Time Set Aside

“An Elegant Cuppa,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

A few soggy and windswept leaves stubbornly cling to the stalwart oak in my front garden.  Mist blankets the lacy branches that crown the highest reach of that tower of strength.

Hay rolls dot the farmland that borders the rural road that sweeps past the scattered houses along our lane.  Twilight spreads.

And when it begins to drizzle, I grow homesick for England.

As autumn gives way to winter, I affectionately recall the narrow streets and row houses as well as the glistening dance of raindrops under the light of London lampposts.

And so, I put my teapot on to boil, and pull a Twinnings teabag from the jar that sits on my counter…a little taste of England on an overcast, late afternoon.

It’s a poor substitute for my favorite tea shop in London’s suburbs.  Nevertheless, it soothes the longing in my heart.

During my career’s sojourn in England, I frequented tea shops on days such as these.

My work demanded much of me; yet, I learned from my English colleagues the importance of afternoon tea.

Every afternoon, without fail, students gathered in the dormitory lounge.  The dorm administrators placed several electric kettles in the kitchen area, and on the tables could be found all kinds of bakery goods.

And scones.

Although students and faculty might suffer through the high pressure of final examinations, afternoon tea never failed.

And it always refreshed, both physically and spiritually.

Through good times and bad, my friends, colleagues and students stopped for a moment of quiet and to savor a warm cup.

Afternoon tea.  It became a time to rejuvenate and to reconnect with people I love… and to download our day.

I longed to import a little of that.  And so I brought the tradition with me when I returned to the U.S.

I can’t help but see the wisdom in such moments apart from the bustle of this world.  However, I think there may be a missing ingredient.

As I look at the life of Christ, I see that He, too, slipped away to a quiet place.  Regularly.

However, He found greater food and comfort than that supplied by a delicious cup of Darjeeling or Breakfast tea and scones with clotted cream.

Don’t get me wrong… I love my tea and scones.  Yet, for me, the ritual of tea has come to represent so much more.

Today, I set apart time to download my day with my heavenly Father.

And it’s my lifeline in an often times crazy world.

More and more so, it seems.  But you and I are not alone in our need for time with Abba.

After all, such quiet prayer was evidently a top priority for Jesus.  The more I study the gospels, the more I see His commitment to spending time alone with His heavenly Father.

And if Jesus needed that time, how much more do you and I?

Of course, it may seem a curious thing that Jesus–God incarnate–needed to pray.  I used to wonder about that.

But years ago, my favorite Bible and Theology professor, Dr. Curtis Mitchell, put it in terms I could understand.  You see, when Jesus left heaven to take on human form, to serve as our substitutionary sacrifice, and thus, to  enable the extravagant outpouring of God’s grace, He limited himself.

Philippians 2:7, 8 explains that He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus willingly placed Himself in a position of dependence on God, the Father, in order to save you and me.  And as the God-Man, He modeled a life punctuated by prayer.

That time apart.  Conversation with Abba.

It didn’t necessarily occur at the same time or the same place everyday.  Jesus, after all, traveled all over Israel and said of himself, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” (Luke 9:58).

Scripture also tells us that Jesus prayed while He was being baptized by John, the Baptist, (John 3:21).  Obviously, Jesus prayed moment-by-moment.

He practiced what I like to call “God Talk,”  continuous communion and ongoing conversation with Abba that through Jesus we are invited to share.

Christmas Cuppa, copyright 2015, L. Abbott with watermark and close cropNevertheless, Jesus also found time to slip away from the crowds and seek the company of His Father. He cherished lengthy conversation with His Father.

When the needs of the multitude overwhelmed,  or when decisions had to be made, Jesus withdrew to pray. When confronting  pain and suffering, or when offering service to others, Jesus found a quiet place and talked to God.

And it was a profoundly personal time.  Not characterized by rote, religious prayers.

Rather, Jesus passionately prayed and petitioned.  He shared His heart for His followers in what has come to be known in theological circles as the High Priestly prayer, (John 17).

And if there were any question about His emotional investment, one read of His prayer in Gethsemane would certainly dispel that, (Matthew 26).

So striking was Jesus’s prayer life that having accompanied Jesus on His solitary prayer retreat, the disciples wanted to know more.

Luke writes, “And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of His disciples said to Him,’Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples,” (Luke 11:1).

Of course, most in Christendom are familiar with the “Lord’s Prayer.”

However, for me, it represents so much more than a model prayer. While Jesus’s words certainly serve as a beautiful prayer pattern and eloquently express the  close relationship that Christ inaugurated for us with Abba,  the prayer on its own only reveals a small part of the incredible privilege of prayer.

Jesus’s communion extended so much deeper.

Yet, the disciples request acknowledged Jesus’ ongoing commitment to connection with the Father.

In Mark 1:35, I read, “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.”

Luke tells us, “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray,” (Luke 5:16).

When opposition from the Pharisees increased exponentially, Jesus turned to His heavenly Father:  “And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God,” (Luke 6:12).

Given the highly personal tone of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and His heartfelt prayers on behalf of  His followers in John 17, I think that it is safe to say that Jesus likely approached His conversation with Abba in Luke 6 with much the same warm, authenticity.

He spent the entire night in prayer.  Wow.  That night’s conversation certainly included more than a simple petition for the Holy Spirit’s help.

I believe He had a heart-to-heart  with Yahweh.  And in Christmas Cuppa, copyright 2015, L. Abbott with watermark and close cropHis Father’s presence, He drew strength and wisdom.  He committed His life, work and ministry to the Father, again and again.

That’s right. When there appeared to be roadblocks, He sought His Father’s counsel.  I actually think that His prayers defined His conversation with Peter and the other disciples in Luke 9.

After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus once more withdrew to pray.   And again, He took His disciples.

What did Jesus pray about?  I find a clue in his ensuing conversation with the twelve.

Opposition to Him from the tradition steeped religious leaders had grown.  It was taking a toll on His popularity. Many “fans” were beginning to doubt.

Popularity, of course, was not the goal.  However, Christ knew that a relationship with Him would open the door of Grace.

I suspect He prayed that Abba’s Spirit would remove the spiritual blinders from those who were called.

Then, Jesus followed His prayer time with a question for the twelve: “…who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Peter’s confession was preceded by Christ’s prayer.  In fact, Matthew additionally reports that Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 16:17).

Yes, Jesus talked to His Father about everything.  He not only engaged in ‘God Talk’ throughout the day, but He also set aside quiet time with His Father.

Christmas Cuppa, copyright 2015, L. Abbott with watermark and close cropHe spoke confidentially, passionately, and authentically.  I suspect that there was nothing too large or too small to discuss. Nothing was “off the table.”

And the disciples tagged along.  Evidently, Jesus wished for them to observe, and through them, you and me as well.

Thus, the disciples not only experienced Christ’s miracles, love and compassion, but they also discovered the power of prayer.

Through those quiet moments, Jesus actively acknowledged the vital importance of remaining connected to Abba.

For this reason, when Jesus taught his disciples the key to living a significant and effective life for God,  His admonition rang true.

When He spoke of “abiding,” He knew what it meant.  In His humanity, He had lived in humble dependence upon God.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing,” He said, (John 15: 5).

Kingdom fruit results from a close connection to our Sovereign God.

And there was nothing “preachy” about Jesus’s teaching.  After all, He walked the walk.  Each day, each moment, He breathed in communion with Abba.

And when the pressures of the day increased,  or when He found a quiet moment, Jesus slipped away for more quality time with God.

Kinda like making time for late afternoon tea,  embracing opportunities to download the day and reconnect.

Following Jesus’ pattern of prayer is like that.

It isn’t a stuffy, rote, distant repetition of requests.  No…  I imagine it to be more like drinking a cuppa with God, telling Him about the day, and seeking His wisdom and direction for the next step.

When you and I face hardship, suffering or overwhelming circumstances, Jesus strengthens us through prayer.

When other people hurt us, or their actions perplex us, God waits to hear our heart cries,(Psm. 34:18).

Facing opposition to our ministry or work, we share our burdens with our heavenly Father, (Psm. 55:22).

Worried about food, clothing and financial provision? Like the disciples, we spill our concerns, (Matt. 6:32-34). After all, Jesus easily fed five thousand.

Anxious about the future, we may grieve in His presence, (Psm. 94:19). Gethsemane gives us grace.

And through it all, we stay connected. We “abide in,” we remain in communion with Abba, (John 15).Christmas Cuppa, copyright 2015, L. Abbott with watermark and close crop

To be honest, it’s no more difficult than sitting down with our heavenly Father and sharing a cup of afternoon tea.

 God waits for us with open arms.
In His grace, He longs to hear our heartfelt concerns and when necessary, to wipe our tears.
Such a life of communion will be God-saturated.  Like water infused with tea.

That’s how our Creator intended it.  I am the branch; He is the vine, (John 15: 1-11).

In fact, as I reconnect moment-by-moment with my Savior, His Spirit brings His Word to mind.  My heart aligns with His.

The added benefit? My prayer, petitions, intercession and praise become increasingly effective as I commune closely with Him, (John 15:7).

Time apart with Abba.  Jesus longed for it. He modeled it for you and me.

Prayer…

Communion with Abba.

Reconnecting with God throughout the day.

Downloading  with our heavenly Father.

However we describe it, one thing is certain: without it, you and I grow weary and tired.

Indeed, Jesus demonstrated again and again that we need time to spiritually refresh and reconnect with Him.

Yup. It’s essential.  Even more so than afternoon tea.

“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary,” ~ Isaiah 40:29-31