I’ve written about this passage of Scripture before, and I tend to reference it often. But it’s for good reason. Mark 1 illustrates a vital, yet seemingly abandoned, lifestyle that indicates the way the Lord measures productivity. I think you’ll find it is drastically different than how we measure it.
In Mark 1, Jesus’s public ministry had just started. He’d begun calling His disciples, teaching and performing miracles. The people in this region (Galilee and the surrounding area) were all talking about Him and His ministry.
And at once His fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (v28)
They were talking about Him in a positive light - and they weren’t just talking - they were clearly very receptive to His ministry because their response was to seek Him out for healing according to verses 32-34: That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.
He spends all night healing people. Then, before sunrise, it says He “got up, left the house, and went to a secluded place…” to pray. Peter and some other disciples, along with the people of the city according to Luke’s gospel, are frantically searching for Him. The need for healing was endless and the people were believing. And yet, when Peter finds Him, Jesus's response is this: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”
Maybe you were already familiar with this story, but I never tire of talking about it. Plus, now we have the groundwork laid for the new thing my heart learned from the example of Christ in this passage.
It has intrigued me for years that Jesus would respond to a city that was wildly receptive to His teaching and ministry - to the point of searching Him out on what was likely a secluded mountaintop in the region - by saying, “Let’s move on from here.” This opposes our nature, I think. It certainly opposes what my natural response would be. I’d set up camp in the place where people were receptive to my teaching and ministry; the place I was seeing fruitfulness flow. If that's how God leads, so be it, but that’s not what happens here. After hours of sitting with the Father, in prayer and His presence, He felt led to keep moving into a new town.
You have to wonder… why would God lead Him this way? Seemingly away from fruitfulness and a responsive, accepting people? I’m sure we could talk for hours, still never covering the whole true answer since God’s thoughts and ways are far beyond ours. But this I can say with certainty regarding what this passage indicates to us because God confirmed it in my heart:
It is clear that God measures productivity by the heart, not the hands.
Jesus and His disciples could’ve stayed where they were in that region of Galilee. Jesus could’ve kept teaching and healing people there. His disciples still would’ve learned and participated in much, I’m sure. He could've stayed where He knew He’d be busy with the work of ministry; where that work would be accepted; and where people spoke well of Him, probably treating Him even better. And I’m sure He would’ve done that if productivity of the hands is what God was after because Jesus walked in perfect submission to the will of the Father, living a life that a honored Him in every way.
If busy hands were what God was looking for, Jesus would’ve delivered ten fold.
This must indicate, then, that God measures productivity by the heart, not the hands. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Because if it was about what we did, Jesus wouldn’t have had so much to say to the Pharisees; like what’s noted in Matthew 15:7-9:
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you, by saying:
‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.
And in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
You can spend your whole life with busy hands, committed to “doing.” You can drown yourself in the work of ministry and call it productivity for the Kingdom. Rest assured, God can still use even that kind of misguided ideology for the good of His Kingdom. The problem is this -
We don’t have the aerial view, yet live like we do.
We don’t know what God has planned for us beyond where we are and what we see. We just see fruitfulness, feel productive doing “good” things so we, with our limited perspective as man, are ready to set up shop in that place forever…or until we grow frustrated enough in some way to move regardless of what God has to say about it. What about what God has laid out in the place you refuse to go? What if He wants to move you on from serving 1,000 who speak well of you to serve just 10 who are indifferent to you, but specifically set apart by and for Him? See, we don’t know. Which is why this is such a problem, too -
We typically, and almost unintentionally, deprioritize our personal time with the Father because “clearly everything is going great with God - look at what I’m doing for Him.”
If we’re not spending the time with Him, we live our lives by assumption based on human wisdom rather than confidence in God’s leading.
Based on the example of Jesus in Mark 1 and elsewhere in the gospels, the “doing” is not what God prioritizes, and it is not what defines the reality of your walk with Him.
You could be the busiest, most favored person in your community, and still be 100% unproductive when it comes to Kingdom-building if you've sacrificed your personal time with God on the altar of busyness. The truth nobody wants to admit is what's really happening when you slip into a lifestyle like that is you're building YOUR kingdom, not God's. You can't build God's kingdom without His leading, your heart can't be led by someone you're not submitted to, and you won't submit to someone you don't communicate with. This is not to say that "doing" doesn't matter - James writes about how our works are evidence of our faith. It is to say that if the "doing" isn't preceded by "being," it's ultimately unproductive.
What happens in “seclusion” with the Father - time spent in prayer and His presence - and your heart’s response to it, is how God measures “productivity.”
This is a lesson I didn’t know I needed to learn until my hands had nothing left to do. God is so patient with and pursuant of our hearts, He waited until I had come to the end of myself to show me what was going on in me. This has become a time of redefinition. You’ll likely notice this pattern in my writing for a while; it’s become quite clear that God has a long list of things to redefine in my heart.
But circling back to where we started, He’s chosen to start the process with this:
God measures productivity by the heart, not the hands.
I have a feeling this lays the foundation for anything He’ll be building in my life moving forward, and I welcome every moment of it.
P.s. I have to note that my counselor - the amazing, Jesus-loving woman she is - was used by the Lord to help me process what He was stirring up in my heart lately; things I was having a hard time sifting through. Biblical counseling is such a blessing!