God of all creation, I welcome your spirit to fill my heart and mind right now. Please consecrate the space where I now sit, and let it be a holy space where I will experience you in a fresh way. Shake out the cobwebs from my mind as I wipe the sleep from my eyes, and be the center of my attention. Teach me your ways and enable me to walk in them.
Read all of Mark 1 in your favorite version of the Bible. (Click here to read it in the English Standard Version, which is the one I generally use.) Even if you read it yesterday, read it again—maybe in a different version today. Read the entire chapter, and as you do, circle or underline phrases that jump out at you, or just jot them down in your notebook.
Go through the chapter and circle the word “immediately” each time it appears. (Depending on the version you’re reading, you might be circling “at once” as well as “immediately.”) What does that tell us about the Spirit (verse 12), the response of the first disciples (verses 18 & 20), and the way Jesus ministered (verses 21, 23, 29, 30, & 42)? In Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus, I sense an urgency. It seems to me that an immediate response to God is an important part of an obedient life. It seems to me that Jesus does not waste time, but rather that he makes the most of each opportunity.
But sometimes this doesn’t look the way we might think. I once had a friend who was fond of the saying, “timing is everything.” As I reflected further on this chapter, especially from verse 21 to the end, this phrase came to mind. Apparently, Jesus felt the same way as my friend, believing that timing was an important component of his ministry. After healing the man who had leprosy (verse 42), Jesus “sternly charged him not to say anything to anyone about what had happened.” It seems that Jesus knew he would not be able to minister freely if word began to spread about him too soon. Unfortunately, the man did not obey, and instead he did the very thing Jesus had told him not to do: “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news.” The result, of course, was that “Jesus could no longer openly enter a town.” Instead, he had to camp out in “desolate places.” The timing of this man telling about Jesus actually hindered Jesus’ ministry.
From this, I gather that when we jump the gun and rush ahead of God, we can actually hinder the spread of the Gospel. Part of being an effective evangelist is cultivating the ability to sense where a person is on the journey. By paying attention, listening patiently to them, showing genuine interest in their story and generous grace for their experiences, and waiting for God to open the door, we can submit to God’s timing, which is often different from our own.
Of course, we might get it wrong. I have been surprised many times in my life by holding back from sharing the gospel because I didn’t think it was the right time, and then seeing God fling wide the door of someone’s heart, so that they were actually asking questions like the people who asked Peter, “what must I do (to be saved)?” That is a beautiful moment of being wrong. But the great hope we have is that, even when we are wrong and miss God’s timing, God’s spirit will prevail. Check out verse 45, the last verse of chapter one. What do you see?
“People were coming to him from every quarter.”
Even though Jesus was thwarted from staying in the city and ministering to the people there because he was “outed” by the man he healed of leprosy, still his ministry continued, as people came to him “from every quarter.” This is an example of the sovereignty of God—the fact that, with or without our perfect obedience or timing, God’s plans will be accomplished.
When it comes to evangelism—which is just a loaded word for telling others about something you’re exited about—sometimes “timing is everything.” You wouldn’t evangelize about your awesome vet to someone who had just had his dog euthanized, but perhaps down the road you might share his number. You wouldn’t evangelize about your amazing birth coach to a woman who had just suffered a miscarriage, but if she becomes pregnant again, you definitely would! Sometimes we are called to make an immediate response with action—offering to pray for someone immediately, offering a word of encouragement immediately, dropping what we’re doing and going in a new direction with Jesus immediately. But sometimes, we are called to respond with no visible action—to close our mouths and pray in secret, and to wait on the Lord’s timing. How are you paying attention to God’s timing today?