Solitude (Spiritual Discipline Study)

Outward Disciplines


  • Solitude, in this sense is not just about getting off by yourself.  It is all about spending time listening for God.  
  • In this way, I feel that it is attached to meditation that we talked about before, although for solitude, it’s not necessary to be meditating on the word of God, which is what meditation is all about.  Solitude is all about quietening out lives and trying to hear God’s voice.  It’s reevaluating where we are at, and where we think we should be going.
  • The problem is, we live in a society that makes it hard to quiet everything down. With technology as abundant as it is, and how tied to it most of us are, solitude becomes difficult.  
  • I’m not suggesting that we live in complete solitude all the time.  We are built to live in community.  I don’t believe the Christian life can truly be lived in complete solitude.  I’m not even suggesting that we participate in solitude on a weekly or monthly basis.  
  • It is something that we should try to practice three or four times a year, to refocus our lives, and listen for God’s instruction.  We do that through meditation, study, and prayer, but this is on another level.  
  • We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    • “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.
  • We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.
  • Jesus and solitude
    • 40 days in the desert before His public ministry started
    • Matthew 14:13 (after the death of John the Baptist)
      • 13 When Jesus heard about it, he withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed him on foot from the towns.
    • Matthew 14:23 (after feeding the 5,000)
      • 23 After dismissing the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. Well into the night, he was there alone.
    • Mark 6:30-31 (after the disciples returned from doing ministry on their own)
      • 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.
    • Many other examples throughout the gospels
  • Solitude is connected with Silence (one and the same)
    • 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 3:1-12
        • Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is mature, able also to control the whole body. 3 Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we direct their whole bodies. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 Every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish is tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.
      • Under the discipline of solitude and silence 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
        • Control is Key!
        • The disciplined person is the person who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done
        • A person who is under the discipline of silence is a person who can say what needs to be said when it needs to be said
        • If we are silent when we should speak, we are not living in the discipline of silence. If we speak when we should be silent, we again miss the mark.
        • 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.
        • The tongue is a thermometer; it gives us our spiritual temperature. It is also a thermostat; it regulates our spiritual temperature. Control of the tongue can mean everything. Have we been set free so that we can hold our tongue?
          • Bonhoeffer 
            • “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.”
      • Steps into Solitude
        • What are some steps into solitude? The first thing we can do is to take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill our day. Consider the solitude of these early morning moments in bed before the family awakens. Think of the solitude of a morning cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day. There can be little moments of rest and refreshment when we turn a corner and see a flower or a tree. Instead of vocal prayer before a meal consider inviting everyone to join into a few moments of gather silence
        • Develop a quiet place designed for silence and solitude.
        • For me, golf sometimes is about fellowship with others, sometimes trying to meet new people in the community, and then there are times where is is my solitude.
        • Riding a motorcycle
        • Fishing
        • Etc.
  • Let me just give you a few paragraphs from Foster on this discipline.  I don’t know how else to explain it.
    • Let’s discipline ourselves so that our words are few and full.  Let’s become known as people who have something to say when we speak.  Let’s maintain plain speech: do what we say we will do. “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Eccles. 5:5).  
    • When our tongue is under our authority the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer become true of us: “Much that is unnecessary remains unsaid.  But the essential and the helpful thing can be said in a few words.”  
    • Go another step.  Try to live one entire day without words at all.  Do it not as law, but as an experiment.  Note your feelings of helplessness and excessive dependence upon words to communicate.  Try to find new ways to relate to others that are not dependent upon words.  Enjoy, savor the day.  Learn from it.  
    • Four times a year withdraw for three or four hours for the purpose of reorienting your life goals.  This can easily be done in one evening…What do you want to have accomplished one year from now?  Ten years from now?…Don’t you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God?  Don’t you long for something more?  Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to His presence?
  • Solitude is another one of these that we just have to try to practice.  I don’t feel like you can really learn it from a book or a sermon.  You can get the starting point, but really doing it is the only way to truly learn it.  But it is something that is vital at times to help us recalibrate and find that still small voice of God in an overly loud society that wants to keep us busy.

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