Is our cultural dependence on group work, social networking and entertainment inadvertently conditioning us to think that our lives are somehow empty or shallow when we take time out to be quietly introspective? If so, this would represent a spiritual blind spot we should all consider carefully. We rightly see that God lives in community—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and so should we. But many have to come to believe this to an extreme, often unconsciously. We hold on to the feeling, the hidden sense that somehow Matthew 18:20 is pretty much the key to unlocking the perfect spiritual life. What does Matthew 18:20 say? “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” And we collaborate to live a communal Christian experience.
Now Jesus obviously wasn’t wrong, but He wasn’t telling us to make our lives a fishbowl and swim like sardines either. The Bible also says to “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) There is strength in community, BUT (and this is where I’m going with all this) Jesus doesn’t just have a relationship with us. He has a relationship with you. He has a personal relationship with each individual who has invited Him into his or her life as Savior and Lord. The blind spot is that when it comes to our faith and having a personal relationship with the Lord, we’ve gotten really good at the relationship part, but we’ve pretty much abandoned the personal. And that’s not healthy. We need to find a balance.
Jesus understood the personal aspect of his relationship with God and He made it a priority in His life. As much time as He spent teaching to multitudes and living with his disciples, He also took special pains to get alone with God. In Matthew 4:1, Jesus goes out into the dessert on a 40 day fast. He is alone during that time. And although in our culture today He gets tempted by Satan at what we would think of as His weakest moment, first century readers would understand exactly the opposite; after 40 days of solitude He’s ready to conquer the world He created. It’s not about physical weakness, but spiritual strength. Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35 and Luke 4:42 each record similar times when Jesus left the crowds behind to go be alone with God. Jesus wasn’t afraid to be alone, to step away from the hurry and embrace a quiet moment alone with His heavenly father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, in His final moments before the crucifixion, what happens? He leaves the 12, takes only 3. Then leaves them. (Matthew 26)
But what does is mean to be alone with God? Silence and Solitude are disciplines often practiced in conjunction with other spiritual disciplines; fasting, prayer, Bible study, Bible reading and meditation to name a few. They are often, however, crowded out by the urgency of life. We hurry to get through our “quiet time” when we bother to have one at all. Our minds are often so crowded with other things that we simply try to go through the motions of discipline without ever actually giving ourselves over to it, and we wonder why God seems so far from us…
READ: In Matthew 7:25-30 Jesus makes certain assumptions here in this passage. Have you seen the birds? Have you learned about the wildflowers? THAT is a practice of silence and solitude.
- It has been said that “hurry” is the greatest enemy of spiritual Life. Why?
- When you think of Silence and Solitude as a spiritual discipline, what comes to mind?
- Are you ever so caught up in the motions of spiritual disciplines that you forget the reason behind them? Why or why not?
- Many people confuse information with transformation when it comes to spending time in God’s word. What is the difference and why is it important?
- What is your favorite thing to do that makes you feel closer to God?
- We live in a fast-paced culture and expect quick simple answers for everything. Is that a realistic approach to our spiritual life? Why or why not?
- The idea of practicing Silence and Solitude can be intimidating to many Christians. Why should we not be afraid of them?
- We often come before the Lord too distracted to focus on what we’re really doing. What helps you calm your mind so you can focus on God when you approach a quiet time with Him?
- More often than not, fatigue is the number one obstacle to spending time alone with God. (Just ask the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus was arrested!) Is a sleep deficit really that big a deal? Should sleep be a more important priority in your life?
PRAY: Thank God for the example of Jesus in scripture. Confess the distractions that have kept you from being alone with Him and listening. Ask Him to help to calm your heart and mind as you practice being still before Him.
ACT: Set aside 10 minutes a day for the next 30 day and get alone with God. Completely isolated. No music. No people visible nearby. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to, but get truly alone for ten minutes. Ask God to speak to your heart, and just listen. Bring a Bible, a pen and paper if you want, but lock the world outside and see what happens. And be patient. Like anything else you’re not real god at, it take practice to really get the benefits down pat.
RESOURCES: A lot of this was inspired by Susan Cain’s TED Talk on the Power of Introverts.