And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. (Mark 4:33–34)
There is much debate as to the reason why Jesus chose to teach in parables. The Bible doesn’t necessarily make this clear, but today’s verses suggest that there is some significance in the distinction between those who were able to hear and those who were not. The hearing, of course, is of spiritual truth, so the implication is that some were able and willing to hear spiritual truth and others were not. Those who wanted, received. Those who did not want, did not receive. The parables were, in some way, a kind of filtering to ensure the right people received the message. This may well be the case, but it goes on to point out that He explained all things to His disciples when they were alone. This immediately raises two interesting truths. The first is that it only happened when they were alone. The second was that He explained all things. Time alone with God is the only way to understanding of spiritual truth.
Unless we find time alone with God, we will never fully receive spiritual truth.
There is tremendous value in the teaching and expounding of the Word in a corporate and group setting. It’s a biblical approach – Jesus Himself taught the multitudes, and He also taught the disciples. But there is now a distinction between the group relationship Jesus had with the disciples while He was on earth and the relationship He now has with each and every believer. Back then, He was one, they were twelve, and He had a limited time period in which to complete His teaching. Now, however, we have the Word, including the full exposition of the New Testament, and we also have the Holy Spirit as our constant companion. In addition, each of us is now able to draw near and meet with Jesus one-on-one. No amount of corporate or group teaching can replace time alone with God.
There is a particular reason why ‘face time’ is so important. To understand, we need to pause and look at our lives. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard say that they have to have company. They cannot bear to think of having to spend significant time alone. We fill our lives with busyness, with friends and activities, sport, TV, even good works and prayer meetings or outreach groups. We do not want to spend time alone with ourselves or with God. I believe that this is because alone time means we can no longer avoid looking and seeing ourselves as we really are. Time alone with God means we have to focus on the things that are important to Him – things we may well want to keep holding onto, or would rather avoid acknowledging.
When we’re busy and our lives are filled with countless things that distract and gratify us, we can get by with a surface understanding of the things of God. We can glean enough Scripture and sufficient catch phrases to convince ourselves and others that we’re living a thriving Christian life. We’re not challenged, we’re not discomforted, and we’re not required to dig too deeply into those things that might contradict our status quo. Time alone with God removes the distractions. We no longer have anything to hide behind, and we no longer have excuses for those things which don’t quite measure up.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll all find there are areas in which we’re not honest with ourselves. And if that’s the case, we’re not honest with God. That He ‘knows all’ is irrelevant. Time alone with God is intended to be the time of honesty, the time where we come to Him, ‘warts and all,’ in humility, and receive the grace to hear and to change. It is in these times that He will reveal what’s holding us back, keeping us down, dragging at our heels, and undermining our faith. In these times He releases His vision and purpose for our lives, and prepares us for everything He has in store.
Time alone with God is the time when we receive the grace and power we need to rise above ourselves and live for His glory. He intends that we live as citizens of heaven, even here on earth. We are to live in eternity with Christ, even while we remain in this world. We are part of a supernatural kingdom, and to live according to all the kingdom principles of faith, power, righteousness, true freedom, and victory, we need to understand those principles. Having a human teacher or mentor who shares their wisdom and godly experience is a great blessing, but nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of God and learning from Him.
Jesus made sure to take His disciples aside and explain all things to them. Not some things, not just answering the odd question or two, not just skimming the surface and providing pat answers. He explained all things. The Master was preparing His servants for the work they were called to do. He was imparting to them the spiritual understanding that would empower them to fulfill His work and to teach others. This is kingdom purpose of time alone with God.
It is impossible for us to fully understand ourselves. Only God knows our inmost hearts. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our fears and our dreams, our desires and our inhibitions. He knows our temptations and why, and He knows how we can overcome them. He knows our every need, our every pain, our every sorrow, and our every doubt. He knows our minds and motives, the things that wounded us and the things that bring us joy. He knows our gifts and talents, our skills and our abilities, and He knows the specific, unique purpose for which each of us was created. When we spend time alone with God, He will reveal these to us, He will reveal what to do and how to do it, and when, and He will reveal the spiritual principles that will ensure His power in our lives to accomplish it.
Many Christians experience frustration in their walk with God, a sense of not moving forward, of treading water, of not quite reaching His promises. One of the reasons is that they do not spend time alone with God. We are, first and foremost, creatures of spirit – we were made in the image of God, and He is spirit. Our bodies and our souls are simply the vehicle we travel in through this world. He intends our lives to be of the spirit. When that is whole, body and soul will follow. Many of us, however, try to lead the spirit by what we know, the physical and the emotional. This limits our understanding, and it ultimately limits our growth and potential. We cannot understand the things of the spirit unless we spend time in the spirit, and that is only possible when we have time alone with God. With Him, we commune in the spirit, not the flesh.
This is the difficult part. The flesh demands attention. It demands recognition. It demands to be heard and gratified. It doesn’t want to be put aside, to be denied gratification, to be crucified with Christ. The mind won’t settle. The emotions roil. The physical discomfort intrudes. We find all kinds of reasons why this isn’t a good time, or important things that really need to be done right now. And one day becomes two, becomes a week…and before we know it, a month has gone by without time alone with God.
Jesus is our example. If time alone with God – and He spent many hours communing with His Father – wasn’t important, He wouldn’t have done it. He lived on earth as the Son of Man, not the Son of God. He didn’t walk this earth as God, but as a man. He is the only example we should follow. If He needed time alone with God, then how much more do we?
We must take hold of the truth that God wants to explain all things to us, just as He did to Jesus, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the others. He wants to provide us with spiritual wisdom and understand to empower us to live and glorify Him and fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Within each of us is unlimited potential. There is no telling what He may work through our lives if they are surrendered to Him. In His grace, He knows it’s a process, but unless we make the effort to spend time with God, we will never receive the full measure of what He has for us.
Like anything in life, time alone with God requires training. We discipline ourselves to start with even ten minutes a day. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s ten minutes longer than yesterday. Time alone with God isn’t simply spending time reading the Bible, although that is a part of it. We can even use reading the Bible to avoid ‘face time.’ It’s reading, meditating, and listening. It’s opening our hearts, accepting that we may hear things we don’t want to hear, or be given truths that make us uncomfortable, or even be given instructions that we don’t like. It means coming in the absolute humility and trust that all things work to our good. As we begin to train ourselves and spend time alone with God, we will find that His teaching begins to work a transformation. What starts out as a chore will end as all joy.
Father, forgive us for our excuses and our busyness, for the times when we’ve avoided honesty and spending time alone with You. Help us to come and to learn from You, to hear Your voice. Open our hearts as You begin to explain all things, and grant us Your spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may better live Your purpose in our lives.