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Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude

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175 Sermon Outlines 137. The Strength of Solitude

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23

1. Solitude Allows Us to Reflect

2. Solitude Helps Us to Heal Our Broken Hearts

3. Solitude Strengthens Us for the Tasks Ahead

Solitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him. It is fasting from social contact in order to remove others from the God/me equation. The value of solitude is that it closes off many relationships so we can focus on one.

Talk about fear of being alone and how this plays out in our lives.
We fill our lives with noise and distractions
We hate being alone.
We look for other people to “complete us”
We look for things to constantly entertain us
We seek experiences to keep us constantly occupied.
We need to be ok though, with being alone with God. It was a critical element of Jesus ministry. He sought solitude with God, to keep him centred in Him.
Mark 1:12 NIV
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
Mark 1:35 NIV
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.
) [Everyone was looking for Jesus, but after his time in prayer he told his disciples that it was time for them to move on to another village.]
Luke 5:15–16 NIV
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
; see also )
Mark 1:45 NIV
Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
; see also )
“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” ()
Mark 2:13 NIV
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee… ‘Come, follow me,’ he said.” ()
)
“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.” () [Everyone was looking for Jesus, but after his time in prayer he told his disciples that it was time for them to move on to another village.]
Mark 2:23 NIV
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.
)
“[Despite Jesus’ plea that his miracles be kept secret] the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (; see also )
“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.” ()
Mark 3:7 NIV
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.
“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples walked along.” ()
Mark 3:13 NIV
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.” ()
)
Mark 4:1 NIV
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.
.
“Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him.” (. See also )
)
Matthew 14:13 NIV
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
“Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables.” (. See also ;.)
Mark 6:31–32 NIV
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
“When Jesus heard [that John the Baptist had been beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” ()
)
Matthew 14:23 NIV
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,
; see also )
“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” ()
Mark 6:46 NIV
After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
)
“After [Jesus] had dismissed [the crowds], he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was [still] there alone.” (; see also )
. See also )
Luke 9:18 NIV
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
“[Jesus] entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.” ()
Matthew 15:29 NIV
Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down.
, ESV)
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?'” (. See also )
“Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there.” (, ESV)
“Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.” ()
“Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.” ()
John 7:10 NIV
However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.
, ESV). [Jesus walked 90 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem, which gave him about five days in solitude.]
[Jesus walked 90 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem, which gave him about five days in solitude.]
“Again [the religious leaders in Jerusalem] sought to arrest [Jesus], but he escaped from their hands. He went away again [walking about five miles] across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him.” (
John 10:39–41 NIV
Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.”
, ESV)
)
“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” (
Mark 10:32 NIV
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.
Mark 14:32 NIV
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Luke 22:39 NIV
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
.) [Apparently Jesus kept silent for most of the 22-mile hike. Luke says Jesus was “resolute” (9:51). He told them that he’d be tortured and killed in Jerusalem.]
.) [Apparently Jesus kept silent for most of the 22-mile hike. Luke says Jesus was “resolute” (9:51). He told them that he’d be tortured and killed in Jerusalem.]
)
Mark 14:26 NIV
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
). This was Jesus’ “usual place” to pray when he was in Jerusalem. ()
Solitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him. It is fasting from social contact in order to remove others from the God/me equation. The value of solitude is that it closes off many relationships so we can focus on one.
“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.'” ()
Solitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him. It is fasting from social contact in order to remove others from the God/me equation. The value of solitude is that it closes off many relationships so we can focus on one.
Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times. Crowds, or the lack of them, have little to do with this inward attentiveness.
It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude. But if we possess inward solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.
Solitude is the opposite of loneliness
Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. - Paul Tillich (Lutheran Theologian)

Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.

—Paul Tillich

Inward solitude has outward manifestations. There is the freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisper better. Jesus lived in inward “heart solitude.”
Jesus and the early Christians practiced solitude. Just before Jesus began His ministry, He spent a full forty days and nights in the solitude of the desert. He emerged in power. Even though He had only a few years to accomplish His earthly work, Jesus arranged His life so that He could slip away from His followers sometimes to be alone.

Jesus and the Early Christians

Jesus and the early Christians practiced solitude. Just before Jesus began His ministry, He spent a full forty days and nights in the solitude of the desert. He emerged in power. Even though He had only a few years to accomplish His earthly work, Jesus arranged His life so that He could slip away from His followers sometimes to be alone. Many of the earliest Christians took solitude so seriously they went into the desert to devote their full time to prayer and study. These desert fathers or desert hermits made great contributions to our understanding of Christianity. They considered time alone with God so critical that they gave their whole lives to it. Most Christians today dismiss these desert fathers as wacky extremists. But our excess today is in the opposite direction—spending too much time with others and not enough time with God. When we escape the social busyness of our modern world to spend time alone with God, we enter into the recesses of God’s own solitude. After all, God Himself both embodies community in the Trinity and is solitary in His separateness from us.

Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth (pp. 96-97). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth (p. 97). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Jesus and the early Christians practiced solitude. Just before Jesus began His ministry, He spent a full forty days and nights in the solitude of the desert. He emerged in power. Even though He had only a few years to accomplish His earthly work, Jesus arranged His life so that He could slip away from His followers sometimes to be alone.
Many of the earliest Christians took solitude so seriously they went into the desert to devote their full time to prayer and study. These desert fathers or desert hermits made great contributions to our understanding of Christianity. They considered time alone with God so critical that they gave their whole lives to it.
Most Christians today dismiss these desert fathers as wacky extremists. But our excess today is in the opposite direction—spending too much time with others and not enough time with God. When we escape the social busyness of our modern world to spend time alone with God, we enter into the recesses of God’s own solitude. After all, God Himself both embodies community in the Trinity and is solitary in His separateness from us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together titled one of his chapters “The Day Together” and the following chapter “The Day Alone.” Both are essential for spiritual success. He writes;
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

The person who cannot stand to be alone is a danger to a group. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us of this in his wonderful book Life Together: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.” After all, what do you bring to any group other than yourself?

Silence

Silence plays a huge role in our pursuit of a heart of solitude.
Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence.
There is an old proverb to the effect that “all those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” Or have you heard the saying we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them accordingly?
Chinese Character “ting”
The upper left part of the symbol stands for ear. We use our ear to hear the words the speaker is saying. The lower left hand part of the symbol is for “king” or “dominant one,” indicating that hearing the words through our ear is the most important part of the listening process.
In the upper right hand part of the symbol, we see mind. Our minds help us understand the words the speaker is saying and the message they contain. Below that is eye. Our eyes allow us to see any nonverbal messages the speaker might be sending.
In the bottom right hand side is heart, and above that, the almost horizontal line translates to “one” or “to become of one.” This tells us that if we listen in this way, with our ears, mind, eyes, and heart, we can become of one heart.
The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear.
The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear.
Control rather than no noise is the key to silence. James saw clearly that the person who could control his tongue is perfect (). Under the Discipline of silence and solitude we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.
The person who views the Disciplines as laws will always turn silence into an absurdity: “I’ll not speak for the next forty days!” This is always a severe temptation to any true disciple who wants to live under silence and solitude. Thomas à Kempis writes, “It is easier to be silent altogether than to speak with moderation.” The wise preacher of Ecclesiastes says that there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak” ().
Control is the key.
In Ecclesiastes we read, “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (). The sacrifice of fools is humanly initiated religious talk.
In the upper right hand part of the symbol, we see mind. Our minds help us understand the words the speaker is saying and the message they contain. Below that is eye. Our eyes allow us to see any nonverbal messages the speaker might be sending.
The preacher continues, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few” ().
In the bottom right hand side is heart, and above that, the almost horizontal line translates to “one” or “to become of one.” This tells us that if we listen in this way, with our ears, mind, eyes, and heart, we can become of one heart.
When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the mountain and was transfigured before them, Moses and Elijah appeared and carried on a conversation with Jesus. The Greek text goes on to say, “And answering, Peter said to them…if you will I will make here three shelters…” (, [italics added]). That is so telling. No one was even speaking to Peter. He was offering the sacrifice of fools.
One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.

How to Begin Practicing Solitude

Find a Place

If you want to try this discipline, the first step is to conceive of a place where you might go—a hermitage. Do you remember a hideout you had as a child? Now find one as an adult. Answer this: If I were going to fast from people contact for several hours, where could I go to find solitude?

Schedule a Time

Set a nonnegotiable appointment with God and stick with it.

Keep Your Expectations Sensible

Don’t expect wild visions and sparkling insight in a few hours. Just expect to wind down a bit and to sense you are in “God’s waiting room.”

Keep the Focus on God

It is possible to be alone in solitude without sensing that you are in God’s presence. Time alone has some benefits, but time alone with God is better. Work at turning your alone time into God time.

Seek One Important Message from God

If you’ve not been practicing this discipline as a means of grace regularly, don’t expect God to unload everything He’s wanted to say to you for years in your first hour together. He is more likely to unfold His words to you over time. At the most, expect only one clear impression each time you slip away with God.

Be Aware of Effect Lag

You may not notice the effect of solitude immediately. The effect may not come for days or even weeks. It may not come at all on the first time you try it. Give this discipline time to change you. Actually, it isn’t the discipline at all; you are giving God himself time to work.

Seek Moments of Solitude in Your Ordinary Day

If you decide to skip this discipline (and you shouldn’t), at least try seeking moments of solitude within your regular daily schedule. You might follow up this reading by treating your daily commute differently. Or plan a walk by yourself this week. Or after supper one night, go sit on the porch for an hour or two, or close the door to your bedroom for a half hour in the morning and lie awake, alone with God. For just one week, you might decide that every time you park your car you’ll take a full five minutes of solitude before getting out.

Try Longer Time Periods

All of the disciplines are not for all the people all of the time. If you discover that the discipline of solitude is a powerful means of spiritual formation in your life, try it for a longer period: perhaps a full day or even a whole week. You don’t need to become a full-time hermit to experience the spiritually transforming power of this discipline, but at least try it some time.

How to Begin Practicing Solitude

Find a Place

If you want to try this discipline, the first step is to conceive of a place where you might go—a hermitage. Do you remember a hideout you had as a child? Now find one as an adult. Answer this: If I were going to fast from people contact for several hours, where could I go to find solitude?

Schedule a Time

Set a nonnegotiable appointment with God and stick with it.

Keep Your Expectations Sensible

Don’t expect wild visions and sparkling insight in a few hours. Just expect to wind down a bit and to sense you are in “God’s waiting room.”

Keep the Focus on God

It is possible to be alone in solitude without sensing that you are in God’s presence. Time alone has some benefits, but time alone with God is better. Work at turning your alone time into God time.

Seek One Important Message from God

If you’ve not been practicing this discipline as a means of grace regularly, don’t expect God to unload everything He’s wanted to say to you for years in your first hour together. He is more likely to unfold His words to you over time. At the most, expect only one clear impression each time you slip away with God.

Be Aware of Effect Lag

You may not notice the effect of solitude immediately. The effect may not come for days or even weeks. It may not come at all on the first time you try it. Give this discipline time to change you. Actually, it isn’t the discipline at all; you are giving God himself time to work.

Seek Moments of Solitude in Your Ordinary Day

If you decide to skip this discipline (and you shouldn’t), at least try seeking moments of solitude within your regular daily schedule. You might follow up this reading by treating your daily commute differently. Or plan a walk by yourself this week. Or after supper one night, go sit on the porch for an hour or two, or close the door to your bedroom for a half hour in the morning and lie awake, alone with God. For just one week, you might decide that every time you park your car you’ll take a full five minutes of solitude before getting out.

Try Longer Time Periods

All of the disciplines are not for all the people all of the time. If you discover that the discipline of solitude is a powerful means of spiritual formation in your life, try it for a longer period: perhaps a full day or even a whole week. You don’t need to become a full-time hermit to experience the spiritually transforming power of this discipline, but at least try it some time.
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