In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of silence/solitude. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, and stewardship as it relates to both time and finances, and fasting.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch yourself up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and he makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
So what about silence/solitude? Let’s begin with an explanation.
The discipline/habit of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual gifts might be sought. It is sometimes practised in order to read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, pray, journal, and so on. Though there is no audible speaking, there may be intentional, biblical self-talk or prayer to God. At other times you might choose not to talk at all but simply focus your mind upon God and to set your mind on things that are above (Colossians3:2), resting your soul in the love He displayed in Christ.
The discipline/habit of solitude is the voluntary and temporary withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. The length of the solitude may last only a few minutes or for days. As with silence, solitude may be pursued in order to participate without interruption in other disciplines or just to be alone with God and think.
Three thoughts are helpful when thinking about silence and solitude.
First, think of silence and solitude as complementary disciplines to fellowship. But don’t think of fellowship as those times when you simply socialize. Biblical fellowship involves talking about God and the things of God. It is probably true that we do much less of this than we think, even when we are at church. The emphasis here, though, is that fellowship requires interaction with other people, whereas silence and solitude do not. It seems that each of us is more inclined in one direction than the other. That is, we enjoy meaningful conversation with other Christians more than solitude or vice versa. But both have a place in the life of a biblically consistent believer. Without silence and solitude, we can be active but shallow. Without fellowship, we can be deep, but stagnant. Christlikeness requires both sides of the equation.
Second, silence and solitude are often found together. Even though they can be distinguished as in the definitions above, we are referring to them as a pair.
Third, recognize that our western culture conditions us to be comfortable with crowds and noise, not with silence and solitude, and to feel more comfortable at a mall than at a park. This is confirmed by the inability of many of us to ever be at home or in a car by ourselves without turning on some background noise. Technology now makes it possible for us to enjoy the benefits of news, music, educational content, and more whenever we want and wherever we are. More than any generation in history, we must discipline ourselves to enjoy the blessings of silence and solitude for the purpose of godliness.
Following are just a few of the reasons to pursue silence and solitude.
1- To follow Jesus' example
Scripture teaches us that Jesus pursued periods of silence and solitude, some for only a few minutes or hours, and at least one for several days. Check out the following references:
Matthew 4:1 - the primary purpose of this event was for Jesus to encounter and conquer the devil’s temptations. But it is worthy to note that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to this experience during a lengthy period of fasting and solitude.
Matthew 14:23 - Here He sent the multitudes and His disciples away so He could be alone with the Father.
Mark 1:35 - After a night of healing and casting out demons and before it was daylight again He went to spend time alone in prayer. Jesus knew that had He waited until after sunrise, He would have been surrounded again by the curious eyes and urgent voices of the whole city.
Luke 4:42 - Imagine, people are clamouring for your help and have many real needs, and you are able to meet all those needs. Can you ever feel justified in pulling away to be alone? Jesus did. So, if it was necessary and possible for Jesus, how much more for us?
The point should be obvious: To be more like Jesus we must discipline ourselves to find times of silence and solitude. Then through these habits or disciplines, we can pursue the many blessings that Jesus experienced through them.
2- To minimize distractions in prayer
One of the more obvious reasons for getting away from the sounds and surroundings that divert our attention is to better focus the mind in prayer. In addition to the examples of Jesus in the previous section, other biblical examples of this might include Elijah going to Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8) where he heard the low whisper of God (1 Kings 19:11-13). Consider Habakkuk entering a guard post and keeping watch to hear from and answer to God (Habakkuk 2:1). Or look to the apostle Paul going to Arabia after his conversion where he was presumably alone with God (Galatians 1:7).
Many of us realize the addiction we have to noise. The portability and accessibility of technology is a mixed blessing. While we should be grateful for its massive benefits, we should also recognize its invasive and distracting tendencies. The more we use audio and video technology, the more we need to learn the discipline of silence and solitude.
3- To express faith in God
The simple act of silence before God, as opposed to coming to Him in a wordy fret, can be a demonstration of faith in Him. Twice in Psalm 62 David displayed this kind of faith. In Psalm 62:1-2 he affirms that his soul waits in silence for God alone because he knows Him to be his rock, his salvation and his fortress. Then in Psalm 62:5-6 he challenges his soul to wait in silence for God alone, again because He is his rock, salvation and fortress.
Sometimes, the prayers we speak can be filled more with fear and doubt than faith; silence before the Lord can sometimes express more faith and submission to God than words.
4- To regain a spiritual perspective
One of the very best ways to step back and get a more balanced, less worldly perspective on matters is through the discipline of silence and solitude.
When Zechariah was told by the angel that he and his elderly wife would have a son, he doubted. In response, the angel told him that he would be silent and unable to speak until the day the baby was born (Luke 1:20). During this time of silence and solitude, his perspective was changed and when the child was born, his mouth was opened again and he gave glory to God for what He had done (Luke 1:57-64).
5- To learn control of the tongue
Learning to keep silent for short periods of time can help us better control our tongue all the time. There is little doubt that controlling our tongue is critical to Christlikeness. The Bible says that the religion of the person with no tongue control is worthless (James 1:26). Proverbs 17:27-28 connects the Christlike qualities of godly knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and discernment with the power to rein in one’s tongue.
Ecclesiastes 3:7 refers to control of the tongue in two ways. One is the ability to restrain it and the other is the ability to use it. Godliness, therefore, involves learning whey you should not talk as well as when you should.
James 1:9 also describes power over the tongue in terms of the ability to keep it in check. This applies to our online social media speaking as well as what is done with our lips.
And remember that the great purpose for practising these habits or disciplines is godliness, that we might be more like Jesus, that we may be more holy. Austin Phelps, in his book The Still Hour wrote, “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God."
So let’s do it. Let’s spend time in silence and solitude with God for the purpose of godliness.