Mark #3: A Powerful and Productive Private Life
There is a phenomenon that occurs in certain parts of the country known as a sink hole. A sink hole occurs when the ground underneath the surface gives way and everything collapses creating a huge whole in the ground. Sinkholes can swallow cars, entire buildings, or whatever is above the ground where the hole occurs.
Sinkholes occur, scientists say, when underground streams drain away during seasons of extreme drought, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support. Suddenly everything simply caves in, leaving people with a frightening suspicion that nothing—not even the earth beneath their feet—is trustworthy.”25
The sinkhole phenomenon forms a parable of sorts for this mark of maturity. In fact, this mark is undoubtedly the bedrock upon which strong Christian character and spiritual maturity is built. Without it we become just like a sinkhole: the pubic life, that which people see, finally caves in because our streams of living water which are there to undergird us become dried up (or quenched, see 1 Thess. 5:19). That which is to form the foundation or resource of our spiritual life simply has no substance or is replaced by the underlying shallow waters of turmoil, fatigue, frustration, and self-management, and we begin to cave in from an inability to remain occupied with the Lord and His sufficiency. In the words of the psalmist, we need to get still (stop striving) and recognize that He is God (Ps. 46:10). Some consider this statement to be addressed to the hostile nations, indicating they should cease their efforts to destroy God’s people, but it's much more likely that the Psalmist was addressing Judah, calling on them to rest secure in God’s protection and sovereignty. For this to occur, however, they needed to stop their activity and quit trying to solve their own problems and focus their hearts and minds on the Lord—His presence and promises.
…Instead of choosing a negative option, the people of God distinguish themselves by the pursuit of godliness: “Know that I am God.” The “knowledge” of God includes a factual knowledge about him, his past acts, and his promises. But in this context the psalmist calls on them to commit themselves to the Lord and to seek his “refuge,” “strength,” and “fortress” (vv. 1, 7, 11). The life of faith is lived continually in commitment to God’s sovereignty, rule, and ultimate exaltation over all the nations (vs. 10; cf. Hab 2:13-14)…26
So what is this mark that provides a bedrock, the essential underlying strength necessary to sustain our lives? It is a powerful private life. Simply put, we can never know and focus on God as our strength and fortress and experience Him as the bedrock of life unless we take time to get still before Him in prayer and Bible study which allow us to focus the heart and mind on the Lord.
By a powerful private life I am referring to the believer’s inner life nourished up by the springs of the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and a life of prayer. This is a life made luxuriant and productive as believers spread their roots deep by the streams of the Word through quiet, meditative study and prayer. After extending their roots deep in private, they can become truly productive and authentic in public. To simply use the words of Isaiah, as the remnant would take root downward that they might bear fruit upward, so believers today need to do the same in their personal lives (Isa. 37:31).
This emphasis on one’s private life, sometimes referred to as one’s quiet time, is based on four truths of Scripture:
- We simply do not possess in ourselves the spiritual resources we need to either direct our path or to find the strength and wisdom we need to handle life (Jer. 10:23; 2:12-13; 17:5f).
- The indwelling Christ desires to be at home in our lives and desires to bring order into our private world—the world of our attitudes and thinking, our values, priorities and goals, and our sources of trust (Eph. 3:17).
- The indwelling Holy Spirit was given by the Lord to strengthen and fortify our inner person with His might as a stream of living water (John 7:37-39; Eph. 3:16).
- It is based on the marvelous life-changing power of the inspired Word of God with which we are to feed the inner man (Ps. 119:9-11; 1 Thess. 2:13).
It must become obvious to us, as Scripture everywhere makes clear, that if we neglect our private life with God, our inner man will simply not be able to sustain the weight and pressures of life. If the inner man is not supported by the bedrock of intimate fellowship with God wherein we come to know Him more and more deeply, it is going to be undermined by the shallow waters of the secular and destructive currents of the world and our inner life will simply not be able to sustain us in the pressures and dry periods of life.
But it is here we face an important question. What is a powerful private life? What needs to take place in one’s personal time with God? Obviously many things should be taking place, but may I suggest three things:
(1) It is the place of refocusing and renewal. It needs to become a place where we focus our lives upon the living God, a place where we, away from the hustle and bustle of life, get to know God more and more intimately, where we get still and know that God is God (Ps. 46:10; Heb. 12:1-2). It thus becomes a place where we get our eyes off of self, problems, conditions, circumstances and on the Lord. It becomes a place of refuge, not so we can run away from responsibilities, but to be strengthened to serve by a renewed awareness of God’s person, power, and purposes.
(2) It is the place of reevaluation and rearrangement. This is where we seek to reevaluate our lives and rearrange our values, motives, goals, attitudes, behavior patterns, and pursuits. It is also a place where we come to grips with our sources of self-trust and our self-management patterns. Included here is the principle of rejection. Have you ever noticed how we tend to evaluate and throw something away when we rearrange a garage or spring clean a house, etc.? So likewise, as we spend quality time alone with the Lord, we often find things, attitudes, fears, false sources of trust, etc., that need to be rejected and thrown out.
(3) It is the place of restraint and resistance. It is where we must learn to deal with our ourselves to restrain and resist, by God’s enablement of course, anything that might hinder our personal walk with God as well as our relationships with others. The goal is God’s control of more and more of our lives.
One’s public life naturally consists of various works, service, labor, ministry, and leisure activities, but it is our private world which becomes the fountain of supply and the foundation of support (cf. Ps. 36:9 and Prov. 4:23 with Jer. 2:12-13). It is our private time alone with God in His Word, that nourishes the inner world of our spiritual lives, which in turn governs the outer world of our activities.
The principle is simply that no one can do enough for others if he or she is always surrounded by others. THE EMPHASIS HERE IS NOT ON DOING, BUT ON BEING. Gordon MacDonald writes, “if my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity.”27 In the atmosphere of hurry and business with such a multitude of interests vying for attention, we can easily lose God’s power and hand on our lives and ministries as well as our courage and vision for what God wants to be doing both in us and through us.
The majority of us spend our lives working on surface issues while ignoring the foundations. We get an education, learn a trade, work in the home or at our jobs, build houses, buy furniture, and accumulate things. We work in the church, teach the Word, or serve in a dozen different ways. We may have a certain amount of time set aside for preparation for a Sunday school class or a home Bible class, and we may, for personal devotions, grab a few minutes with our Bibles and quickly run through a prayer list, but if we are not very careful, this can be done in the spirit of legalism or, as one friend used to say, “Doing a little nod-to-God routine.”
Why does this become just surface activity or merely routine? Because what we really are on the inside, our goals, aspirations, motives, frustrations, attitudes, phobias, and our self-dependent strategies for living all go untouched and unchanged. We remain the same people today that we were five years ago, though very religious in many ways.
We may hear sound Bible teaching, be encouraged or exhorted by a brother or sister in Christ, but if this is not reinforced through a personal private life with God, much of the impact of this sound teaching and exhortation will be lost; it will be like water over a ducks back. The result? Our hearts will grow hard and become lukewarm, if not down right cold.
With this in mind, let’s look at a number of passages that address our need of a powerful private live alone with the living God.
Key Passages on Getting Alone With God
1 Kings 17:2-3—God’s Command to Elijah
2 And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3 “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.
Following the prophet Elijah’s public confrontation with King Ahab and in preparation for his ministry that would follow, especially the confrontation on Mount Carmel, what was the word of the Lord to Elijah? It was simply, “Go away from here,… and hide yourself.”
People often complain about how hard it is to know God’s leading, but the biggest difficulty is not God’s leading. It’s our listening, and too often, our listening is colored by our false expectations. We want the Lord to answer us and use us in our own way. We want God’s blessing on our will rather than seeking God’s will. We tend to make up a list of what we would like to do for the Lord, and then present it to the Lord for His approval.
But what the Lord would now tell Elijah was most likely contrary to what he was expecting. After all was he not a prophet, and had he not come to proclaim the Word to Israel? Was he not there to serve, to preach, to perform miracles, and to be active for the Lord? But please note that the Lord didn’t tell Elijah to do any of these things. In view of this, the command that follows is very interesting and illuminating. It reveals one of the great insights and priorities of the Word, one that busy, self-sufficient, workaholic people who have been bitten by the bug of activism and/or materialism have a hard time grasping. So, why is Elijah commanded to go and hide himself? Some think for protection from Ahab. Perhaps that was part of it, but it was certainly not the primary reason. Later, when the Lord was ready, He would send Elijah to face the king, and when next Elijah met Ahab, the king made no attempt to slay him (1 Kings 18:17-20). Rather, it seems to me, the reason was seclusion or concealment.
The Hebrew word for “hide” is sathar. It means “to hide conceal, cover,” and in the Hebrew text it is a reflexive stem and refers to what one does to and for himself. So it means “to hide, conceal yourself.” It refers to a deliberate and decisive choice. A main idea of the verb is “to be absent, out of sight.” So literally it means “absent yourself.” The noun form, sether, is used of the womb as a secret place and a place of shelter (Ps. 139:15). Finally, the verb form is used in relation to God’s presence as the omniscient One who becomes like “a hiding place, a shelter for His people.” Psalm 17:8 says, “keep me as the apple of the eye; hide (sathar) me in the shadow of Thy wings.” Psalm 31:20 says, “Thou dost hide (sathar) them in the secret (sether) place of Thy presence from the conspiracies of man; Thou dost keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.”
Elijah faced a number of tests or challenges in 1 Kings 17:3-7, but the first one came from this command to go and hide himself. This was a test of Elijah’s basic orientation and attitude toward life. The question that Elijah faced was “why does God want me to go and hide?” In the answer he was faced with a fundamental need of life.
This time by the ravine was designed to maintain Elijah’s inner life with God, the life of faith and occupation with the Lord that would allow God to become his hiding place. The test comes in Elijah’s faith, particularly as it pertained to the need of seclusion when there was so much that needed to be done. Because we tend to be so self-dependent and so neurotic about staying busy, we don’t see the need to get alone with the Lord for extended times. We have come to equate spirituality and character with business or activity. This time by the brook was to further prepare Elijah for the testing and the ministry that would follow. It would become a place of testing and growth for him.
Elijah needed, as we all do, a time of seclusion. We need time alone—away from the hustle and bustle and the comings and goings of the rest of society—even from our own family, church, and friends.
To be used of God. Is there anything more encouraging, more fulfilling? Perhaps not, but there is something more basic: to meet with God. To linger in His presence, to shut out the noise of the city and, in quietness, give Him the praise He deserves. Before we engage ourselves in His work, let’s meet Him in His Word…in prayer…in Worship.28
How many of us truly hear the inaudible or see the invisible realities of God. What does it means to have ears to hear? Let me share a story that illustrates the point:
An Indian was walking in downtown New York City alongside a friend who was a resident of the city. Right in the center of Manhattan, the Indian seized his friend’s arm and whispered, “Wait. I hear a cricket.”
His friend said, “Come on! Cricket? Man, this is downtown New York!”
He persisted, “No, seriously, I really do.”
“It’s impossible!” was the response. “You can’t hear a cricket! Taxis going by. Horns honking. People screaming at each other. Brakes screeching. Both sides of the street filled with people. Cash registers clanging away. Subways roaring beneath us. You can’t possibly hear a cricket!”
The Indian insisted, “Wait a minute!” He led his friend along, slowly. They stopped, and the Indian walked down to the end of the block, went across the street, looked around, cocked his head to one side, but couldn’t find it. He went across another street, and there in a large cement planter where a tree was growing, he dug into the mulch and found the cricket. “See!” he yelled, as he held the insect high above his head. His friend walked across the street, marveling, “How in the world could it be that you heard a cricket in the middle of downtown, busy Manhattan?”
The Indian said, “Well, my ears are different from yours. It simply depends on what you’re listening for. Here let me show you.” And he reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of change—a couple of quarters, three or four nickels, and some dimes and pennies. Then he said, “Now watch.” He held the coins waist high and dropped them to the sidewalk. Every head within a block turned around and looked in the direction of the Indian.
It all depends on what you’re listening for. We don’t have enough crickets in our heads. We don’t listen for them. Perhaps, like that crowed street full of people, you have spent all your life searching for a handful of coins and you’ve missed the real sounds of life? 29
You see, there is no life in any one of those coins, nor can they really buy life or happiness even if you have millions of them. The only way we find true satisfaction or meaning in life is to hear the invisible, the inaudible voice of the living God, the Lord Jesus through developing our capacity to hear and see Him by getting alone with Him.
So then, spiritually speaking, time alone with God where we can drink and feed on His Word and think on the Lord becomes a kerith to us, a place of cutting, a place where God can chisel away on our character and cut the world away from our hearts. It enables us to divorce ourselves from the world and its pulls. Without it we become married to the world. We need this that we might draw upon and use our supernatural resources in the Lord, His Word and prayer. We get alone with God, first to just know and love Him, and then to bring order and strength to our inner life. We do this to bring the Savior’s control over every area of our lives, over our motivations, what moves us, the things that pull us to conform or to compete; over our perspective of life, why we are here and what are we seeking, over our priorities and values, the use of our time, talents, treasures, and truth, and over our thought processes (2 Cor. 10:4,5).
My friends, getting alone with our God is not optional. If we want true spiritual success it is fundamental. It’s a key part of God’s plan by which His people are first strengthened by the underground spiritual streams of life in Christ and changed and cut into the ravine that God wants to use to make us a channel for the blessings of Christ to others.
Here is the key to power or weakness. While this has varied as a problem from age to age, one of the battlegrounds of life and especially of this age is the inner, private world of the individual and the need to slow down and to hide oneself alone with his God.
It is here that we either experience the power of God or the defeat of Satan and his world system.
To put it bluntly, life on planet Earth without God is the pits. And if I may repeat my point (Solomon does numerous times), that’s the way God designed it. He made it like that. He placed within us that God-shaped vacuum that only He can fill. Until He is there, nothing satisfies. NOTHING (my emphasis).30
And I might add, that is why so many people stay so eternally busy and become workaholics or preoccupied with pleasure. They are bored and empty and seek to fill their lives with activity.
We who “worship our work and play at our worship” need to wake up to reality. The preacher of Ecclesiastes warns us about the stark reality of the nothingness that exists in a life lived primarily “under the sun.”
Commenting on Solomon’s “futility of futilities” expressed in Ecclesiastes, Allan Hubbard, president of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote: “This futility is akin to irony, because it is full of surprises…Values that we treasure prove false; efforts that should succeed come to failure; pleasures that should satisfy increase our thirst. Ironic futility, futile irony--that is the color of life.”31
We dare not forget that Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes was a man who had everything, indeed, he had everything in luxurious abundance. The issue here is not more, or a great society, or the removal of all the problems of society. When you add the conditions of a society like Elijah faced or like we face in the world today, then the feelings of futility, the pain, the frustration, the troubled hearts, the dashed expectations, the sense of chasing the wind are magnified many times over.
Here, then, is one of the key themes of Scripture. God has designed it this way in a fallen world. You see, the brilliance of our hope in the Lord needs the stark, black backdrop of the utter futility of life under the sun to cause us to see our need and drive us to our knees. Indeed, the word of the Lord which came to Elijah, “go hide yourself,” needs desperately to be heard by every one of us.
Mark 1:35-39—Christ Withdraws for Prayer
35 And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; 37 and they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 And He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.” 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
This passage in Mark gives us another example of the importance of our private world through the life and priorities of the Savior Himself. But the context of this passage makes its instruction even stronger. This time that Christ sought alone with the Father was very early in the morning. It occurred in the midst of great popularity when people were clamoring for the Lord’s attention and when there were needs all around Him. He could have become enamored with His popularity, or preoccupied by the needs pressing against Him. But what does the Lord do? He protected His private time alone with the Father so that he might be and do what God called Him to do. Again we see how one’s being precedes doing! The Lord Jesus was driven neither by His own impulses nor by the needs of people. Rather, he was guided from the hidden resources of His intimacy with the Father. Thus, He could do what God had called Him to do. He was not seeking from others or from activity what He could find only in the Father.
Mark 6:30-32—Christ Calls His Disciples to a Remote Place
30 And the apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.
Another beautiful illustration is found in this passage of our need to be alone with the Savior to focus on Him. Here again the context is one of activity. In this case, the disciples had been preoccupied with “all they had done and taught,” but the Lord called them to come away to a lonely and quiet place. They were to learn the lesson of the dailies, of the need of daily time alone with the Lord because service and ministry must flow out of fellowship with the Savior as the source and resource of one’s life and ministry. In this endeavor, they were interrupted by the large crowd that ran ahead and were waiting on the shore when the Lord and His disciples arrived. But the Lord used this interruption place as an opportunity. Through the feeding of the 5000, the Lord sought to teach His disciples that if they were to be effective in ministering and see their ministry effectively multiplied, they must learn to first draw from His resources which required times of pulling aside from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind to spend time alone with the Lord in the Word and in prayer.
Psalm 1:1-3—Planted by Streams of Water
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Again, in this wonderful Psalm, we see the principle that our fruit (vss. 1 and 3b-c) is always based on the proper root system, which, by the analogy of the context, is one’s private life with God in His Word (vss. 2- 3). One of the great battles we all face daily is the battle for our private world wherein we feed and draw upon the living Christ, where our minds are fortified and focused on the Lord. MacDonald writes:
There is a contest that must be fought particularly by those who call themselves practicing Christians. Among them are those who work hard, shouldering massive responsibilities at home, at work, and at church. They are good people, but they are very, very tired! And thus they too often live on the verge of a sinkhole-like collapse. Why? Because…they become too public-world oriented, ignoring the private side until it is almost too late.32
We live in a society of secular humanism that seeks to live life apart from God through dependence on man alone. This evil mentality has emptied over into the mind-set of the Christian community. While giving lip service to God in various religious ways, we too often forsake the Lord to build our own cisterns, but they turn out to be broken cisterns that hold no water (Jer. 2:13). As the Savior points out in Matthew 6, the unbelieving world worries about what it eats, drinks, and wears in its search for security, safety, and even significance. This amounts to depending on one’s own wisdom and solutions to life rather than in the living God (Matt. 6:25f). Such thinking invariably leads to a search for happiness in the details of life like possessions, power, and pleasure. But the Christian is certainly not exempt from this mentality as the admonitions of Matthew 6:19f make clear. Thus, the Christian’s first priority must be to seek to know the Lord more deeply and to rest in the Lord more completely (Matt. 6:33-34). Vital to that is time alone with the Lord in the Word and in prayer as Psalm 1:2 stresses.
In speaking about the important role of Scripture meditation, Paul Meier writes:
Because man is a holistic being, his spiritual, psychological, and physical faculties are complexly intertwined. Every aspect of man’s nature affects him as a whole being. Daily meditation on the principles of life passed on from man’s loving Creator is more important for his health than food or sex or any other factor.
A primary reason Scripture meditation is vital for holistic health is that God’s thought patterns and values are in sharp contrast to mankind’s. Man is totally depraved being, possessing selfish and ultimately self-destructive thought patterns and behavior. Show me a natural man, untaught in God’s principles, and I’ll show you a natural man who suffers from emotional pain. I’ll show you a man who experiences the guilt and discomfort of a God-vacuum. I’ll show you a man who is unconsciously fighting and struggling for a sense of significance, using world ways (e.g., sexual fantasy, materialism, power struggles, and prestige) in s vain attempt to attain significance, all of which will fail. The ways of the world bring temporary relief, like bandaids on open flesh wounds, but not ultimate relief from man’s inner awareness of his insignificance apart from God.…
Ultimately, man’s sense of holistic well-being can come only from a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But man needs more than salvation for joy and peace in his daily existence. Many of my anxious, depressed, and even suicidal patients are born-again believers who have not yet been taught how to appropriate personally God’s thought patterns and behavioral principles, as outlined in the Bible. Instead, they have been misinformed by their parents, their peers, and frequently even by their churches. They have learned to think negative, self-critical, other-critical, destructive thoughts. They have become accustomed to behavior patterns that result in increased guilt, insecurity, and feelings of insignificance.33
In the paragraphs that followed these comments by Meier, he described the results of an extensive research study on the mental health (i.e., true spiritual maturity) of seminary students. The study showed that “Students who practiced almost daily Scripture meditation for three years or longer were significantly healthier and happier than students who did not meditate on Scripture daily.34
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. Describe the “sinkhole phenomenon”.
2. What is the definition of a powerful private life?
3. What are the four truths of Scripture that pertain to private life?
4. List the three things that must take place in one’s personal time with God and describe their presence in your life.
5. Which of these areas is weakest in your life? Why?
6. How does this weakness affect your life and the lives of your family?
7. Which one is strongest and how does it impact your life? Please be specific.
8. In 1 Kings 17:2-3, why did God tell Elijah to “go away from here . . . and hide yourself”?
9. Why is it important to have extended periods of seclusion?
10. What obstacles keep you from setting aside regular time each day, other than bible study and reading, for quiet time with God?
11. How often do you spend quiet time with God?
12. How long is that time?
13. When you spend time with God, who is doing most of the talking?
14. On the days when you do not spend extended periods of time with God, who and what govern your thoughts and behavior?
15. What happens to our inner life when we truly get alone with God?
16. What needs to change or be strengthened in your inner life?
17. In Mark 1:35-39, why was it important for Jesus to rise early in the morning and depart for a lonely place for prayer?
18. In Mark 6:30-32, why did Jesus take his disciples to a remote place?
19. What do you think would happen to you if you did the same each day?
Beginning today, intentionally set aside an extended period of time each day for time with God. After each period, write your experiences in a journal. At the end of the week, describe the impact this daily time has had on you. Please share this with your group.