In 1806 William Wordsworth looked at his own life and the lives of his contemporaries and wrote these lines of poetry: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
If that was an accurate description of life in the early part of the nineteenth century, how much more does it describe our lives in the early part of the twenty-first century. Don’t you agree that it can truthfully be said of you and me, “the world is too much with us?” Day in and day out, most of us are surrounded by immediate demands and almost ceaseless noise.
It is not simply that we today are “getting and spending.” We are also engaged in serving and helping. However high and noble our activity might be, there comes a time when we need a retreat from the world.
The gospels tell us that Jesus had times like that. How often do we read that Jesus worked long and late helping people who came to Him from every direction? He must have gone to bed many times utterly exhausted. Yet the scriptures tell us that early the next morning, He slipped away from everyone and “went off to a lonely place in the desert; there He was absorbed in prayer.”
I can think of only one reason why Jesus would do that – He felt a need for it. The world was too much with Him. Serving and helping He had given and given until He had little left to give. It was time to retreat. He found it necessary to withdraw from the world and renew His strength, so that He could come back to that same world and serve it again.
Here in the western world most of us admire the type of person that we call a “go-getter.” By that we mean a person who has a high energy level and is continually getting things done. That is indeed an admirable personality trait. But any person who tries to manage life strictly on that basis will come to a time and a place where his method is utterly useless.
When tragedy strikes and one’s heart is broken, we cannot handle that by getting things done. When age increases and strength diminishes and the limitation of time becomes inescapably clear, we cannot handle that by getting things done.
Energetic activity is a marvelous thing. We all need it, but we also need something more. The human spirit is like the human body in the sense that it needs two legs on which to walk. To meet the world head-on and get things done – that is one leg. To retreat from the world and renew our spiritual power – that is the other.
Our Christian faith has been accused by its critics of being a way of escape from the hard realities of life. In one small sense, that accusation is true. All through His ministry, Jesus found times and places to retreat from the world. His purpose in doing that was not able to avoid the harsh realities of life, but to equip himself to better deal with them. And that is faith at its best.
You and I, my friends will not be able to help this world very much until we master the art of retreating from it. Jesus found a lonely place where He was absorbed in prayer, and that is the secret. What about you?