Jesus often separated himself from others to be alone, to pray, to spend time of quiet in the presence of His Father. This was a “discipline” that he incorporated into His earthly life.
Paul told the Corinthians, “… I discipline my body…” (2Cor 9:27) Usually when we think of bodily discipline, we think of diet & nutrition, exercise, and life style. I don’t believe this is what Paul had in mind. (See Foot Note). Peter said, “…prepare your minds for action” (1Pet. 1:13).“Discipline” is “Training the corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360).
These words were written 70 years ago, and are even truer today than they were then, “Ours is an undisciplined age. The old disciplines are breaking down, and the foundations of society appear to be crumbling. The discipline of the home seems to be vanishing in the new psychology which teaches: parents obey your children! The discipline of the schoolroom is becoming anathema, according to the so-called Progressive Education, lest the personality of the child be thwarted by the imposition of a will higher than his own. The old academic ‘disciplines’: mathematics, ancient language, grammar, are being ignored as obsolete and unimportant. Above all, the discipline of divine grace is derided as legalism or is entirely unknown to a generation that is largely illiterate in the Scriptures. We need the rugged strength of Christian character that can come only from discipline: the discipline of spirit, of mind, of body, of society. Otherwise, the home will lose its heart as well as its hearth, the schoolroom its strength, the textbooks their exactness, the Scriptures their sanction” (The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman, Preface)(underlining is mine).
One of the disciplines that we need to incorporate into our lives is “solitude.” As I have studied men and women of faith from the Bible, I am more convinced than ever of this. One of my favorite authors, who has written about many of these men and women of faith says, “A survey of the Scriptures reveals that those God used greatly were often prepared for those exploits during periods of solitude, quietness, and obscurity” (Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Charles Swindoll, p.46)
Bible Examples of God Using the Discipline of Solitude in the Lives of His Servants
Moses (Ex. 2:1-4:31; Acts 7:20-43; Heb. 11:23-29). Moses was positioned to embrace a remarkable political future. As he approached the age of 40, he visited his Israelite brethren and observed one being treated unjustly (Acts 7:23-24). After murdering the Egyptian, he fled to the plains of Midian and married the daughter of a local priest (Ex. 2:11-12). He spent the next 40 years tending his father-in-law, Jethro’s sheep (Gen. 3:1; Acts 7:30). Not until he was 80 years old did God bring him out of obscurity to lead His people
David (1Sam. 16:12-13; 17:34-58 and chapters 18 – 31). Anointed king over Israel as a teen, he didn’t assume the throne until age 30. After defeating Goliath, he spent the next 13 years as a fugitive, hiding in the caves of Engedi from King Saul. During this period of solitude, he wrote some of his beloved Psalms, but mostly he lived in obscurity in the Judean wilderness.
Joseph (Gen. chapters 39 -41). Thrown in jail because of the accusations of Potiphar’s wife (39:19-20), he spent 2 years (41:1) in the prisons of Egypt. “Though his sentence was unfair, Joseph learned much in that cell of confinement” (Swindoll). At age of 30, he was made “ruler” 2nd only to Pharaoh (41:38-43).
Elijah (1Ki. 17:1-16). Elijah stood toe-to-toe with Ahab the King to boldly declare no rain or dew would fall on the kingdom for as long as it would take for them to repent! To protect him from the expected backlash, the Lord hid Elijah by the brook Cherith. During this “brookside retreat” Elijah was renewed and refreshed by God.
John the Baptist (Lk. 3:1-22; 7:18-30; Mt. 3:1-17; 11:7-15; 14:1-12; Mk.6:14-29). “He lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Lk. 1:80). … the word of God came to him in the wilderness and he spent much of his adult life preaching in the there (Lk. 3:1-3)… No distinction, no prominent place of ministry, no compelling message that appealed to the masses. Only years of solitude, silence, and obscurity, which ended when he was beheaded at the request of a silly dancing girl (Mt. 14:3-12)…. Yet, God called him to the desert. He had His reasons and John submitted to the plan” (Swindoll)
The Apostle Paul (Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26). We first meet him as a “raging bull,” persecuting followers of Christ. God interrupts his march to Damascus by striking him blind. “In less than a week, God transformed Saul from a vicious Christian-hating murderer into a passionate preacher…. God’s on-going process of preparing Saul was time away, all alone, to think through the implications of his newfound faith, to begin to know his Savior much more intimately, to come to terms with what it meant to be a messenger of grace” (Swindoll). Read Galatians 1:10-17 for Paul’s further explanation of the events that occurred during this time in his life. “Saul of Tarsus lived with the ever-imposing drive to please people. He lived for the approval of the Sanhedrin; it fed his pride. But all of that changed … Saul of Tarsus was poised to take a top leadership role in the Jewish religion but that all changed …” 9 (Swindoll).
Paul did NOT … 1) Immediately consult with flesh and blood nor 2) Go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him.
“The Place and Purpose of Arabia – it was probably a vast expanse of desert – a barren wilderness – a thousand days spent alone thinking, praying, wrestling within, listening to God … Paul developed his theology here, meeting God intimately and deeply – “a three-year crash course in sound doctrine from which would flow a lifetime of preaching, teaching, and writing” (Swindoll).
- Inaugurated His ministry by spending 40 days alone in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11).
- Spent the entire night alone in the desert hill, before choosing the twelve (Lk. 6:12).
- Upon receiving the news of John the Baptist’s death, “withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself” (Mt. 14:13).
- After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, “went into the hills by himself…” (Mt. 14:23).
- Following a long night of work, “in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went to a secluded place, and was praying there …” (Mk. 1:35)
- Other instances in Mk. 6:31; Lk. 5:16; Mt. 17:1-9; Mt. 26:36-46.
The Discipline of Solitude Involves
- Being Alone With God Free of Distractions
- Meditating on the Scriptures
- Deliberately Setting Aside Time
- The Patience of Hindered Purpose
- The Discipline of Delay
How to Grow Deep
Slow Down and Rethink
- Take time to discover what really matters
- Focus on lifting the curse of superficiality that shadows your life
- Grow roots deep into the soil of those things that truly matter
- Rework your priorities and rethink your motives
Be Quiet and Reflect
- Silence is rarely tolerated in our culture
- As soon as you get in your car, you turn on the radio
- How desperately we need to push the mute button on all this noise
Be Still and Release
- We often battle pride and prestige and seek a place of power
- Richard Foster suggests the following as “steps into solitude”: Take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill our day – “those early morning moments in bed before the family awakens … a morning cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day … the solitude of bumper-to-bumper traffic during the freeway rush hour …”
“We can find or develop a ‘quiet place’ designed for silence and solitude.”
“Let’s discipline ourselves so that our words are few and full. Let’s become known as people who have something to say when we speak. Let’s maintain plain speech: do what we say we will do.”
Please consider the examples of Moses, David, Joseph, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Note how they used periods of solitude to grow their relationship with the Father.
We encourage you to follow in the “footprints of Jesus that make the pathway glow “to “Follow the steps of Jesus where-e’er they go.”
(Sources: Chapter 4, “The Necessity of Solitude, Quietness, and Obscurity,” Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Charles Swindoll, pp. 45-60; The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman; Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster, pp. 96-109)