Perched in silence on the rooftop of my apartment, captivated by the Parisian skyline, deeply stirred by the powerful movement of God in and around me.
Crouched on a rocky hillside, secluded from civilization by distance and elevation, breathless from screaming praises and prayers into the Sierra Nevada air.
The physical solitude and speechlessness in these moments is partnered with a profound experience: I had never felt less alone. In those moments I felt known, comforted, and empowered.
Those who know me might be surprised to discover my desire to write on this topic of solitude. Although my extroverted and energetic nature marks the foundations of my personality, over time I have discovered the value of being alone, physically and mentally, with the Lord (Heb 4:16).
We are always in the presence of an infinite, omnipresent God. Physical solitude, therefore, is an opportunity to spend time one-on-one with our Perfect Bridegroom.
Remembering these words of our Lord is incredibly important:
“…behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)
Theologically, those in Christ are in the presence of God always through the Holy Spirit that Christ seals within every believer (John 14:16-17; Acts 2:33; Eph. 1:13).
Christ desires to live in communion with His Church in gatherings of “two or more,” representing the corporate Bride (Matt. 18:20). Salvation, and the desire for intimacy, is simultaneously extended to the individual members of His Church (Matt. 6:6; Rev. 22:17).
Consider this: A husband is purposefully in pursuit of his wife. He wants to know her deeply: quirks, insecurities, strengths, faults, everything. She accepts the invitation to be known by him yet only desires to meet in groups or public. Although she can experience love, acceptance, and grace through his interactions with her in community, can she expect to feel truly known by him?
In the same way, when we limit our experience with God to corporate worship and smaller community, we rob ourselves from the opportunity to be alone, exposed and vulnerable before the throne.
Now consider this: The same husband is alone with his wife and is trying to engage in conversation with her. Meanwhile, she is already so overwhelmed by noises and lights surrounding her that she cannot maintain focus for more than a second or two. By the end of the conversation, she is not only exhausted from juggling stimuli, but she also realizes that the quality and depth of the time was shallow.
Don’t misunderstand me. Reading the daily Desiring God article will increase your spiritual awareness. Music is a powerful tool to help us escape our surroundings. Listening to the latest sermon series on the way to work or on your lunch break is a quality use of time. But is being alone with God without external stimuli even possible? Is silence and complete mental devotion possible on a personal level?
Like most of our culture, I am hyper-sensitive to stimuli. If I am not highly stimulated I cannot function. To sit alone in silence requires discomfort. We yearn to have Hillsong playing in the background of our quiet time. We search for the latest quirky video or thought-provoking spoken word. We hope to be refilled daily reading the Word surrounded by family members at breakfast.
Yet we forget that God often speaks in the silence, solitude, and the waiting (1 Kings 19:11-12; Ps. 46:10; Hab 2:20; Lam 3:25-26).
When Jesus went off to pray, there was no cell phone, iPod, Facebook, or background music to distract Him (Matt 14:13; Mark 1:35, 6:31-32). He demonstrated the power and victory found in humble, intentional, and devoted time with the Father.
One way to pursue solitude is by making a prayer closet, a room which is completely insulated from the outside world, with no media, music, or any external stimuli. Another challenge is to drive to work in silence, talking to God and reflecting on the last thing you read in Scripture.
If you feel completely overwhelmed, take a day to go on a hike by yourself, and don’t bring headphones. Give yourself the opportunity to pause and listen for the voice of God in your life. Don’t drown it out with good-intentioned noise.
Start small; there is plenty of room to grow. The discipline of sitting alone in silence before the Lord is extremely difficult to develop, but begins to draw awareness to our idolatry of being busy.
Beware: solitude to replenish the soul is one thing, while isolation is another. In my past the pendulum has often swung from being over-engaged with people to being completely isolated from the world.
Just like any discipline, there is a threat of idolization. When getting alone with God becomes the primary goal of our spiritual life, we hide the light of the world from the people lost in darkness (Matt. 5:15).
Shine the light of Christ to the world while maintaining the intimacy with the Source. Be filled and then pour yourself out.
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Image Credit: chuddlesworth, Creative Commons