That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:32-39 NIV)

[rb_dropcap]V[/rb_dropcap]ocational Christian ministry has many spiritual hazards. One of the most subtle and most powerful is the need to be needed. After all, we are in vocational ministry because we care for people, because we want to help. Naturally we feel good when we have the opportunity to help others, to be needed. But soon our motives become mixed. Do we help because we care for people? Or are we chasing the good feelings that come from helping? After awhile we may not even be aware of the difference. And the “rush” from helping others can be as addictive as any drug.

Henri Nouwen describes well this need to be needed:

I know too well how hard it is to live without being needed, being wanted, being asked, being known, being admired, being praised. Just a few years ago, I retired from my teaching job in Holland and lived for a year as a student in a rented room in the city. I had expected to be free at last to study and do many of the things I couldn’t do when I was so busy and so much in demand. But what happened? Without a job I was soon forgotten . . . The irony was that I always wanted to be alone to work, but when I was finally left alone, I couldn’t work and started to become morose, angry, sour, hateful, bitter, and complaining. (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary, Image, New York, NY:1981, 68.)

I am familiar with the feelings Nouwen describes. One of my friends said that Soo Inn is so busy with ministry that the only way to get some time with him is to tell him you need him for some ministry project. To what degree am I addicted to the need to be needed? In response, I return to the above passage (Mark 1: 32-39). I remember that Jesus is truly human and he was “tempted in every way like we are . . . (Hebrews 4:15a).” I think how seductive those words must have been — “Everyone is looking for you”. This is especially so coming after an evening when He had blessed so many, His ears still echoing with the words of gratitude and adulation coming from the many He had helped. But Jesus wasn’t swayed by those words and the cries for help behind them. He wasn’t need focused. He was God focused and He went on to do what God wanted Him to do, which meant leaving a place where he had a proven track record of ministry, a place where many were crying out for His help, to go “somewhere else,” faithful to the itinerant nature of that chapter of His ministry. How did He do that? How did Jesus live a life free from the addiction to be needed? Again the above passage is helpful. Jesus structured times of solitude and prayer into His life.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35 NIV)

If He had done this today he would have left His smart phone, notebook, and iPad behind as well. We see Jesus regularly carving out times of solitude, times away from people and ministry, so that He could commune with His Father. So that he could pray.

I wish we had a record of what transpired during these times of prayer. I like to believe that they were times of communion, times when Jesus would hear again “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11 NIV).” I have often wondered if deep down, our need to be needed is actually a need for love. It is in solitude that we commune with our Father and once again remember, and receive, the love He pours out on us all the time (Romans 5:5).

All addictions, including the need to be needed, are robbers. They rob our will of the capacity to make good decisions. They rob our time, taking us away from things we should be doing. And an obsession with trying to find an answer to an addiction could be an addiction in itself. What then should we do? Instead of dwelling on the addiction, ask instead: How am I nurturing my relationship with God? Do I ensure that I block off time in my life to be away from people and away from work, so that I can be with the Lord? Only when my hunger for love is met in God can I truly be free from the need to be needed. Only when I am secure in the love of God can I be free to do what He wants me to do, to be God focused, and not need focused. God help us.