“Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and poise and clamour of the world.” – Oswald Chambers
“And in the morning very early, Jesus arose and went out to a solitary place, and there prayed.” Mark 1:35
Solitude is one of the most basic and important practices of the Christian faith. And one of the most uncommon practices of the Christian faith. The majority of believers in western Christianity appear to be like those the prophet Isaiah was speaking of in Isaiah 30:15 (GNT), “The Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says to the people, “Come back and quietly trust in me. Then you will be strong and secure.” But you refuse to do it.” We have fallen victim to the three enemies of our faith as identified by Richard Foster: hurry, noise, and crowds. True solitude is uncommon and disconcerting as a result. Silence, a key component of true solitude, is both foreign and uncomfortable for us. When we do get time alone in a quiet place, we are in the habit of filling that time and place with stimulation – television, ear buds, radio, books, magazines, internet surfing. We have no idea what is meant by the injunction in Psalm 46:10 to cease striving, relax, be still and know that our God is indeed God.
The result is that there are few who know their God, who are intimate companions with Him. Even though to know Him and be intimate with Him are the central themes of the new covenant and the Kingdom of God – themes oft-repeated in the scriptures – the majority has followed the leading of the world in filling every nook and cranny of our living with hurry, noise, and crowds. The language our God uses to speak to us is sometimes referred to as the language of silence, and it is a foreign language in most churches today. Sadly, I have heard no more than a small handful of pastors ever speak of solitude and of knowing God intimately, and fewer who know enough to speak publicly about these important disciplines.
Perhaps the best description of how our God speaks to us in the language of silence comes from 1 Kings 19, the account of Elijah encountering his God on the mountain. While there seeking refuge from those out to kill him, Elijah is met by God, who grants to Elijah an opportunity to experience His presence in a dramatic encounter. The Lord God sent first a “great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord.” The Lord was not in the wind, nor was He in the great earthquake that followed, or in the fire that came after the earthquake. In verse 12 is finally revealed the manner in which the Lord expresses Himself to Elijah – a voice that is described as a “still small voice” or a “gentle whisper.” The Hebrew account is even more dramatic, for it uses words that mean a “voice that is a thin or small, quiet, calm and silent like a breath.”
If this is how our God speaks to us – and I have found that He usually and often speaks in this “voice” – we will have a difficult time hearing Him in the midst of hurry, noise, and crowds. This includes most corporate worship services as well, for we have programmed and amplified them to the point of drowning out any quiet, silent voice. We cannot hope to reliably or consistently hear the voice if we are not reliably and consistently in the habit of solitude with our God. If we would draw near to our God in oneness and communion through the Holy Spirit, we must invest significant time in the silence and solitude alone with Him. Unplugged, unhurried, undistracted solitude. Jesus is our model for this as He departed from the hurry, noise, and crowds of His ministry and disciples to spend time alone with His Father, often all night long. If he needed solitude to converse with His Father, how much more so for us?
The speaking of our God to us by His Holy Spirit is not a rare occurrence; it happens continually. It is the hearing of Him that is rare in the experience of most believers. The volume and pace of our living drowns out the voice of silence, so we largely miss His speaking. For most, even in the silence the voice is not recognized because we have not cultivated what Hannah Hurnard referred to as “a hearing heart.” What relationship that is easy and comfortable in terms of conversation becomes so without communion and significant time conversing, listening, and honestly communicating? None. We will learn to recognize the voice that is speaking often to us in the silence when we have begun to live in conversational communion with the Holy Spirit. That conversational communion will develop in solitude, alone and unplugged, focused upon the Holy Spirit.
“Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it” – Thomas Merton
“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich