WEEK 4: Solitude & Silence
‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10
This statement, one of the best known in the Psalms, comes in the middle of a great declaration about God fighting for His people. It begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’ (Psa. 46:1).
From the failure of the Israelites to trust God to give them the promised land – resulting in the forty years of wandering in the wilderness – to the faith of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther – who relied on God to save their people and bring the remnant back into the land – this is one of the great lessons that is hammered home again and again throughout the Old Testament. God will fight for us! God will provide for us! God will watch over and care for us! But only if we trust Him and stop trying to do everything ourselves.
Having looked earlier at fellowship and our call to love other believers and spend time with one another, now we look at separating ourselves from others and from the hustle and bustle, the noise and activity of the world. As we turn our attention to our daily lives in this week of studies, we will be considering the twin areas of solitude and silence. While these two provide a basis for other areas of discipline, they are also valuable in their own right, and we will look at what they involve and how they help us in our relationship with God.
Day 1: Taking Time Out
‘Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him.’ Lamentations 3:28
‘Alone’ and ‘in silence’ – not a natural state for most of us in this world of activity, noise and constant distraction. Apart from being in bed, when was the last time you were really alone and truly still and quiet? When was the last time you even considered such a state?
For many people the thought of solitude and silence is only attractive in an abstract sense, much like the thought of experiencing life in Ancient Rome or being able to fly like an eagle. They are nice to imagine for a while, but are not something we would actually wish to experience in real life! Even those Christians who find themselves attracted to a few days experiencing the still life of a monastery would tend to frown on the choice of the monks themselves who choose to live that way for life.
Unlike many other areas of spiritual discipline, which involve a whole-life choice, solitude and silence involve giving only a portion of our time – daily if possible, but at least on a regular basis – to focus on God.
One of the hurdles to overcome is the tendency to equate solitude and silence with solitary confinement. Many people, when first trying these areas of spiritual discipline, have found the experience uncomfortable, awkward or even quite unpleasant. While solitude and silence are not primarily meant for our pleasure or comfort, even those who find them most objectionable will, with perseverance, find that such times become not merely acceptable, but even a joy – something to be looked forward to.
Although he was a king with all the duties and responsibilities this entailed, David delighted in solitude and silence. ‘One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple’ (Psa. 27:4). He ends the psalm with this advice for all who would take time out with God: ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD’ (v.14).
‘I just don’t have time for this!’ is one of the most common reasons given for not engaging in solitude and silence. But is it a valid reason, or simply an excuse? Consider the examples of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. While Martha was busy with all the preparations that were necessary when hosting a guest, her sister, Mary, chose instead to sit ‘at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said’ (v.39). Naturally, considering the importance of the visitor and the cultural expectations of hospitality, Martha complained that her sister was not helping. Jesus, however, pointed out that Mary had chosen what was better.
Just how important are all the activities that might keep you from practising solitude and silence?