Positioning Yourself Where the Son Can Do the Work

Solitude is the furnace of transformation.

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Our next-door neighbor Jennifer often makes us pickles. They’re about as close to perfect as a pickle could possibly be. Last week she brought over a jar and told me not to open it for forty-eight hours. I stared at the thing on the counter and my mouth started sweating. But I knew the key to the perfect pickle was time in the brine. In order for the cucumber to transform, it needed to soak in the solution. And then, slowly and imperceptibly, the brine-and-vinegar mixture would work its way into the cucumber, gradually changing it into a pickle.*

My friend Fil has taught me tons about spiritual growth. Much like the cucumber sitting in the juice, Fil parallels our relationship to the Lord to “working on a tan.” Other than a slight lapse in judgment and a four-punch pass to a strip mall tanning bed—the week before our wedding—I’ve actually never had a tan. But I’m told if your skin isn’t as Scandinavian as mine, it doesn’t take much work to get one. Basically, all that’s required is to put yourself in a position where the sun can do the work.

When I carefully read the Gospels, I’m struck by how the Son of God regularly positioned himself alone before his Father. When we look at the miracles of Jesus, a clear pattern develops. It happens with almost everyone recorded in the Gospels, but let’s revisit one particular instance. When Jesus healed the leper, he shared in the man’s shame and touched the man’s skin, but there’s something else he did in that first chapter of Mark that frames the whole story.

In verse 35 of that first chapter, we’re told, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Three verses later, Jesus healed the leper.

As soon as the healing takes place, both Mark and Luke record the same thing about Jesus’s next steps: Despite Jesus’s plea that his miracles be kept secret, “the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15–16; see also Mark 1:45).

Before the miracle, and after the miracle, what did Jesus do? He soaked in the brine. He sat in the sun. He spent solo time with his Father.

And it’s not only recorded in regard to the miracle of the leper; it’s all over the Gospels. Before he walked on water, Jesus spent the whole night in a prayer vigil. Before he calmed the storm, he was resting in his Father’s arms. Before he began casting demons out of a boy, he was fasting and praying. Before he went to the cross, he was on his knees in the garden in communion with the Father. And even before his ministry began, he spent forty days on a solo trip in the wilderness.

His ministry flowed out of this solitude. His life was lived in a posture of trust in the Father. In fasting, he feasted on his relationship with the Father. His compassion, his wisdom, and his miraculous power were directly related to his intimacy with the Father.

But it wasn’t a one-and-done kind of thing, even for the Son of God. The Gospel writers record that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. It was a pattern, a habit, a discipline.

If we want to pursue middle and high schoolers with the gospel of Jesus, we too must walk alongside Jesus. We must make it a priority to get alone with God. When we’re in the trenches of ministry, it’s often easy to lose sight of Jesus and get sucked into the vortex of the culture around us.

Sure, it seems close to impossible to have a conversation with teenagers without their phones in their hands. But it’s easy to point fingers and forget to look in the mirror. Reliable studies now show that Generation Xers spend even more time on social media than millennials. The truth is, most of us are constantly distracted by things of lesser importance.

Our teenage friends are overcommitted, spread thin, busier than ever, and yet bored to death. But the apples don’t fall too far from the tree.

If we want to reach this distracted generation, it’s going to take some diligent swimming upstream. If we want to share the gospel with teenagers, we first have to believe it ourselves. We can’t give them a tour of a place we’ve never been. How can we hear from the Lord when we ourselves are driven by distraction?

In 1 Kings 19:11–13, we see that the Lord doesn’t typically scream to get our attention:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Our willingness to give in to distractions is often prompted by our fear of missing out. We need to know what’s going on in the world, what’s happening with our friends, and what the next cultural craze is. We don’t want to miss out on anything. Could it be that our distractions are keeping us from missing out on the most important thing—God himself?

In order to chase, we first have to cease. If we’re going to run, we first must be still. To give love away, we first must believe we are his beloved.

The voice of Jesus isn’t saying, “Try harder.” It’s saying, “Come to me.” Listen to his words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (Matthew 6:6 MSG)

His invitation to us is the same as it was to his disciples after they returned from their first mission trip: “‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31).

Could it be that the greatest miracle—more than healings, exorcisms, and feeding five thousand—is that we could actually encounter the living God?

*Idea borrowed from James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Already Knows (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 185.

Excerpted from Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel © 2018 by Drew Hill. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

Alongside Frontcover with Medal 1

Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel

In this book, author Drew Hill unpacks the challenges teenagers face and how youth leaders and parents can share the gospel with them at this crucial age. Full of practical insight and biblical knowledge, Alongside is an invitation to love teenagers well with the hope of the gospel.

About the author

Drew Hill

Drew Hill (MDiv, Denver Seminary) is an award-winning author, speaker, and pastor in Greensboro, NC. Drew has been in youth ministry for over two decades and regularly speaks around the country to thousands of parents, youth workers, and teenagers. He is married to Natalie and they have five children. He is the author of Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel, Alongside Jesus: Devotions for Teenagers and the minibook When to Get My Kid a Phone. You can visit his website at AlongsideTeenagers.com.

Add Comment

Recent Posts