Priorities and Prayer, Matthew 14:22-23

Updated on March 22, 2018

Introduction

“Pastor Mike” was a pastor of a local church. On his sermon preparation day, his calendar was clear; he had all day to himself to prepare his Sunday sermon. That was until the phone call. A local family had just been in a car wreck. All 5 members had been in the car, 4 were OK, the father, Gary, was dead. Immediately he left his study and went to the hospital to be with the family. After 4 hours listening and ministering to them, he left the hospital and ate lunch. On the way home, another phone call brought him back to his church office for two impromptu counseling emergencies. Four hours later, he was drained but done. After fielding an e-mail from a congregant criticizing his past sermon, Pastor Mike ate a quick dinner and went to Gary’s home to visit again with the grieving family from that morning. He then drove to the local high school where he was to give the invocation at the basketball game. While there, he was cornered by many people wanting to chat and out of obligation, he obliged. He finally arrived home after 9pm, where he retreated to his study and began to weep, because Gary, the man that passed away that morning, was his life-long and best friend.[1]

Ministry is time consuming and draining, but we have been called to it by God. However, given all of its demands, have you ever been just worn down? Have you been spending all your time looking out for others. Maybe they are people under your direct supervision, or maybe you are just trying to be a good person, but you just get tired of always looking out for them. Some days, do you catch yourself looking in the mirror and saying that it is high time that you had some “me” time; it is time to act like number one is actually number one. People in the ministry feel the weight of this responsibility almost constantly. The non-stop requests of our time, requests for us to do home visits, the 3am phone call about a marriage in trouble, the benevolence issue from the street at 4:55pm when dinner is on the table at home. When our vocation is our ministry, and our job is to put others first, but it can be wearing. So how do we deal with this constant barrage of demands for our time?

Jesus faced the same dilemma. Jesus had just learned three things that caused him sadness and were extremely distracting. In just one conversation, Jesus learned that 1) His cousin John, who also baptized Him, had been executed by a wicked ruler, Herod. At the same time He found out that 2) Herod thought He was John the Baptist, reincarnated. He also knew that 3) it was not time for He and Herod to meet, but He realized that the time for that was getting closer.[2]

To process through this, He wanted to get away, to get alone in prayer to God. And while that was certainly warranted, it was not what happened. As Jesus withdrew towards the mountains, crowds followed. Rather than run and hide, He had compassion on them, both healing their sick and miraculously feeding the multitude. As the perfect example as the perfect and Only Good Shepherd, the author of Matthew recorded that Jesus’ example shows that a pastor puts other’s needs before themselves.

Colleagues are Cared For (v.22a)

“ Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side…”

In the first part of verse 22, the author records Jesus exemplifying His care for His disciples. The crowd of people who had chased Jesus down had been fed and healed. Rather than delegating the task of dispersing the crowd that had gathered, Jesus sent His disciples on ahead[3] while He personally dealt with the people still there. In this one act, Jesus gave multiple examples of putting others needs before himself.

First, it was the teacher that decided the duration of any teaching time period, so it would be only Jesus who could call an end to the lesson.[4] Abdicating that chore to the Disciples would have been putting them on the spot and asking them to carry out a chore that was in the sole purview of the teacher, not them. Their authority to disperse a crowd would have been severely limited given the then cultural norms.

Secondly, John’s account of this gives additional insight that the crowd was intent on making Jesus king by force, something that was not part of the plan.[5] In their zeal and incomplete understanding, the Disciples may have been inclined to go along with the crowd.[6] Jesus was separating the disciples from the crowd seeming against their will as the word “compelled” indicates.[7] This separation would give the Disciples time to process, alone, what He had just done. While the disciples would travel in the boats, talking amongst themselves, they would have some time to reflect with each other the significance of the miracle Jesus had just performed.[8]

In our ministry, how often do we turn over tasks to others because we just don’t want to do them? When faced with calling a prospect or conducting a home visit, it is so much easier to turn that over to a Sunday School teacher or another church volunteer. Our time is important, we have responsibilities, we can’t do it all, right? And while there is merit to including church members in outreach, at the end of the day there is something tangible to a pastor personally reaching out to someone. It means that the pastor cares for you, and to those volunteers that tirelessly give and give of their time, it means that you are working right alongside of them as a servant leader, not a delegator. As Jesus was a servant leader to His close friends, so should we be for ours.

Crowds are cleared (vv. 22b-23a)

“…while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away,…”

Jesus knew that it was the teacher’s responsibility to end this gathering in an orderly fashion.[9] Rather than just send them on their way, or curtly tell them to disperse, He took the time to personally end the time together and send them off with His favor. As it was getting dark, rather than have them still waiting on His words, safety demanded that they begin to make their way home in the fading light of the day. As Jesus’ own parable about the Good Samaritan showed, the roads in that day were not safe.[10] There were no Highway Patrol or interstate call boxes; a prudent traveler stayed in a group and was at their destination by dusk. Knowing this, Jesus used His authority as their teacher to dismiss them and send them home. With such a large group of women and children, criminal elements may have seen this group as easy prey, so Jesus took their safety at heart in sending them away, giving them ample time to return home safely.

It is also evident that there is a difference in the relationship with the disciples and the crowds. The disciples were sent on to meet Jesus at the next stop, the crowds were sent home. Most good pastors I know are very relational people. They love spending time with people, and this is a very endearing quality to the congregation. They enjoy getting to know the people in the church and building relationships with them. However, every good pastor will also know that there is a level of distance that must be maintained with the congregation as well. Being an under shepherd to an entire congregation, that leadership position is important to maintain. While a pastor must be relational, the pastor cannot become “one of the guys”, lest he lose his positional authority. Effective leaders keep their deep relationships to peers, and not congregants. As Jesus was a servant leader, He was responsible with the relationships.

Calm leads to Communion (v.23b)

“…He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”

Once His Disciples were on their way, and the people had been dispersed, only then did Jesus return to His own need of quiet reflection and time alone with the Father. In the first century culturally, pious Jews spent 2 hours per day in prayer, but Matthew records in verse 23b that Jesus spent the entire evening alone with God.[11] Jesus knew this was where He needed to be, and this was finally what His heart desired, quiet and solo communion with His heavenly father. Earlier in his Gospel, Matthew recorded Jesus’ words that prayer should be done alone, even in a closet, so that the secret prayers would be rewarded. Here we see Jesus exemplifying His own instructions, going alone to pray.

By Matthew recording this event, he was also drawing a parallel between Jesus and Moses and Elisha. In the existing scriptures at this time, readers would be familiar with previous prophets retreating to the mountain for some alone time with God. Moses and Elisha were both examples of this, and here Matthew recorded Jesus as doing the same thing.[12] Moses had acted as the lone intercessor to the people of Israel, and by Matthew recording the words “by himself to pray”, this would have drawn the verbal parallel to Jesus as being the new and greater Moses.[13]

By seeing Jesus example, how much more can we see that prayer is vital to a pastor? Prayer is vital to everyone, and especially the pastor. Abraham Lincoln wrote “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.” This can be no better applied to a pastor. When we were getting to know our spouses, we used time to do so. The more time we spent with them, the more we got to know them. We would not have visited with them for 10 minutes and then gotten married, we had to spend time with them. Getting to know their friends and their family was also important, but nothing takes the place of that one-on-one time alone, deep conversations, dreaming, planning. The same goes for time in prayer. Time equals closeness, so time spent in prayer gets us that much more close to the Holy Spirit and His will. As a pastor we must lead by example, so time alone with God is detrimental to our growth and nearness to God. John Bunyan wrote “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” Our time spent in prayer, like Jesus’, is how we get in tune with His will. As Jesus was the perfect example of a servant leader, He purposefully sets aside alone-time with God.

Closing

We too must look at our ministry, and make the decision to constantly intercede for the people under our watch care. We must be vigilant to look after their well being. It is said that ministry is messy, and that is true because we deal with people. Paul and Timothy wrote to the church in Philippi “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves”.[14] Jesus’ life and actions exemplified perfection, and we as members of the ministry must look to Him and His example, and then try as best we can to emulate it. In our current environment, we can be obsessed with busy, but can never forget that God put the people to whom He wants us to minister to, in our line of sight in our own ministries. It is this that we must keep into focus, that we are to put others needs before our own, just as Jesus repeatedly did.

The date was 19 March, 1945. The US aircraft carrier USS Franklin had maneuvered within 50 miles of the Japanese coast, closer than any other aircraft carrier had been. After repeated red alerts throughout the night, the captain had downgraded the alert level to condition three, letting the sailors grab some much needed rest. Suddenly, the carrier was rocked by bomb delivered by a dive bomber in the early morning darkness. Lt. (jg) Donald Gary was assigned as an engineering officer on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin, and found himself on the third level below the main deck, surrounded by black smoke and fire. Rather than look for safety, he went looking for his men. He found them in a smoke filled mess hall. Unable to see through the smoke, Don felt his way through the ship and one by one, led his men to safety. In Feb 1927, he was awarded the CMH for his bravery and devotion to the safety of his men. His commendation reads “Staunchly determined, he struggled back to the messing compartment three times despite menacing flames, flooding water and the ominous threat of sudden additional explosions, on each occasion calmly leading his men through the blanketing pall of smoke until the last one had been saved. Selfless in his concern for his ship and his fellows….”[15] Lt. Gary knew that his job was to put others first. They were under his care, and his responsibility was for their safety and well being, before his own.

As we close, are we willing to put others before our own selfish desires? When the marriage that is falling apart calls us at 3AM, or when the devastated parents walk in as we are walking out, do we put the important in front of the urgent? And do we do it gladly, as unto the Lord? How do we deal with all these demands for our time? Look to Jesus’ example. We deal with the urgent, but we never disregard the importance of prayer. Over the next few days, let’s pray how we can better deal with all of what ministry demands, but most importantly, lets pray. Turn your radio off in your car, and pray wile you drive. Instead of scrolling through your Facebook feed, spend that time praying. Find inventive ways to more effectively manage your time, so that you find more time to spend alone with God.


[1] Thom S. Rainer, I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude That Makes the Difference (Nashville, TN.: B & H Pub. Group, ©2013), 43-46.

[2] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, ©2002), 88-92.

[3] The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, Il.: Victor Books, ©1983-©19), 54.

[4] Craig S. Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, ©1993), 86.

[5] John 6:15 (NASB)

[6] Clair M. Crissey, Layman's Bible Book Commentary, vol. 15, Matthew (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, ©1981), 81-82.

[7] Robert H. Gundry, Commentary On the New Testament: Verse-by-verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson Publishers, ©2010), 65.

[8] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 54.

[9] Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary, 86.

[10] Luke 10:25-37

[11] Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary, 86.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Gundry, Commentary On the New Testament, 65.

[14] Philippians 2:3 ESV

[15] “Home of the Heroes,”, accessed November 15, 2016,http://homeofheroes.com/moh/citations_1940_wwii/gary.html.

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