Matthew 14: “Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude”


This was the mandate that was handed down to an unruly group of High School students back in 2011. You would have thought I was asking them to sacrifice their favorite pet! Wailing, gnashing of teeth, torture, threats of not going on this years retreat ensued. But what they didn’t know was I had a plan. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go, but I had a plan.

You see, as a youth pastor for eight years, I had enough! I was tired of missions trips, retreats, and camp being ruined by teenage drama happening at home. Every year it happened without fail; a boyfriend who didn’t go on the trip was being dumb at home, or a friend did that one thing she said she wouldn’t do without you, either way, teenage drama is an incredible distraction. I was also tired of students not being able to “unplug.”

PARENTS: Don’t let your kids take technology on events where they need to unplug! You’ll thank me later! I know, I know, but how will they get a hold of me in an emergency (Which is code for: “How will I check and see what they’re doing while they’re gone?”)? Trust me, there are plenty of people and leaders around them that will be able to reach you in an emergency. 

I also took another major risk on this particular retreat. Recognizing that kids were over-schooled (yes, it’s possible), over worked (again, possible), and over sports-ed (I see/saw it all the time), I allowed student to go back to there cabin and sleep anytime they wanted. They had to come to the services, but other than that, they could sleep the entire retreat.

In fact, I had a rule in my youth ministry, if a kid was found sleeping during service we did the unthinkable… we let them sleep! It was obvious that they needed to rest, so my staff knew we wouldn’t wake a sleeping child, but instead allow them to rest.

I get it, you’re thinking, wait, don’t teenagers already sleep too much? Actually, no. Studies have shown that teenagers aren’t getting the proper amount of rest they actually need to be healthy and even happy.

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore!” If you were being honest, you deal with the same thing. It may not be at their level, but when was the last time you were able to retreat without the distractions of life getting in the way.

Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude

In fact, when you look at Jesus’ ministry, he constantly tried to retreat, but was never able to really be alone. Jesus regularly tried to model the spiritual discipline of retreat, but was constantly bombarded with distractions.

  • (Matthew 4:1-11) Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and He was alone there for 40 days, except when the devil showed up!
  • (Matthew 14:13) Jesus was trying to mourn the loss of his cousin John the Baptist, so he got in a boat to be alone… but the crowds heard where he was going and followed Him!
  • (Matthew 14:23) Not forgetting the necessity to be alone, Jesus dismissed the crowds to pray by himself.
  • (Mark 1:35) Jesus would often get up early in the morning, or some would say he never slept, and would find quiet places to pray alone.
  • (Luke 4:42) Again, an example of Jesus going off to a desolate place (meaning, no people).

I tell people all the time; As much as we see Jesus wanting and desiring to be around people, we see him equally desiring to be alone and away from people. So I say to you: As much as there’s a call/mandate to serve people around you, you need to equally desire to be alone and away from people.

Matthew 14 for me has always been a sad chapter in the Gospels. Sure it holds the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus/Peter Walking on Water, but read around those stories. Read about a man who knew he was powerless unless he “un-plugged” from the world and “plugged” into his Heavenly Father.

The Results

The Fall Retreat of 2011 holds a special place in my heart. It was a retreat where students truly were able to retreat. Afterwards, both students and parents came with tears in their eyes thanking me and my team for a true spiritual retreat. And yes, we did have a couple of students sleep the entire retreat, to which one mother said, it was the best investment she made for her son that weekend.