Examining the Gospels, I never cease to be amazed at the way Jesus ministered among the people. Whether it was one on one, in small groups, or before masses, Jesus tirelessly made Himself approachable and available.
Yet, what impresses me even more about Christ was the time He spent alone. Before He launched out into public ministry, Jesus spent 40 days and nights by Himself in the wilderness. Even though the disciples were a short distance away, He prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Gospels include other such occasions as well (Luke 5:15-16, Luke 6:12-13, Matthew 14:23). Note these six reasons that we, like Jesus, must seek solitude.
To get away from people
As ministers, we are in the people business. And while it’s true that God loves people more than anything, they can be difficult, demanding, and draining. For that reason, we’ve got to break away periodically to a place where it’s just the Holy Spirit and us. The fruit of such a respite is renewed compassion and increased sensitivity once we get back on the grid.
To reflect upon our true spiritual condition
The next best thing to a clear connection to God is an honest assessment of ourselves. I know people in ministry who are extremely gifted and very hard working, yet they’re hampered by a lack of self-awareness. Solitude creates an atmosphere of transparency and vulnerability, wherein God can do a mighty work.
David is a wonderful example. Despite his glaring imperfections, he remained a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Why? Because David owned up to his sin, even going as far asking God to reveal the things to him that were displeasing (Psalm 139:23-24).
To hear more clearly from God
It may not be audibly, yet I firmly believe God continually and consistently “speaks” to faithful servants willing to minister on His behalf. The problem is, a constant barrage of noise makes it difficult to distinguish His voice from others around us.
The call of Moses provides a wonderful example. Having spent decades secluded in the Midian desert, He was primed for a fresh challenge from the Lord. And though He initially offered excuses, Moses clearly heard and understood what it was God wanted him to do.
To cleanse us from a worldly mindset
Once again, Moses comes to mind. He no doubt had too much “Egypt” in him the first time he tried to intervene on behalf of the Israelites (Exodus 2:11-14). Forty years in isolation helped cleanse his soul.
Paul may have undergone a dramatic conversion experience, yet God sent him on a three year desert retreat to Arabia as preparation for the work ahead (Galatians 1:15-18). While some think he went there to proclaim the Gospel, I submit that God used this time of isolation to transform this zealous defender of the law into a passionate missionary of grace.
To soothe and calm our souls
The Psalmist says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Jesus invites: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Psalm 46:10, Matthew 11:28). While these commands don’t directly mention, solitude, they certainly lend themselves to it. Most of our ministry loads would be lightened if we would just take the time to breakaway and disengage.
To realign our priorities and goals
I recently wore out a set of tires prematurely due to an alignment problem. Likewise, we wear ourselves out and minister ineffectively when out of alignment. Solitude helps us recalibrate.
Take Elijah for example. Fearful and exhausted, he fled into the wilderness, yearning to die. Thankfully, following a period of rejuvenation, he left the presence of the Lord with a renewed outlook and updated assignment (1 Kings 19:15-16).
According to Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, “goals are discovered, not made.” Our chances of making such a find increases exponentially in solitude.
Early African converts to Christianity found time and eagerly participated in private devotions. It is said that each person had an isolated spot in the thicket where he/she would commune alone with God. In the course of time, their paths to these places became well worn. Consequently, if one grew lax in this discipline, it soon became apparent to others. They would then lovingly remind the negligent one, “Brother, the grass grows on your path.”
If the weeds have grown over your path, hack through them and carve out some needed solitude. Breaking away from the strong wind, earthquake, and fire, listen for the gentle whisper of the Lord. Once you’ve heard it, march forward with a clear vision and renewed strength.