Troublesome Topic: The Overflow Principle Demonstrated in the Habits of Jesus

My friend Matt Lewis once went on a mountain climbing trip and all he took with him to read was the Gospel of Mark. At high altitudes one cannot hike all day, therefore much of his time was spent in the tent resting. For several hours each day, for almost three weeks, he read the Gospel of Mark over and over and over again. In doing so he discovered the following pattern:

– Jesus went somewhere to get alone.

– People followed Him.

– He ended up ministering to them.

– He then tried again to get alone.

The Gospel of Mark rarely records Jesus purposefully going somewhere to minister. Instead, Jesus usually ministered when the crowd figured out where He was “hiding.” What Jesus constantly pursued was time alone with His Father.

Here are a few of the things He did to get alone with His Father:

>  He used special “equipment” (a boat) to get away.

Then, because many people were coming and going, and they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come away with me by yourselves to a remote place, and rest a little.” So, using a boat, they went away by themselves to a solitary place. But many recognized them and saw [where] they were going, and together they ran on foot from all the cities [in the area] and got there ahead of them. And when He got out [of the boat] He saw a large crowd and He was moved with compassion toward them because they were like sheep with no shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things (Mk 6:30-34).

>  He went to solitary places.

He stayed out in solitary places, but the people came to him from every direction.” (Mark 1:45)

>  He deprived himself of sleep.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, went out [of the house] and went off to a solitary place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

“He went to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night in prayer to God” (Lk 6:12).

>  He left the country!

LK 7:24 He got up, and went from there to the region of Tyre (and Sidon); He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, but he was not able to remain hidden.

These were cities that were not part of Israel.

Ministry was not His primary purpose; ministry was an overflow of His relationship with the Father.

We need to look at the whole narrative of the situation described in Mark 1:35-38.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, went out [of the house] and went off to a solitary place, and there he prayed. Simon went after Him along with others, and when they found him they said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.!” He said to them, “Let’s go somewhere else, into the neighboring villages, so I can preach there also, for this purpose I have come.”

Jesus’ response must have seemed incomprehensible to the disciples. I can hear them saying, “Jesus, maybe you didn’t hear us, we said, ‘everyone is looking for you.’” To which Jesus responded, “I heard you. I know they’re looking for me; let’s go somewhere else.”

In all fairness to the passage quoted above I need to explain something. I have been saying that Jesus’ priority was rest, not ministry. But He said in Mark 1:38 that ministry (preaching) was why He had come. But He also said, “Let’s go somewhere else.” What gives?

If His only priority was to be close to the Father He would have stayed in heaven and not come to earth. So His purpose in coming was to reveal the Father through preaching, healing, dying and being raised from the dead. However, Jesus did not want to do any ministry unless He was properly connected to His Father. I think He was saying: “Yes, I have come to minister and preach to the people, but I will not let anyone else dictate my schedule or my priorities. I will not be pressured to meet all the needs present. These miracles are not about the peoples’ needs; they are manifestations of God’s power. I will not allow the pressing needs of those around me to rob me of time with my Father.” Jesus wanted to be the one to manage His time and priorities; He would not give that away. 

We should learn to do the same. The press of “just one more thing” will always push against rest. Yet we often fall victim to that tendency. We so easily give away what we say is our top priority—time with our Father. For Jesus ministry was simply a natural overflow of His close relationship with the Father (see Jn. 5:19-20).

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If that was true for Jesus, how much more should it be true for us?

The Illustration of a Gas Tank

Have you seen the gas tank of a lawn tractor? The hose that takes the gas to the engine is connected at the very bottom of the gas tank. If we think our lives are like that tank, then we think having just a little bit of God in our life will keep us moving. Many believers in America today seem to have this attitude. They want their pastor to give them a “shot in the arm,” a little boost, just enough to keep them going for another week. They are always operating on a quarter tank, or less, but they think that as long as there is a little fuel in their tank they will be okay.

But Jesus did not have that attitude. He is the Son of God, He is part of the Trinity, yet while He was on earth He was compelled to enjoy quality time with His Father whenever possible. He yearned for it, He craved it, He sought it and He made it happen.

The image that better describes the attitude Jesus had is that of a trough. In order for those around us to receive a blessing, the trough must overflow.  For there to be overflow the container must be kept full. We are that container; God dwells in us if we are His sincere and committed followers. But we need to keep our trough full if there is going to be any blessing for others around us.

We don’t intend to do it on our own and leave God out of the picture, but if we focus on tasks and achievements, programs and activities, we will indeed be doing ministry in our own strength.

We Should Serve from Our Overflow

Listen to these words by Oswald Chambers:

“Service is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion.”

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“As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve; but if you have let Him bring you to the end of your self-sufficiency then He can choose you to go with Him. . .. It is not a question of our equipment but of our poverty, not of what we bring with us, but what God puts into us. . .. He can do nothing with the man who thinks that he is of use to God. The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship.”

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We see very little overflow happening in our culture. If more ministry happened from an overflow of our time with God, the world would see a big difference, it would feel the difference. If we were ministering from such an overflow the world would not be able to ignore us!

We are all called to serve God and serve others. Therefore, all believers are called to minister in some way. Yet, as Leonard Ravenhill has said, “To be much for God, we must be much with God.”

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If Jesus ministered out of His overflow, how can I hope to do any differently?!

Who am I to think I can be more effective than Jesus? If I strive to be a blessing to others apart from the overflow principle, I am not doing it the way Jesus did and I am therefore destined to fail.

The next lesson is Difficulties for Pastors and Pastors’ Wives


1: Jn 5:19

Of himself the Son is able to do nothing except if he sees the Father doing that thing, for whatever things He does, these things the Son also does likewise.


Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Devotional for January 17th.


Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Devotional for August 4th.


Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, p. 8.