When we think of spiritual disciplines, many come to mind. There is the discipline of prayer, the discipline of reading the Bible, the discipline of giving monetarily. Disciplines are replete throughout the Bible. One of the most commonly talked about is that of fellowship (John 13:34-35, Acts 2:42). It is talked of as a togetherness, a partnership; one that is only made possible through Jesus Christ. Perhaps one of the most common passages that defines for us fellowship is Hebrews 10:24-25. As Christians we are called to stir up one another to do good works, to meet together, and to encourage one another looking toward the day when Christ comes again. Not only do we see the command to fellowship throughout the Bible, we see Christians living out this command. Most notably is Paul who commends fellow believers in his letters (Romans 16, Philippians 4:2-3, Colossians 4:7-17).
However you’ll notice the title of this post is not “The Discipline of Fellowship” but “The Discipline of Solitude.” If fellowship is a group of Christians meeting together to encourage and stir each other up all for the glory of God, then solitude is a lone Christian setting the day to day aside, quieting his heart, and voluntarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes such as our own personal worship or prayer. And it is to the glory of God as well. How are we to do this? One need only look to our Lord and Savior for an example of solitude (Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12-13, Matthew 14:33). Or throughout the Psalms (Psalm 131:2, Psalm 46:10, Psalm 62:5). Solitude is altogether Biblical. And a healthy Christian does both and does both well. Fellowship and solitude. Solitude and fellowship. In a book I am currently reading called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he has this to say about both: “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 perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”
You can think of such times of solitude as your own personal retreats. It really is so simple: get away, get alone, and get quiet. Before I share my thoughts on the discipline of solitude in practice, I have to admit that I do not do solitude well. It is something that is sorely lacking in my own life. There is just too much to do I say! But that’s really it isn’t it? “What requires more faith, to work or to rest?” asks noted Bible teacher Derek Prince. The answer is the latter. It is so much harder to rest than it is to work! What a challenging question it is for our faith. And what a contradiction the Christian walk is to the world. In a study done by a group of researchers from the University of Chicago and Jiaotong University in Shanghai, it was concluded that busier makes for happier. That it takes a supreme effort to be still while it takes the smallest of reasons to start doing something. How characteristic of the world! And how contrary it is to how Christians must live.
With that in mind, here are some practical steps to take for your own times of solitude.
- First would be to get away from any temptation to do something. Away from your computer, from textbooks, maybe even away from your cellphone. The temptation might arise to bring some form of communication so if an emergency arises you’ll know, but you’ll find that yourself checking the phone constantly and being distracted (Or perhaps you don’t have this problem, but I share this out of my own inability to relax).
- Identify things to bring. Bring your Bible to meditate on Scripture, bring your journal to record down your thoughts, bring your music to listen to some soul enriching hymns.
- Then pick a place, a place where you can think, a place where you can marvel at God the Creator creating His creation.
- And finally it is a good idea to plan in advance. Think about your purpose for taking a retreat. For myself, without a clear goal in mind I will find my mind drifting off and find myself wasting a large chunk of my time if not all of it.
Think about your own personal times of solitude; whether those times last hours or minutes. How are those times? Do you find them productive? I find that these times of solitude really help realign my heart with God. And make no mistake, solitude is a discipline and discipline is hard. Yet it is necessary. It is commanded.
“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God…’”
(Psalm 46:10a ESV)