I don’t think anyone in the western world would argue with the following statement: “We live in a time of tremendous and immediate access to knowledge, comfort, and entertainment.” For those of us that are followers of Jesus, the following statement is also true: “We need the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the indwelling power of the Spirit more than ever for the sake of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.”
Many of us may be tempted to pit those two truths against each other. While there is potential merit for this, the former statement is not inherently bad or immoral. Having access to all that we do, for the purpose of enjoyment or function, can be a good thing. Personally, I’ve literally been saved from greater harm and injury because I have quick access to medical care. And for that, I’m grateful! And some of my fondest memories are ones spent outside with friends and family simply because I have access to a vehicle and can drive to phenomenal outdoor spaces.
So instead of asking what’s bad or good, I think a better question is, “Which one has higher value?” As a follower of Jesus, I would hope and assume that you would choose the latter. In that case, the question becomes “Can the former help us achieve the latter?” Oftentimes, the answer is no, but it’s because the former often distracts us from the latter.
Distraction is one of the great hindrances to spiritual development. We’re distracted by a to-do list, so we don’t spend time in prayer; we’re distracted by social media, so we don’t read our bibles; we’re distracted by the felt urgency of our world, so we don’t take time to really pursue that which is critical – developing a robust, personal (but not private), and deep relationship with God.
One of the best ways to combat distraction is the practice of Silence and Solitude. Simply stated, it is the practice of quiet, intentional alone time with God. It slows us down. It requires us to be still. It requires us to create and maintain norms that look very little like the hussle that many of us call life.
Each person can and should develop their own rhythms as it relates to this discipline. But don’t be fooled, it takes discipline and effort and a conscious choice to say, “this is a priority.” For me, I try to break it down into already established time-frames: daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
I personally like the ACTS method of praying. Take a few moments, in silence and solitude, to work through:
Adoration — Simply proclaiming and ascribing to God that which is true about him and his character, “God you are good, you are creator of the heavens and the earth, you promise to lead and comfort, to be about mercy and justice and love, etc…”
Confession — Confessing your sins, confessing your need for God, taking a position of humility instead of pride or selfishnes.
Thankfulness — Listing out all the things that we can be thankful to God for, especially things that are often taken for granted. Answering the question, “What are you thankful for today?”
Supplication/Stuff — Asking for God’s help, intervention, wisdom, direction, healing, etc… What can and should you lay at God’s feet today?
Additionally, spend a few moments each day by yourself and ask God, “What is your daily bread for me today?” And then listen! It could be a promise, it could be a verse, it could be a reminder of a sin-pattern you struggle with and therefore your need for God’s grace and power to overcome. God is a Good Father who knows how to give not only good gifts, but gifts that are rightfully timed and portioned. This question is ultimately about re-orientation: from that which we think brings us life (all of our distractions) to whom which has promised life and life abundant!
A weekly rhythm that most of us already partake in is a weekly church service. A small practice of Silence and Solitude to add to this existing rhythm is to prepare for Sunday. Take a few moments by yourself the night before or the morning of to ask and ponder:
-What might God have for me on this day of collective and corporate worship?
-Are there ways that I can serve or help today and lay aside my preferences?
-How can I worship more fully? Is there anything distracting me from fully participating?
-If we’re in a sermon series, what was communicated last week?
This weekly rhythm can also be combined with other elements related to the discipline of Sabbath rest.
I’m going to offer up a suggestion that to some may seem easy, and to others may seem radical or near impossible. Similar to the daily and weekly rhythms, could you create and prioritize a monthly rhythm in which you spend 1 hour, in complete silence and solitude, praying, listening, and communing with God? Remember, this is for the purpose of re-orienting ourselves and relationally connecting with our Creator, Savior, and Sustainer.
The commitment, though, is admittedly greater than just an hour. Where can you go to be distraction free? What logistics need to be in place to be able to make this happen (child-care, transportation, job expectations, etc…)? For me personally, I can’t (or shouldn’t) do this at my house. There are too many distractions and while I could spend much of my time praying through those distractions and giving them to God – it is of greater benefit to just simply position myself away from those distractions instead of trying to work through them. Additionally, this often doesn’t just happen. This, along with annual practices, needs to be scheduled, and then protected.
I like to schedule at least one time a year in which I position myself away from distractions and the hustle and bustle of daily life for a minimum of 24 hours. This looks like finding a solitude retreat destination. Maybe it’s a cabin, or camping, or a hotel – just someplace that’s away from the normal distractions. There are a number of places near the Twin Cities that actually offer Silence and Solitude cabins for a nominal fee. They are often simple cabins with adequate amenities.
Two additional recommendations for stretches of time spent in silence and solitude:
1. Break up your time in between these categories:
a) Where’s God in the past?
i. Reflect, Pray, Thanks
b) Where’s God in the present?
i. What’s in front of you professionally, emotionally, spiritually?
ii. Is there anything that needs current attention.
c) Where’s God in the future?
i. How can you grow and develop?
ii. Are there goals and/or benchmarks you’d like to achieve?
iii. Is God calling you to pursue something new or to continue to persevere in something current?
2. Practice Lectio Divina (See Below)
Reading the Word of God and then stopping to listen to what God wants to say to you.
There are generally four aspects to this process. They include:
1. Reading (Tasting) – Prior to reading, find a quiet place by yourself. Get in a comfortable position, whatever works best for you. Take several deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Focus on this exercise alone. Start by asking God to help you hear what he wants to tell you through His Word.
2. Meditation (Chewing) – Continue your quiet state, then turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightening or ecstasies. In lectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence. Center on the passage and begin to reflect on the meaning of the words. Ask these questions:
– What do you see or hear? (Look closely and listen)
– Question the passage (What does He mean by ….)
– What word or phrase jumps out at you? Write this down
– Consider what this passage means to you and/or for your life
Don’t be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself which, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God
3. Prayer (Savoring) – Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. One of the most effective ways to pray is through journaling. Writing causes us to choose words with care. Ultimately, though, this is a time for you and God to converse, hearing and being heard in response to your meditation.
4. Contemplation (Swallowing) – Take a few minutes to voice simple repetitions of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (asking for stuff), and listening. An idea: offer these phrases in conjunction with your body’s natural rhythms, such as breathing, or what is called a ‘breath prayer.’ Say a brief phrase while inhaling, repeat another while exhaling (ie. Inhaling “Holy Spirit” à Exhaling “teach me to listen.”)
Be open to the Spirit and allow for your personal creativity to bring you to God. This is simply a time for you to enjoy God, and being in His presence. Rest in God’s embrace. When He invites you to return to your pondering of His word or to your inner dialogue with Him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.