I’m here to talk to you today about the spiritual discipline of solitude. Now when you first hear that word you probably have a whole bunch of different connotations about it. You might think it sounds like isolation or loneliness, but in fact it is one of the most important disciplines we can have, and it’s the one that really changed my life as a whole – especially as I started studying a little bit more about it in college.
The first time I came across this was while I was thinking about what it was like to prepare for ministry. So I looked at what Jesus did to prepare for ministry. As we know He went off to be prepared to be tempted and went off by Himself for 40 days. He decided it was good idea to be alone and by Himself. As I took that into account I thought about what we usually do to prepare for something. We need to talk to our friends, talk to people we trust, talk to our mentors and to focus on them, but Jesus never really did that.
As I started to look at His ministry a little bit more, every time He got tired and needed to refuel, He went off by Himself. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus often slipped away to be by Himself to pray, to be alone, to be with the Father. I think one of the tragedies we have in our modern culture is that we never go the Father anymore to get information. We go to our friends. We go to a godly person instead of going to God himself. So the spiritual discipline of solitude is all about how to get alone with him.
When I first started doing this I was going to college. I was at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was beautiful there. It’s a busy town and I had a busy life. I was going to school full-time, working full-time for the university and traveling and speaking. So being alone, or having time by myself, was never happening. I never did it. Then I started to really think about what it was like to do this. I started reading a book by Richard Foster called Celebration of Discipline and in that book he talks about the need to get away and to spend time with God. So I decided that I was going to try and do that.
My first couple attempts were just being away from my friends and going to some other place where I could sit and be by myself, and I found out very quickly that everybody found a way to find me in those times. After a week or two of trying it I decided I was going to go off by myself. I found a secluded spot that was not known to most of the community that overlooked the Intracoastal Waterway. I got to see the whole entire city and this became my place. I went there any time I needed to talk with God. To be honest this is really the first place I remember actually conversing with God, having conversation. Being able to speak to Him and hear back from Him. And I think it had a lot to do with eliminating all of my distractions.
I’m a single guy, so I don’t have a family or kids to worry about. I don’t have a wife to be a part of everything I do. So solitude is super easy for me. I can break away whenever I want to. That means solitude needs to be super intentional for you. Intentionality behind this discipline is important because we can find ourselves isolated pretty easily. That’s to be off on our own in a forced state where we don’t have anyone around us that we can be with. That leads to loneliness, whereas solitude leads to accompaniment. It leads to being fulfilled. It leads to being filled up. So when we see the difference between those two it’s healthy to see the bonuses of each one.
Once you are often alone by yourself there are a couple of things I found to be very helpful. First, pray out loud. Don’t pray silently. Actually speak and converse because there’s no one there to really hear what you’re doing and to really understand what’s going on. So you can have your own real conversation with God. Another thing I found that’s helpful to do is to not bring a book, to not bring scripture. Have something that you’re focused on, on your way out there. Have a question that you’re needing answered. Have a desire that you’re wanting to see fulfilled. Take the time to really investigate God. To wonder about Him. To just be all about Him.
The discipline of solitude changed my life. It was where I first was able to talk. First able to hear. And I think it can do the same for you. Our job as youth ministers, as pastors, can be a very draining one. So the need to be filled up is there, it’s existent. And when we ignore it that’s when bad things happen. So my advice, my one thing I would love for you to take from this conversation is to make sure you find time to be alone. Not to be alone by yourself, but be alone with God.