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.
Believers in Christ are usually familiar with the teaching that God is always with us. It is among the most beautiful promises in the Bible.
Oddly, this is one of the hardest things for me to believe in the Bible. My emotions and logic often tell me otherwise. In times of depression or discouragement, it feels as though God’s presence has left, that you’re actually alone. Or that it is illogical for God to forgive yet again after the umptillionth time you’ve sinned or that He can possibly be with everyone at once.
I can think of many reasons why God should not be with me. I am really a rather bad person compared to him (a huge understatement). He is holy, I am not. I am a sinner, He is not. I am the creature, He is the Creator. He is infintely big, I am infinitesimaly small. He is everything that is good, and often I think and act everything that is evil. Why would God even be concerned about this insignificant little life, much less manifest His spiritual presence? God with us? Doesn’t make any sense to believe anything of the kind. No wonder many people are Deists or live as though God is there or doesn’t see.
But here is the question: who dictates what God does? What our speculative opinions say about God, or what God says about God? Consider what God inspired to be written in the Scriptures about Himself:
“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13.5b)
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18a, 20b).
God lead David to write, “You hem me in— behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Pslam 139.5-10 NIV).
God says in Paul’s letters as well,
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? “(1 Corinthians 3.16)
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12.5a)
“Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you have died to this life, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3.2-3 NLT).
Lastly, Romans 8.33b-39 “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or perseuction, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is what God says about Himself. It surprises me that any Being can have that kind of unconditional, deep love and faithfulness. It sounds too good to be true! But God has always been much bigger than our expectations. When we glimpse the revealed reality, the truth about God’s presence, oh how it overcomes these other emotions and reasons why He isn’t there, replacing them with the emotion of unhindered joy and mind of total conviction! It must be true – God is with us and indeed loves us – always, all the time, at every moment of every day, no matter what happens.