Recently I have been deep in thought – or needing to be deep in thought, and went to a local desert to be alone with God for a while. It really helped me and served as a reminder of the importance of the spiritual discipline of being alone with God. I have never done this as much as I’ve wanted, but it’s so nice to get away when I can.
Solitude is an important spiritual discipline, as long as you don’t neglect your responsibility to serve others!* Solitude and deep investment into people’s lives go hand-in-hand. But lately I sense that popular Christianity tends toward serving others at the neglect of intimate seclusion with God.
Jesus is the perfect model for us in this. We all know of His constant and spectacular ministry among the people, but there is frequent, if discreet, reference to His solitude as well. At the start of His ministry the Spirit led Him to the desert alone for 40 days (Luke 4.1). In Capernaum after hectic days of teaching and healing the sick into the night, “in the early morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1.35). Before choosing the Twelve Disciples, Jesus spent all night alone in prayer (Luke 6.12). In a difficult period of Jesus’ ministry – after being rejected in Jerusalem, his colleague John the Baptist was just killed by Herod, and the 5,000 men he miraculously fed tried to make Him a political ruler rather than believe in Him as Savior – He went up the mountain by Himself (John 6.15). Jesus taught the importance of one-on-one prayer for all of His followers in the famous Sermon on the Mount, saying, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6.6).
My theology professor in college really ingrained in me how important this was. Addressing how stressed and worn out everyone in class was, he challenged us to go out somewhere – anywhere – and be alone with God for a day. An entire day! He shared that one time after he had done this, he worked in a noisy, hot, and dark woodshop cutting boards all day long – but with the same sense of peace and God’s presence as the day before.
It’s such a valuable thing to go away from your normal busy life into seclusion with God! If God created and saved us for relationship with Him, how could this not be a priority? God is worth the time ( See “Major Decisions Call for Major Actions”). Such secluded times are often difficult, because you see just how messed up your life and faith is, but are undoubtedly rewarding and carry you on to further maturity in Christ.
* Some in the Patristic and Medieval Church have gone too far with this discipline, and avoided people altogether or even saw solitude as “more spiritual” than being with others.