When God wants to shape a man’s soul He often calls him to solitude. If we want to know God, and grow more in Christ-like character, faith and power we will follow Jesus and intentionally put ourselves into solitude with Him. And as time goes by we will begin to enjoy it and even long for it.
The Loneliness of Life and Ministry
There is a kind of loneliness as a Christian that is very real and very deep. For years as a young believer in Christ I felt alone in my own home — you may have experienced that. You come to know God in a personal way and are filled with joy, peace and purpose. But when you go home there is no one there who shares it or even understands it. So you must keep it in your heart. It is a lonely experience.
Christian ministry, too, can be quite lonely. After you give all of yourself on a Sunday – preaching your heart out and helping the people with counseling and prayer – you might return home to an empty room. Or you might get up on Monday and there is no one there. It is an empty feeling – it sometimes even feels like God is far away from you.
At home with someone in your family you might also feel an emotional distance. Though you are all in the same room eating together you might feel a million miles away. You are not close as you would hope — this too is loneliness. Though you are with the ones you love, they are not close to your heart.
Jesus – A Man of Solitude
The Lord Jesus knew human loneliness. He knew the pain of friends that misunderstood Him or even deserted Him. It must have been incredibly lonely at times. But Jesus was different from us in one thing – unlike us He intentionally and frequently put Himself in places of solitude where He experienced our Father. There He was set free from the bondage of people’s opinions and needs. Alone with God, He reaffirmed His calling and life purpose. In solitude, He knew Himself as God’s Son—the Son of God.
It is possible to turn loneliness into real solitude. It is a journey and it takes practice, but it can happen. And if it can happen in times of intentional solitude, it can then flow into the rest of your life.
As you begin to put yourself in a quiet, solitary place it could feel quite lonely, or you can turn it into solitude with God your Father. And if you do it many times in the next year God will use it to change you in a deep way. This has been my experience and the experience of other disciples of Jesus.
The Person You Really Are
Years ago I realized that I was not the man I wanted to be—in my attitude, character and in some of my lifestyle choices. But mostly I felt I did not know God well. If people looked at me, I do not think they would have said, “There is a man who knows God deeply.” Sure, I knew the Lord at some level and had studied many things, but it was not the longing of my life to know Him and love Him. Instead, I wanted to serve the Lord. But serving Him and knowing Him are two different things.
Many years ago I had read a book that taught the importance of solitude for a follower of Jesus – The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard. Though I had underlined many things and had gained the knowledge, I had failed to put that knowledge into practice.
An entire decade passed. I experienced great frustration and loss and a lack of joy. I was tired.
Through God’s dealings with me I began to see that I needed to get alone with Him in a very different way. I had tried over many years to do this through the normal “devotion time.” But this did not do much for me. I needed something more. I began to see that Jesus’ way was long hours of solitude on certain days.
I took Willard’s book off the shelf and read again – incredulous at my own lack of life application from ten years ago as I studied it. I determined that no matter what, I would put into practice the core truths from Jesus’ life that He modeled for His disciples. I actually wanted to follow not only His teachings, but also His way of life. The core truth I found was this — the two disciplines that are the foundation for all the others are solitude and meditation on chunks of Scripture. So I decided to make these more prominent in my life.
Beginning to Climb the Mountain – Solitude and Soul Resilience
I intentionally began to put myself in places of solitude. I went to parks near my home and places in the countryside that I loved – and I just spent time with God. I did not go there to work on my sermons or to do any kind of church ministry.
I climbed mountains and basked in God’s beautiful creation. If ministry took me near the coastline, I would spend hours by the ocean.
Sometimes, from my house on a Monday, I would ride my bike for two hours down a country road, sit on some grass in a quiet place for several hours, and eat a simple lunch and write in my journal. Sometimes I would sit on my bed at night and listen to simple worship music that focused on Scripture over and over again.
In most of these places, I would spend time singing, talking, writing, and being with God. I would also muse over portions of Scripture — the same portion for several months or years, until it became very familiar to me. I began to call Him “Father” from my heart and to see myself as His son. It was “Father and son” time, and I began to feel it.
Though it was not easy to do at first, as I began to practice solitude and to focus my thoughts on longer passages of Scripture it became easier and easier. And here is something very encouraging — I began to enjoy it and see real benefit. I actually began to desire those times.
My point is not to tell you that there is a certain way of doing this. I just want to let you know that I have come to enjoy solitude. It has taken my loneliness away, to a large extent. It has helped me to become a healthier leader, a better husband, a better friend and a much humbler and transparent man.
I think this happened because in solitude we face God and face ourselves and only then can we face the world with our true, honest selves. The healthy you, the one who has faced God and yourself, is the one the world needs — a person of integrity, depth and humility – one who can bring something from God to the world.
The world, the church, your family, your spouse or your children—they all need to see the healthy and humble you. But you have to face yourself first, and the only way to face yourself is to be before God. One very good way to be before God is to practice real solitude.
We know Jesus did this often. How about us as His disciples? Do we follow Him in this way? Years ago I could not say I was. Today, I can say I have begun to follow Him in this way of solitude. You too can be His follower in this way.
A Healthy Mindset for Doing Solitude with Jesus
- Do not think about it in terms of success or failure, or about what you can get out of it. We often measure things based on production. Solitude is just the opposite. You might not get any benefit from it right away, and that is okay. You might be bored or tire of it quickly or be bugged by mosquitoes. If you are out there, I hope you would think of Jesus who spent more than a month being alone in the hot sun and facing cold nights with nothing to eat. He was not physically comfortable much of the time. In fact, it was probably uncomfortable. So, you might be uncomfortable. And that is okay. Solitude is slow, and its effects on you will come slowly, over time. We are just in elementary school. Give it time.
- Don’t be afraid to face yourself all alone. This is what people are afraid of in our society. No one wants to be alone. So they fill their lives with people and things, and they are in bondage to those voices. The only way to break that bondage is to be alone frequently, and to face yourself and God.
- Sometimes when I go out, I just look at the grass. I think about how insignificant I am. I think about how small I am and how short my life is and about the words of Scripture, “All men are like grass…the flower falls, the grass withers, but the Word of the Lord endures forever (Isaiah 40:8).”
- Sometimes I look at the birds—Jesus actually told us to look and consider the birds and the flowers. I think about God’s plan for providing for every living thing on the earth. The birds just live for today, flying and gathering their food and singing. The Father cares for them. He cares much more for me.
- Sometimes I just sit there and listen to my breathing and think about my past life or about my future in eternity.
- At some point in your time of solitude, ask a question. After an hour of quiet, I take a question that opens up a conversation with God. “God, who are you?” or “Father, who am I?”
- Certainly do meditate on a chunk of Scripture. Go over and over it again and again, thinking about each phrase and praying each idea into your life.
- Feel free to sing as a son or daughter of the Father. Walk and talk to Him. Relax and talk openly and freely with God. Tell Him how much you are looking forward to being together in His presence in eternity.
- Write in your journal. We quickly forget what we have asked or experienced or learned. Write it down and later this will be a great blessing. Try writing a letter to God or writing a letter to you from God about your life right now.
- Don’t try to do too much. Just doing 1 or 2 things is fine.
Part 2: The Practice
Take your Bible, pen, and journal (and towel to sit on if you prefer) and go on a walk to a place where you will spend the next two hours or so. Your walk should be no longer than 15-20 minutes. (This is not a hike. Your goal is to find a place for solitude and spend most of your time there. Hiking can be a part of your time, but first find a place of quiet to sit for a while.) The location should be a place where you can be alone and sing and know that no one will hear you. It is good to find a place by a small stream or in a meadow or on a mountainside or seaside.
1: Drawing near to God
Give him your burdens, thank Him for His grace in each situation, and worship Him for who He is in each situation.
Sit or lie down or stand and just be quiet. Thank God for the time to be alone with Him and ask Him to turn your loneliness into solitude.
Put your palms facing downward in your lap. Let any bothersome thoughts or worries come to your mind, and then turn them over to the Lord one-by-one.
Each time the Lord brings to mind something you are worried about, breathe out deeply and say, “Lord, I give _____ to you.”
This may take 5 minutes or 10 or 20. Patiently wait and one by one give these situations to God—lay them down in His almighty hands. You may also bring your emotions to Him one by one and tell Him why you feel that way. “Lord, I give my loneliness to you. Sometimes I feel no one understands me.” The main action of your soul at this point is truly releasing to God these worries.
After no more worries come, turn your palms up and receive from God His grace for each of those situations, one by one. As we release an area of worry to God, He is there to provide for our needs. He gives and we receive. Breath in deeply with each thing you are receiving from God. “Lord, I receive your (grace, power, provision, care, love, comfort) in __________ situation.
After you have received God’s provision for each area of worry, now you can raise your hands and voice to Him in praise and worship for who He is in each situation — a provider, a protector, a good shepherd, a mighty warrior, a nearby friend, a comforter, etc. Of course you cannot keep your hands raised for a long time, but it is the attitude of your heart that counts.
You may sing to God a song He puts in your heart or read a psalm to Him, or tell Him your gratitude.
- Palms down — release the burdens of your heart.
- Palms up — receive the grace of God in each situation.
- Palms raised — praise God for who He has revealed himself to be.
- Palms together — intercede for those people He puts on your heart.
One cannot overemphasize the importance of actually releasing things to God as Father, Provider, Protector, Creator, and Friend. Unless we have truly let go of our rights to control and worry over a matter, then it is impossible to seek His will about it or to experience His peace. Take all the time you need in the first step because it is the most important one.
2: Revelation from God
In part one we focus on laying down the things of our heart. In part two we focus on asking God to reveal things to us about Himself, about us, or about our Christian life. His big three ways of revelation are: Nature, Scripture, or the Holy Spirit.
As God to open your eyes so that you may see more of Him in His creation. Open your eyes and ears and senses of touch and smell and seek for God to show you things as you sit or walk. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Scripture passages like Psalm 104 and Psalm 8 tell us that God is “displaying” things about Himself in nature.
Spend time in some longer passages of Scripture. Isaiah 40, Psalm 103, Psalm 139, and Psalm 23 wonderfully show us big answers to the big questions: God, who are you? God, who am I? God, what do you want me to do?
A time of solitude can be shaped by a question you ask the Lord. Bring to Him a question of your life or ministry or family. It could be “Lord, teach me more about love and loving others.” Or “Father, how can I deal with loneliness?” or “Why do I get so angry sometimes, Lord? Teach me more about my own soul.” Your question could be about life itself, “Lord, I want to know more about the meaning of life.” If you are not sure what question to ask, make this your question. “Lord, what question would you want me to ask you?”
Questions are a part of a relationship. It means you have come to that one for wisdom and you are willing to listen and learn.
3: Response to God in body, mind and spirit.
Your first hour or two will be in the areas of drawing near to God to enjoy His presence and care for your life, and then seeking His revelation. The last part of your solitude time is a time to respond.
You may respond in many ways.
- Write in a journal the things God has shown you and what you feel This is very important as our memories are so poor at remembering our close times with God. In later years you can read on what you have learned and you will see many things about yourself and God.
- Sing a song. Do not underestimate the sheer power of breaking out in song. It is a merging of soul and body in the truth of God’s presence. This is something we are both invited and commanded to do and even if you do not have a great voice singing a simple chorus or hymn to God will do a deep work in your soul.
- Talk to God and tell Him what you learned and how you felt.
- Creative responses: paint a painting; write a poem; dance!
- Walk. I often go for a walk and sense that the Lord is walking near me. The wonderful effect of doing solitude and releasing things to Him is that you just keep the conversation with your Father going. You are filled with gratitude and it becomes a walk of quietness, joy, and fellowship with God as your father.
- Pray for others. Perhaps at no other time do I feel I have become an intercessor as I have during solitude. Because I have given over everything again to God’s will I am free to pray according to God’s will for my family, church, ministry and even myself. Most of us are not gifted in praying for others. But I have found out there in solitude there is time, my heart is prepared, and I begin to enjoy praying on the behalf of others.
- _____________ (you will find your own unique ways to respond).
4: Returning Home Prepared in Your Spirit
I often end my time of solitude with the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Had I asked God that question as soon as I started my solitude I would not have been truly listening or ready for the answers. But by the end I actually mean it when I say, “I will do whatever you ask.” Seeking God‘s will or guidance in a matter is certainly a part of solitude. And we may set apart a day of solitude just for that purpose. But as for the normal practice, the goal is drawing close, laying down things and enjoying Him and His creation. After doing that I often have a sense of what He wants me to do in some areas of my life. But I like to ask the question and listen for His answer. Sometimes it’s surprising. Other times, it’s something I’ve known for a long time.
As you drive home, ask God to prepare your heart to see people the way He sees them. Also ask Him to prepare you for any pressing need that might hit you the moment you walk in the door. Ask Him to help you keep your mind stayed on Him and to keep you in His complete peace, living in His presence as Jesus did with each person He met. And when you forget Him for a few minutes, or hours, like Brother Lawrence just pray, “Lord, this is how I am unless you help me. Thank you for reminding me that you are here.”
Join Brent for an online training in this very discipline tomorrow!
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