Spiritual Solitude
With thanks to many others
 
By Paul Robison

One father made it point to eat out with each of his children once every month.  After the meal, he’d take them to a dollar store and let them pick out something that they'd liked for him to buy.  His kids remembered those special moments of time shared with Dad (Shedd).  Another father reported something similar: “There are times when I am able to go out with just one of my kids – either to do something special, or to run errands.  Inevitably during these times, they will say to me, ‘Dad, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I’” (Wilkins).

In the last verses of Exodus 24, we read that the Lord’s glory rested on Mt. Sinai, that God called Moses, and that Moses traveled up the mountain, and that Moses remained there for 40 days (Ex. 24:16-18).  The writers of Psalm 46, after proclaiming that God is a refuge for Israel, gave this command, “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).  In 1 Kings 17:2, we read: “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah saying: ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith … and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’”  Luke 1:80 says of John the Baptizer that he grew, became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the time came for him to be manifested before the Jews.  The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days before He began His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).  Paul mentions that he spent some time after his conversion in Arabia, sort of a wasteland, before returning to Damascus (Galatians 1:17.

At this time of year, there are often family reunions.  But when was the last time, you got away from our hectic pace of life, took a moment to be still, and remembered that God is God?  Often, it may require going to the wilderness, to a mountain, or your own hiding place by some brook.  When was the last time you told God, “Dad, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I.”  When was your last personal reunion with Him?  Being alone with God seems pretty scary for many Christians today.  We’re so addicted to noise, to crowds, and to activity that silence, isolation, and stillness make many feel uneasy.  The word “solitude” may conjure up more negative ideas than positive ones for you.  Let’s consider the topic of spiritual solitude together.  You might discover that it could be good for you and offer you some great benefits.  So this morning, let’s look at the who, what, when, where, why, and the how of this concept called spiritual solitude.

We’ve already seen just a little bit with regard to the who.  We saw that Moses, Elijah, John the Baptizer, and Paul were all spiritual leaders who practiced solitude at times.  Perhaps the greatest example of one who used solitude was our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Mark 1:35 states: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed.”  A little further into His public ministry, we continue to learn of Jesus’ frequent withdrawals.  Luke 5:16 reports: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”  Before choosing the twelve, Jesus again retreated to the mountains and spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12).  After the news of John the Baptizer’s death, Jesus wanted to get away, and he actually told His disciples: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk. 6z:31).  But the crowds followed them, and He had to postpone that retreat until after the feeding of the 5000 (Mt. 14:23).  Matthew 17:1-2 states: “Now after six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother led them up a high mountain by themselves, and He was transfigured before them.”  Before His death, Jesus also took the same three men, and then He went on a little further Himself to pray in solitude to prepare Himself for His final ordeal (Matthew 26:36ff).  Jesus demonstrated a wonderful balance.  Someone puts it this way: “Thus, external action should be derived from internal reality, and this requires a rhythm of solitude and engagement, restoration and application, intimacy with [God] and activity in the world.  The life of Jesus illustrates this pattern of seeking significant amount of time to be alone with the Father so that He would have the inner power and poise to deal with the outward pressures imposed upon Him by His friends and enemies” (Boa).  If Jesus “made time” for solitude, shouldn't we follow His example and do the same?


But what is spiritual solitude?  Let's look at few definitions.  One person said: “Solitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him” (Drury).  Another person said this: “Loneliness is inner emptiness.  Solitude is inner fulfillment.  Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind and heart” (Foster).  Another person said: “In stark aloneness, it is possible ... to set the Lord before our minds with sufficient intensity and duration that we stay centered on Him—our hearts fixed [and] established in trust ...” (Willard).  One final definition is this one: “
The practice of solitude involves scheduling enough uninterrupted time in a distraction-free environment that you experience isolation and are alone with God” (Calhoun).  Often, solitude can provide a fence in which other spiritual activities, like prayer and biblical meditation, can take place (Ibid.).  So we see that spiritual solitude involves those periods of time when we are alone with God and focus intentionally upon Him.

When should we practice spiritual solitude?  Jesus' life shows us that the practice of solitude can take place at most any time.  It can be done at the dawn of day or during the night.  It is especially appropriate, however, when the storms of life threaten our souls.  Jesus wanted to get away when the storm of death overtook his cousin John.  Jesus did get away when the temptation to give in to the crowd was strong.  Maybe this could be called the storm of pressure to do things Satan's way.  Lastly, we saw how Jesus prepared for the dangers of spiritual battle by using solitude.  We might call this the storm of persecutions.  Any uninterrupted time is good, but solitude is especially helpful during the storms of death, temptations, and persecutions.  David wrote in Psalm 62:5-8: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation.  He is my defense.  I shall not be moved.  In God is my salvation and glory; the rock of my strength and my refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him.  God is refuge for us.”  Fast forward now to our day.  A church leader, who has made spiritual solitude a habit, suggests that each member take out, as a minimum, one day every three months for times of solitude.  This person also adds: “If you have an issue to resolve in your life, think about all the time that you have taken worrying about it and trying to work it out, wouldn’t it be good to take a day to ask God what he thinks?  My retreats help me to study, to get connected with God as my friend, and ... to do some very important planning ....  I do all of this in the presence of God” (Wilkins).  If a day of solitude can’t be worked out, then maybe you can practice periods of solitude daily.  Many Christians have called this their “quiet time”.  Usually, they will take 10-60 minutes out of their day to find a place where they can be alone and focus on God’s presence.  Someone else has emphasized that finding solitude might not be as hard as we think: “There can be little moments of refreshment and silence throughout our day… we just have to look for them and enjoy them when they arrive.  [It might be while drinking a cup of coffee or right after reading the newspaper or right after a cleaning job.]  These small moments are [often] lost to us, but [they] can be found again as a way to orient ourselves back to God, much like a hiker taking out their compass every so often for a few moments to check the direction they’re heading” (Borst)!

Now let's consider the where of solitude.  Someone made this suggestion: “We must reemphasize, the 'desert' or 'closet' is the primary place of strength for the beginner, as it was for Christ and for Paul” (Willard).  Luke 22:39 tells us that Jesus would often go to the Mount of Olives: “Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples followed Him.”  John 18:1-2 tells us that Judas knew this place where Jesus often met with His disciples: “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.  And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with His disciples.”  So the Garden of Gethsemane was a favorite place of solitude for Jesus.  As we saw earlier in this lesson, other locations served as places of solitude: mountains, brooks, and deserts.  These locations are secluded and away from life's hustle and bustle and frenetic pace.  One author, who wrote in 1917, reported that President Lincoln had a private room in the White House near where he slept where he prayed and practiced solitude.  At times, he would lock the door, but sometimes it would be left open, and several visitors heard him praying.  His favorite times to pray were at midnight and at 4:00 a.m.  Remember how one of the definitions said that solitude was not so much a place as a state of mind.  This is true to some degree since we can reflect upon God anywhere.  But being the creatures of habit that we are, having a specific place for solitude, like Jesus and Lincoln did, would probably be helpful for us as well.  It does not have to be complex or far away—it could be a specific spot outdoors or a particular chair.  You might even give your family a cue by saying, “Please don’t bother me when I’m here; I’d like to spend a few moments alone with God” (Borst).

Now let’s consider the how of solitude.  First, get away and get alone.  Here’s a time where we intentionally disconnect from others and our busyness to be able to connect with God.  Secondly, get your heart prepared.  Another minister in our brotherhood made this observation: “Most important of all, nothing inspires a sense of [God’s] Presence like passionate love for God.  Precisely for this reason, Jesus said love for God is the supreme command.  Genuine love is the irresistible desire to be in the presence of the one loved. … When one loves God supremely, a sense of Divine absence is intolerable.  Every moment away from [God’s] Presence seems an eternity. … Nothing quickens perception like love. … Keenness of observation is born under the influence of love for God that drives away the obscuring clouds of selfishness and sin.  Love God more, and you will become more aware of Him” (White).  Thirdly, get your Bible opened.  Getting close to God’s Word helps us to get closer to God.  Fourthly, get your body humbled.  The Bible does not teach a correct posture in coming before God, but it does show that nearly everyone who encountered Him in some way humbled themselves to show reverence (Exodus 3:6; Ezek. 1:28; Luke 5:8; Rev. 1:17).  Peter admonishes us in 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”  Let’s review: get away and get alone, get your heart prepared, get your Bible opened, and get your body humbled.  Here’s another interesting method.  One congregation had an annual solitude and planning retreat.  During the program, the following was done: first of all, large groups prayed together—the elders and deacons were in one group and the members were in their various zone groups; then family units were encouraged to come before God together; then, while college students and teens kept the children, each person was encouraged to seek out a spot away from all the others and to have their own private meeting with the Lord.  On the following day of this retreat, there would be several planning sessions.  This congregation's leadership showed wisdom by helping its members to practice spiritual solitude.  Many of the ideas presented in the planning sessions were born during those times of isolation when everyone was away from each other

Lastly, and most importantly, let’s look at the why of solitude.  Here are five good reasons that others have suggested for getting into the practice of spiritual solitude.  First of all, solitude helps us to express ourselves before God’s throne.  “When [we] have been alone with God, [our] relationship[s] with Him becomes deeper, and [we] can worship [and petition] Him better. … Our intimacy with God is reflected by our commit to God, [and] our commitment to God is reflected by the amount of time we spend with God.  Jesus gives us [an] invitation to spend [such] time with Him when He says in Rev. 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me’” (Shepherd).  Solitude helps us to express ourselves before God’s throne.  Secondly, solitude helps us to build our trust in God’s strength.  Some brothers in our fellowship explained it this way: “Being [present] with Him for 15-60 minutes daily is a way of acknowledging that He is God and we are not.  He can run the world without us.  It is a way of admitting that we rely on the power of God, not on our own brilliance, planning, and efforts.   It is a confession that God is an active God, who works [through] prayer” (Holloway and Lavender).  We grow more dependent on God’s strength and less dependent upon our own.  Our confidence grows that truly He is the Lord of the universe, and He is in control, even when circumstances may appear bleak.  Solitude helps us to build our trust in God’s strength.  Thirdly, solitude helps us to see life from God’s perspective.  Remember that great occasion when Elijah had been triumphant over Jezebel’s prophets, and then he has to run for his own life.  He finally ends us at a cave on a mountain.  God asks him why is there in 1 Kings 19:13.  And Elijah responds that he has been very zealous for God, but the Israelites have been very wicked.  He claims that he is the only man alive that is faithful to God, and his life is being sought.  Well, God then answers Elijah, and what does He say?  In essence, “Get back to work, Elijah!  I’ve got some men you need to appoint, like Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha.  They will bring about punishment upon the wicked.  And, by the way, there still are 7,000 in Israel who are faithful to Me.”  After that discourse, Elijah got back in the battle, never doubted God again, and forged ahead doing God’s will until a chariot took him to God!  Solitude helps us to see life from God’s perspective.  Fourthly, solitude helps us to be more sensitive to God’s family.  Someone once said, “‘It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers.  The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them…. [Solitude] and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.’  [You see,] … in solitude, we find God, and He fills us with His love and compassion, and [His] Spirit, and it affects our outward life.  [Maybe] this is why Jesus retreated by Himself so much: He was filling Himself back up with God’s love and power and glory so that He could again love the people [whom] He [encountered]” (Borst).  Solitude helps us to be sensitive to God’s family.  Lastly, solitude helps us to be recharged for God’s service.  Two writers observed: “Even if you keep a clean house, the bright sun shining through a window can reveal all kinds of dust.  Likewise, in the light of the glory and goodness of God, our own faults are revealed.  We see ourselves as we really are: sinful, broken, proud, self-deceived.  But in the pain of that self-revelation, there is also joy.  God loves us as we are.  Christ and the Spirit are at work in us, making us clean in God’s sight, [using us to make an impact on others’ lives].  The cleaning power of solitude is both painful and joyous.  Perhaps the greatest difficulty of [solitude] is that it calls for full surrender to God.  It is frightening to honestly open our hearts to others, even to God.  In this silence, God may [guide] us to a life we are trying to avoid, a life we do not control, a life of suffering, a life of [new] service” (Holloway and Lavender).  Solitude helps us to be recharged for God’s service.  Let’s review once again.  Why solitude?  Because it helps to express ourselves before God’s throne, because it helps to build our trust in God’s strength, because it helps to see life from God’s perspective, because it helps to be more sensitive to God’s family, and because it helps to be recharged for God’s service!

When was the last time, you got away from our hectic pace of life, took a moment to be still, and remember that God is God?  Sometimes, it may require going to the wilderness, to a mountain, or your own hiding place by some brook.  When was the last time that you thought about how your intimacy with God could affect your activity in your world?  If you haven’t ever practiced solitude, why not start today?  Why not ask others here to pray that you’ll have a success start?  Or why not confess to God that your tired of trying to face life alone on your own strength.  Why not confess that Jesus is God’s Son and you need His strength and power to help you overcome the pressures of the world?  Can you honestly say, “Heavenly Father, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I”?