A few weeks ago the teaching director of our Community Bible Study nearly tortured me to death. By this I mean that she had us observe a group time of solitude and prayer. For 20 or 25 minutes, she played soft music, occasionally read us scripture and gave us time to pray and to be in the presence of God.
It sounds blissful, doesn’t it? Except that, as soon as I try to have any solitude in my life, my thoughts start racing. First, to my to-do list. Next, to all the worries and stresses that I have in my life. Then, I start mentally rehearsing all the things I need to say and do for the rest of my day. I don’t actually do well with solitude. I spent 20 minutes (or what felt like an eternity) shoving aside unwanted thoughts and feelings so that I could actually spend time with God.
Yes. I realize that I have a problem.
I pray, but I never actually reach a place of solitude where I can clearly just be with God and enjoy his presence. It’s something that God’s speaking to me about.
I received another invitation, in the form of our teaching director again, to pursue solitude with God. This time, it was in the form of a lecture that she presented to our class on Matthew 14, and I wanted to share some of the points that really resonated with me in case you guys could use some prodding in the form of why we should pursue solitude.
Matthew chapter 14 opens with the death of John the Baptist, and Herod’s theory that Jesus is John the Baptist come to life again. You can read the whole chapter over at Bible Gateway to get a feel for context because I’m just going to focus on half of one verse in this post.
Matthew 14:13 tells us:
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
So we discover in this verse that, on the heels of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus was looking for a place to just be by himself. That’s really the point of solitude. The Webster’s 1828 dictionary simply defines solitude as “Loneliness; a state of being alone; a lonely life.” We often associate solitude with silence, but that’s really a connotation that we place upon it.
As Christians, solitude as a spiritual discipline is a time to pray and meditate on God’s word. A really great article to help you understand the whys behind solitude is this one on Lifeway’s website by Donald S. Whitney. It helped me to understand that solitude is a foundation from which other spiritual disciplines can spring.
However, what are some of the practical benefits we can experience from solitude?
First, spending time in solitude distances us from the distractions of life. You know, all the distractions that I kept shoving to the side in my time of group solitude a few weeks ago. I’m slowly learning that applicationally, when I allow the distractions of life to keep me from drawing closer to God, I’m like the soil in Matthew 13:22, the one that:
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
If I can’t get beyond the distractions of everyday life, I’m not a fruit-bearing Christian because I can only give what I have already received from God. There are a couple of verses that remind me that this kind of stillness is actually a command from God. The first is Psalm 46:10:
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Another set of verses that is very helpful is Lamentations 3:25-26:
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
The second benefit of solitude is that I can gain greater strength from God. How will I ever have his strength to stand on if I can’t go to him and gain that strength? I must have that time to talk to him and to listen for his words. This is a clear example that Jesus sets in gospels, especially in Luke 6 where we are told in verse 12:
In those days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
What does he do in verse 13? He picks his 12 disciples out. If we call on the Lord he will answer us, and he will give us the strength we need to heed his call. Psalm 34:4 tells us:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
The third benefit of solitude is that we will develop a deeper relationship with God. How do you develop a relationship with someone? You spend time with them. It is the same in our relationship with God. Isaiah 1:18 says:
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
A fourth benefit of solitude is that we will develop a deeper trust in God. That is, of course, the outgrowth of a deeper relationship in God. The verse that everyone knows about trusting God is Proverbs 3:5:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Although I’m not great at solitude, I’m starting to work on it. Five minutes at a time are about all I can manage before I’m fighting the urge to reach for my phone or my laptop to look at Facebook or Twitter. How about you? Do you have a time of solitude in your spiritual routine? How do you deal with the things that distract you from solitude?