freedomfrom fear

Spiritual Disciplines are simply ways for Jesus’ disciples to train and become more like Him. They facilitate honesty, grace, and Mind & soul transformation. Jesus used spiritual practices to cultivate His intimacy with the Father. The Apostles, the Psalmists, and many of our Bible heroes model the importance of using spiritual exercises as a from of worshiping God and “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18).

The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times. I describe them with six key aspects.

Practicing silence and solitude is the most important spiritual discipline for people today. In our busy, noisy world we need to “unhook” and get away to be alone with our Lord.

Jesus’ Example

Jesus began his public ministry with 40 days of withdrawal into the desert wilderness to fast and pray in silence and solitude.  He was alone, hungry, hot and thirsty, surrounded by wild animals, and tested by Satan.  We read this and we feel sorry for Jesus, thinking he was so depleted as to barely survive!

But the truth of Jesus’ fast is that the Father, the Scriptures, and ministering angels strengthened Jesus!  His time alone with God and quietly focused only on him empowered him to resist Satan’s temptations (which came at the end of the 40 days) and it focused and prepared him for his public ministry.

Interspersed throughout Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing, and discipling we see him withdraw from the crowds again and again – often getting up very early to do so – in order to be quiet and alone with the Father (e.g., Mark 1:35, 3:13, 6:31, 46).

Jesus’ Rhythm of Life is the secret to how he got renewed in his Father’s love and empowered by the Spirit for his life and ministry.  In quiet prayer he listened to the Father and received discernment for many things, like picking his 12 Apostles and when to move from one city to the next.

Jesus Taught Quiet Prayer in Solitude

Jesus taught his disciples to follow his prayer practice.  “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to [the twelve apostles], ‘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 6:31-32).

Paul certainly knew very well the importance of silence and solitude.  For instance, after his encounter with the risen Christ he spent three days in solitude and silence for prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9).  Then after being ministered to by Ananias and visiting with the disciples he withdrew to converse with Christ for three years in the isolation of the Arabian desert to converse with Christ (Galatians 1:15-16).

John the Baptist

freedomfrom fear

John the Baptist is another one in the Bible who practiced solitude with God.  He was quite a figure.  Imagine a man who lives in the wilderness with wild animals, dresses in hairy camel skin tied on by a thick leather belt, and exists on a diet of locusts and wild honey!  That’s John the Baptist.  His message was as austere as his desert surroundings: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, NASB).

John lived in the desert with his disciples and hundreds of people came to him there to be baptized and taught.  Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest of all the prophets (all of whom were big on solitude), but John sought no glory for himself.  Instead his life ambition and great joy was to prepare the way for people to go to Jesus, as a friend supports a bride marrying the groom (John 3:29).  He lived by the dictum: “[Jesus] must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT).

Ways to Begin in Quiet, Solitary Prayer

Less obvious is to find quiet interludes during the day to focus our minds on God.  A great way to do this is to devote five minutes or more to using a beloved phrase from the Bible in Abiding Prayer.  Many of us spend time alone driving in the car to work or running errands and this is a great opportunity for silence and solitude if you just turn off the radio and CD player the phone and converse with God.

And it’s immensely valuable to periodically set aside a day or longer for a retreat. Somewhere that is a quiet place that you can be left alone for long periods of time.  Think of this as spending time alone with Jesus, doing something that you want to do with your Best Friend, something that will renew your soul!

Some Cautions

freedomfrom fear

As important as solitude is you shouldn’t enter into it casually or carelessly – especially if you have an extroverted personality!  There are reasons why many people are afraid to be alone, especially without activity or noise.  There are dangerous battles for us to fight in solitude!

“We can only survive solitude if we cling to Christ there. Silence and solitude bring to the surface inner conflicts, distress, and longings.  This can be upsetting or painful, but it is much needed purification!  Whatever issues come up for us can then be brought to the Lord in prayer or shared with a friend later.

What You See And Hear

Once you push through the initial discomfort and challenge of solitude you’ll find that it will bring the wonderful refreshment of God’s peace, “that transcends all understanding” and “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Even when we’re in stressful circumstances we can learn to maintain a silent center, a stillness of soul that flows in God’s peace.  We come into this peace by training with Jesus in silence and solitude.  As we go into the solitary place with the Lord he purges our souls of the distractions, anxieties, and sins that rise to the surface.  Then his Holy Spirit like a dove settles on us and leaves us with the gift of peace, a deep and soul-full sense of well-being.

As Jesus said that it’s the purified heart that receives the blessing of seeing God (Matthew 5:8).  And when God shows us himself or speaks his Word to us we want to pay attention!  So it’s a good idea when you set aside time for a sacred silence to bring your journal and write down what you see and hear.

Learning to Begin Each Day with God

Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that solitude was so valuable in helping him to listen to God’s Word and center his mind on God that he practiced it at the start and end of every day:

“We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God… Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.  But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned” (Life Together, p. 79).

Learning to Practice God’s Presence

Solitude with God is about more than purifying peace and hearing God’s voice, it’s about being empowered to maintain our focus on God continually, to live conscious of and interactive with God’s presence moment-by-moment as we go about the activities of our day:

“The “desert” or “closet” is the primary place of strength for the beginner, as it was for Christ and Paul… In stark aloneness it is possible to have silence, to be still, and to know that Jehovah indeed is God (Psalm 46:10), to set the Lord before our minds with sufficient intensity and duration that we stay centered upon him – our hearts fixed, established in trust (Psalm 112:7-8) – even when back in the office, shop, or home” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 162).

Silence, Solitude, and Love for Others

The ultimate test of the value of silence and solitude is if they empower us to love others – if we’ve truly been with the God of love and his love has purified us and put us at peace then we’ll love others.  So we need to realize that silence isn’t something only for when we’re alone; it’s also about learning to control our tongue in our relationships.

In solitude and silence we go into training with Jesus so that we can bring him and his wisdom and grace into our relationships with others.