“In loneliness, I have no one but myself. In solitude, I have my God.”
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6
That our God speaks in the silence and solitude we give to Him is one of the most important understandings for our spiritual formation. Think of the great figures of the Old Testament era who experienced conversational relationships with their God. Jesus was often alone in solitude with His Father, and the early believers heard conversed with their God as well. Throughout the history of the new covenant era we find a significant stream of believers who knew their God intimately and conversationally. The historical record of the practice of hearing God is so prominent that we should be bewildered by its apparent absence among us today.
How did these people come to know their God with such intimacy and conversational communion? We too easily assume it was because they were “special,” that they were somehow singled out for this life. I find no evidence for that they were somehow special or singled out. More likely it is because the simpler, quieter lives they lived, with most days being rich with both silence and solitude, created the optimal conditions for conversational communion with their God. They lived lives characterized by greater solitude every day than most modern believers can imagine. For us today, life is far too busy for any significant solitude.
Key to effective solitude is making adequate time for it. Five minutes, or even 25 minutes for solitude is for most people not enough time to clear one’s thinking and engage the Holy Spirit in a meaningful conversation. We often rely on the myth of “quality time” to justify only fleeting periods of solitude. “I will give my God the next few minutes, but it will be quality time.” Quality time can only extend from quantity time. Try telling your employer that you are only going to be at work for 23 hours of the next 40-hour week, but expect full pay because it will be “quality time.” Or giving your children only three or four hours of direct, undistracted attention each week, convincing yourself it will be enough because it is “quality time.” It takes quantity time to produce quality time. There are no shortcuts.
Our God is continually speaking to us today, every day. The enemy of our souls, Satan, who rules over all the world is hell-bent on keeping us from hearing our God. He has engineered society to drown out the voice of God and distract the world from listening for it. Sadly, the organized church has bought into that society wholeheartedly. One will rarely encounter God in the silence if one seeks that encounter in the organized church, with its dependence on programs that are overly planned, fast-paced, and time-limited. Viewing hours for God will never produce conversational communion.
Those who would know their God intimately and enjoy conversational communion with Him must cultivate a hearing heart and a listening life. This will require significant solitude. It will also require unstructured time with other believers in which they jointly experience the solitude of true koinonia-based communion. More on that group-communion topic in the next post.
How do we develop a habit of solitude and conversational communion? The first step is to create what Juliet Funt calls “white space.” On a page, white space is the open, uncluttered areas of the page that frame and enhance the printed content. In a life, white space is the open, uncluttered time and space given to the processes that enhance and give meaning to living and productivity.
We will never find white space in our western-style living. It is not there, for we are too busy. We must make white space. That will require dedicating significant time to solitude and silence. That dedication of time will require saying no to many things we now experience and discarding them. It will mean saying no to more things that come our way, even good things. The good is often the enemy of the best.
It will mean saying yes to greater simplicity, believing that in life, less is truly more. In my life this has meant changing my career to create white space. Reducing my material foot print significantly to create white space. Living free of television (since my college days), most movies, and almost all radio to create white space. Reading fewer things -and no fiction – to create white space. Rising early in the day, for white space is found most often in the early mornings.
What have I missed by creating significant white space in my life? Nothing of value in any sense of the word. The material and experiential distractions we crave today are only attractive because we have believed the lies commonly told about them. They add no value to true living, and they prevent true living from taking place.
“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” John Maeda
“One of the strange things about God is that He will come in as far as we allow Him. I have often said that a Christian is as full of the Holy Spirit as he wants to be. We can beg to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We can talk about it, but until we are willing to empty ourselves, we will never have the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God will fill as much of us as we allow Him to fill.” ― A.W. Tozer