It took Jesus 30 years to prepare for his ministry. I’ve tended to see Jesus as a relatively spontaneous guy. After all, think how quickly he responded off-the-cuff to questions that the disciples or the Pharisee’s would ask him. Think of the way be seemed to pluck illustrations for his preaching unrehearsed from the various things people might by happenstance have been looking at looking at as he spoke the words – consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the various soils he would encounter as he itinerated. Think of his impromptu response to requests for healing. And think of him looking up at Zacchaeus and issuing a spontaneous request for a dinner party. Yes, Jesus strikes me as a live-in-the moment sort of person.
And yet it took him 30 years to prepare for all that spontaneity. Although the scriptures do not shed a lot of light on the 30 years before Jesus’ public ministry began we do get some important clues as to Jesus’ careful preparation.
- Jesus prepared by studying scripture. From an early age Jesus studied the Torah. He steeped himself in the law and prophets. He could quote chapter and verse to the Pharisee’s when called upon to do so. He knew the scriptures so well they became a living part of him. So, when the scroll was presented to him in his hometown synagogue, he didn’t have to leaf through the thing to go right to the passage that best described his ministry but went straight to the ancient prophecy that was being fulfilled in their hearing. And when he hung on the cross it was to the psalms that his heart went for comfort, understanding, and sustenance.
- Jesus prepared by praying. He set aside extra time for prayer. He took mini-retreats just to be in conversation with his Father and uttered many a prayer while in the midst of public discourse. He went into the wilderness for 40 days before he began his public ministry in earnest. He was in seeming constant, intentional communion with God. Prayer was a practiced discipline for Jesus and his way of life.
- Jesus prepared by attentiveness. He payed keen attention to the world around him. When he looked at someone he saw them. He carefully observed how the temple system worked, and how the Romans kept their occupation in force. He observed the seasons and the agricultural rhythms and the rhythms of family life. He visited synagogues. He took time with people at their homes or at the local pub. He was a constant student of life and continually honed his cultural acumen.
Of course, you need to prepare for specific things. If you’re preaching, or leading a course, or designing a worship series, or going on a trip, or anyone of a host of things, you need to prepare and you know it. Jesus described it as a military officer who would not dare go into battle without calculations about the enemy or without a strategy of engagement. Abraham Lincoln said that if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he would spend six of them sharpening his ax. Preparation is how we honor and hone the gifts, talents, and skills God gave us.
But I urge you, friends, not to neglect the kind of preparation that Jesus did on a regular, practiced, daily basis – scripture, prayer, attentiveness. The kind that prepares you for life’s curve-balls, and heartbreaks, its sudden changes of plan, its urgent needs, its unexpected encounters. That is the kind of life-long preparation that will stand you in good stead come what may so that you can meet life, like He did, with spontaneous wisdom and grace.