One of my favorite descriptions of spiritual disciplines comes from Henri Nouwen, who says that discipline and discipleship have the same root word, and disciplines are “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” To create space means that you must “prevent everything in your life from being filled up…that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied.”
My wife and I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend the CCEF National Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee this weekend. We were doubly blessed to have a couple days on either side of the conference to pull away from the busyness of our regular life, to rest and refresh. So we’re finishing up a stay in a little town called Peachtree City, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, where we have had lots of “un-occupied” time, rather than filling up every spare moment with something to see or do. And in that “space” God is refreshing our hearts in ways that we did not plan on.
As I was working on a writing project yesterday, there was enough space available in the unhurried afternoon to follow some “rabbit trails” of what I was studying, and God led me to some discoveries that were surprising and exciting (at least to me!). I was looking at Luke 5:16 where it says that Jesus often withdrew to desolate places to pray, and I decided to explore the word “withdrew.” What I discovered was that the Greek word in Scripture that is translated “withdraw” or “withdrew” in English is a comprised of two words together–the preposition that means “under” and the verb that means “to leave space which may be filled or occupied by another.”
So when Jesus withdrew, it literally means He went “under space.” He submitted to (i.e. came under the authority of) some empty space in order to have room to be filled and occupied by another, namely His Father, through prayer. Jesus went to a desolate place, where there was nothing to fill His time or preoccupy His heart. But He did not do that merely to empty Himself as in Buddhism, but in order that His mind and heart could be occupied fully with His Father in prayer.
May you–and may I–learn to create space in the midst of our busyness, so that our hearts can be filled with all that the Father desires to lavish on us.