going to be an effective creative writer, according to Smith, you need plenty of time by yourself.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, authors of Wired to Create: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, agree with Zadie Smith. (In fact, I learned about her Guardian piece from this book.) Wired to Create focuses on “Ten Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.” The fourth of these is “Solitude.” Kaufman and Gregoire write, “The creative act is a process that often unfolds in solitary reflection, and indeed, the portrait of any artist is often one of solitude” (p. 46). They do not deny the value of community when it comes to creativity, but they emphasize that truly creative people often spend considerable time alone.
A couple of millennia ago, Jesus anticipated the wisdom of Smith, Kaufman, and Gregoire. The biblical gospels show us that Jesus, especially as he became popular with the crowds, would set aside considerable time for solitude. For example, we read in Luke 5:15-16 “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” The Greek verb translated by the NRSV as “would withdraw” could be rendered more literally as “was withdrawing.” This verbal construction emphasizes the fact that Jesus regularly left the crowds and even his own disciples in order to spend time alone.
We know from the gospels, including Luke 5:15-16, that when Jesus left the crowds he wasn’t completely alone. He “would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (5:16). During his times of solitude, he entered into deep fellowship with his Heavenly Father.
I’ve often wondered what Jesus prayed about during his extended times of aloneness. Unfortunately, we’re not given much to go on here. We get a clue from Luke 6:12-13, “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them.” It’s likely that Jesus prayed, among other things, about whom he should call to be his closest followers. A few days ago [5/25], I suggested that one way Jesus exercised his redemptive imagination was in choosing as his disciples people we would not expect to receive this particular calling. I can imagine that as Jesus prayed about whom to call, his imagination was stirred and he saw the extraordinary potential in “mere” fishermen, and even in a tax collector.
Until I started watching The Chosen, a creative, historically-anchored television series focusing on Jesus and his followers, I never really considered the possibility that during his times of solitude Jesus was figuring out what he wanted to teach. I guess I assumed that somehow Jesus just made it all up on the spot. Of course, he could have done it that way. But now, upon further reflection, it seems likely to me that when Jesus was alone, his imagination was free to come up with ways to communicate the good news of the kingdom of God. Perhaps Jesus was such a uniquely inspired teacher, not only because he was the Son of God, but also because he practiced regular solitude in order to reflect, pray, and exercise his imagination.
You may already practice solitude as one of your spiritual disciplines. If so, great! Not only are you giving yourself the opportunity to grow in your relationship with God, but also you are helping to unleash your imagination. Indeed, as you are alone with the Lord, the Lord might very well inspire your imagination in new and exciting ways.
If you do not regularly get time alone, this may very well be the result of where you are in life. Yesterday, for example, I spent time with two friends, a married couple, both of whom work full-time at home while faithfully parenting their three-year-old son. Not only that, but the wife is due to give birth today. I expect that my friends will not have much alone time in the coming months.
Nevertheless, all of us would benefit from setting aside even a modest amount of time for solitude. When we’re by ourselves, like Jesus, we’re not really alone. Rather, we’re away from people so we might draw near to God. And as we do, our imaginations will be unleashed so that we might participate creatively in God’s work in the world.
What do you imagine Jesus was doing during his frequent times of solitude?
Do you practice solitude on a regular basis? If so, why? If not, why not?
What might help you to establish a regular pattern of solitude, even if, in this season of your life, those times need to be fairly short?
In the next week, set aside at least an hour (if you are able) for solitude. Be open to whatever God wants to say to you and do in your life. See if this time alone fuels your imagination in any way.
Gracious God, thank you for the fact that when we’re experiencing solitude, we’re not really alone. You are with us and we are with you.
Thank you for the ways you communicate with us when we’re alone with you. Thank you for touching our hearts, healing our wounds, clarifying our callings, and stirring up our imaginations.
Dear Lord, please help me to practice solitude in a way that makes sense for my life. Show me what’s best.
Also, show me if I might serve someone whose life is overly full right now. Perhaps I can help them get some time alone.
As I am alone with you, Lord, please inspire my imagination so that I might live more fully for you and your glory. Amen.
Banner image by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus Calls People at Work (Luke 5:1-11; 27-32).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.