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Silence & Solitude

Today for most that live in the 21st century, the art of silence and solitude is something a bit strange and foreign, something perhaps nice ... but not very realistic. In fact much of the Western culture conditions us to be comfortable with noise and crowds, not with silence and solitude. When we think of Christian silence and solitude, it should always be to the glory of God and the purposes of godliness - which is distinguished from any other sort of silence & solitude. Many times when we think of silence and solitude we tend to think of a monastic lifestyle only for the few that decide to sequester themselves away from society up in the mountains or in the desert. Or perhaps the hermit types, those 'weird people' that don't go out very much. But there is plenty of biblical evidence (and extra-biblical evidence throughout church history) to lead us to learn and practice a rhythm of silence and solitude in our walk of faith.

Let's start out with a couple of quick working definitions.

  1. The discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. Sometimes silence is observed in order to read, write, pray, and so on. Though there is no outward speaking, there are internal dialogues with self and with God. This can be called "outward silence." Other times silence is maintained not only outwardly but also inwardly so that God's voice might be heard more clearly.

  2. Solitude is the spiritual discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. This can often last for minutes, or perhaps even days or weeks. Silence and solitude can be distinguished from one another, but are most often practiced together.

Let's just take a look at our Lord Jesus as an example of some of these disciplines:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." (Mat 4:1)

"After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone," (Mat 14:23)

"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)

"At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them." (Lk 4:42)

Obviously we see Jesus taking time, even at the expense of other important things (and even when other people tried to stop him from doing so), to deliberately remove himself in order to connect with his Father. I believe it is vitally important that we develop and exercise this spiritual discipline as our Lord did during his days on earth. (c.f. Heb 5:17 - at least some of these fervent cries and tears were done in solitude ... though obviously not outward silence).

If you have ever practiced these disciplines then undoubtedly you understand their benefits (and their difficulties to practice), but if you haven't ... here are a few of the many benefits of getting away and quieting ourselves before the Lord:

To hear the voice of God better

  • This is perhaps one of the more obvious reasons and benefits to get away from the noise and bustle of our daily lives, to intentionally put ourselves in the position to hear God's gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

To express worship to God

  • It is not only in song and prayer that we worship our Lord, but in our silence before him as well. (Hab 2:20; Zep 1:7)

To express faith in God

  • The simple act of silence before the Lord, as opposed to coming to Him in a wordy fret can be a demonstration of faith in Him. (Ps 62:1-2)

To seek salvation of the Lord

  • Not only should we encourage those nonChristians seeking salvation from sin in Christ, but also us as believers seeking God's salvation from various circumstances. (Lam 3:25-28)

To be physically and spiritually renewed

  • Perhaps one of the most ignored and violated principles in God's people, the practice of Sabbath. Jesus taught to come away and rest. (Mark 6:31)

To regain a spiritual perspective

  • Many times we need to keep our mouths shut in order for our minds and hearts to be open. (Luke 1:20)

To seek the will of God

  • This is perhaps one of the most obvious, and most naturally practiced by believers, applications of silence and solitude - to discern God's will in various matters (especially "big" decisions in our life). Jesus seems to show this kind of solitude with the Father when he chooses the twelve, (Luke 6:12-13)

To learn to control the tongue

  • Perhaps a less obvious application to these spiritual disciples is the fact that it teaches us to control our tongues by voluntarily not speaking (much like fasting does toward our self control as well). Sometimes all we need to to be able to experience the fact that we can go a few hours (or days) without talking! (Jam 1:19, 26; 3:2; Prov 17:27-28; Ecc 3:7)

With our unprecedentedly hyperconnected and busy lives, how can we actually find any time or energy to do any of this? Here are a few suggestions to help us begin to implement these spiritual disciplines and reap their benefits:

The "minute retreat"

  • Try taking one minute, perhaps during your commute to work, during a work break, as you pray before a meal ... maybe even when you have been placed on hold for a phone call!

Have a goal of daily silence and solitude

  • Doing anything consistently is extremely difficult, this is no exception. But just as the person who rarely exercises struggles with both a brief climb up the stairs and a 3 mile run, the one who jogs everyday consistently has no trouble with either. So it is with the person who has a time of daily spiritual exercises.

Try getting away

  • This is perhaps the most difficult, and for some seemingly impossible, way to practice these disciplines, but can be the most rewarding. (I personally try to do an overnight personal spiritual retreat a couple times a year). Getting away for an extended time of silence and solitude may be nothing more than finding an empty room in your home or church for a few hours. Or it could be going to a retreat center or some secluded place for several days or even weeks (if you have the life circumstances to support such an endeavor). Though these types of get aways are amazing, don't wait until the circumstances are perfect, because they never will be, but instead just go ahead and put it on your calendar. And just remember, you can sleep if you must, but try not to inadvertently misspend your time but instead come up with a plan before you go on how you will spend your time.

Our enemy the devil knows the power of the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude with our Lord, so he is constantly bombarding us with any distraction, responsibility, or other desires he can use to make sure that he keeps us busy, noisy, and generally distracted and unfocused. Let us know be unaware of his schemes. (2 Cr 2:11; Eph 6:11)


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