In 1517 a lone friar by the name of Martin sat down in his study to put pen to paper. The result? He would produce a most important theological work, very pointedly so. It was his attempt as a cleric to bring about needed change within the Roman Catholic Church of which he was a minister. Over the centuries, it had strayed from many foundational truths. So harmful were certain abuses, Martin Luther felt it his duty to speak out, come what may. It would very nearly cost him his life. That work came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgencies. He posted it to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the day before All Saints’ Day. It was October 31, a very Hallowed Eve that year.
Initially, things did not go very well. Historically though, his action was used to fundamentally set Christ’s spiritual church back on its feet. It led a return to orthodoxy. God be praised for the faithfulness of this minister of the gospel who was so dedicated, heart and soul, to divine truth. There were others before him; many more would come after. Truth is safely preserved in the hands of all those who “rightly divide” it.
That was in Europe, though its influence would spread throughout the world. In that same vain, as to the state of the Church in America, I hold these things against it.
We don’t like to be against anything these days. We prefer to “beg to differ.” This, however, is not very usefully, let alone it is not very Pauline, let alone it is not very much like Christ. In the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, Jesus felt compelled to reveal (2:14) “a few things” that He had “against” them. It was of utmost importance that certain harmful practices and attitudes be set straight.
While theologically it is not as daunting of times in some respects, still we do find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts to which a few things really ought to be said. There are a lot of sound doctrinal statements floating around out there with good truths in them. It is our practice (walk) that suffers sorely. In a series of essays, I will present five topics. That’s a full ninety less than the good friar (so give me a break). Each will state the detour the Church in America has taken, just as it will also encourage the return trip. The first of these will be the Abduction of Solitude.
Just hearing the words, “the practice of Christian solitude,” what does it trigger? Of what do you think? Some, if honest, would be short with me here: “Solitude? Pray a lot? Is that it? Fine! I’ll start by praying more. I pray for my food. I pray for my day. I pray after devotions. By gum, I even attend prayer meetings. You want more? I’ll jack up my nighttime prayers. How’s that? Five minutes into seven, maybe, on high and holy evenings, a double digit ten or twelve minutes.”
I am not talking about that. True, in part, this will have a concern for prayer. Prayer is integral to divine solitude, yes, but the Scriptures have in mind far, far more than that.
For me, after 33 years of Christian salvation and devotion, I am just now entering into the classroom of solitude. I am its freshman. The number one rule is “shhh”. At a time of optimum busyness, with demands for my attention at an all time high, I am seeking its opposite. I desire more a slowing down of my spirit. Sometimes I seek even a slamming of brakes. I am talking about shutting off the noise of the day and walking alone with God.
One pastor, whom I have talked to about this, calls it simply “being before God.”
Here is a cute T-shirt slogan I saw on the streets of Chicago many years ago. It was so clever; I stopped to jot it down.
Descartes: “To do is to be.”
Sartre: “To be is to do”
In a fashion, I might agree partly with the second, to lead with “being.”
It should be the deep desire of every Christian to “do” on Christ’s behalf. It is our commission. Not “doing” is like Michelangelo not painting or a boxer not socking someone in the mush. Doing is what we’re supposed to do. As we set off in that precise direction – to do for Jesus – we find a deep rooted problem. We cannot.
In Joshua 24, it talks much about service. It uses the word “serve” 12 times. 11 of those 12 concerns serving the Lord. The congregation of the people committed to doing this. They were adamant. “We will serve the Lord.”
In Joshua 24:19, their brilliant commander said, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.” It is not that they would not. Their eventual not “doing” wasn’t his human intuition, neither was it a prophetic word that God gave him. Worse, it was a statement of fact, knowing the quality of their walk and the requirements for obedience. They could not, and would not, because obedience is a spiritual action and they were carnal.
They said the same thing in the beginning of their exploits through the promise land. In Joshua 1:17, the congregation committed boldly, “Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you . . . ” That was about the last thing that Joshua wanted to hear. They followed Moses horribly while he was alive. Continually they vexed his righteous spirit, just as they did God’s. What was the problem? So often, the norm for those Israelites was an outward showy walk which was deficient of any significant inward substance. If that is the case, “not doing” is a given.
We had Kite Sunday at church recently. After the worship service, we held a weenie roast, then we all went out into a nearby field to defy gravity with wind. At one point, one of the men of our church was helping one of the little kids, at precisely the same time that I was helping another. Each child eagerly held his kite’s spool of string, while Vic and I both stood 20 feet away, holding their kites aloft. There all of us stood, waiting and waiting. What were we waiting for? A wind to gust. Finally, it did, and we burst into action. Both kites shot upward. A great success.
Jesus said a similar thing near the time of His ascension. In Acts 1:4, He commanded them to not “depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father.” His quote in verse 8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall (then) be witnesses to Me . . . ” Before they could “go and preach the gospel,” before they could run their race, before the preaching and teaching, before God’s will could be done on earth, they all had to wait for the Spirit wind to fill their sails.
Why not set out to a life of service before? Because then they would have surely failed. In the end, it is only God who can provide true spiritual service to this world through churchmen, His tools. Without Him, we too would not have been able to serve. Box kites on the ground. So, there they were, the early church, waiting on God. They expectantly sought His empowering. The very same thing must be learned by every Christian alive today. It is one of the keys to success. We must make our primary target walking with the Lord. Sweet communion.
We have moved shockingly away from this. There is hardly a whiff of it in the average Christian.
What has gotten in the way of this? In short, everything else. Specifically, the arresting of our focus by all these modern tools, especially electronic devices: cable, satellite, smart phones, semi-smart phones, internet, computer games, social media, social media, social media, Sirius radio, Snap Chat, pods, pads, and now, iWatches. It drones on endlessly. We can hardly breathe and certainly would never dream of logging off, or even hitting pause. We act as if man-media is now the given constant. It consumes our every waking minute, even at work, chewing up all attention time. It is a serious problem that we hardly even recognize to exist. Today we give the briefest nod to any thought of controlling it in our youth. They are surrendered, absorbed, consumed while we sit around watching the steady unraveling of what we used to call our “spiritual lives.”
No one denies that the above items are all information based. That being so, of course, it is possible to use the same for good. Maybe even a lot of good, but if, at the same time, we do not realize the problem, that a Pandora’s box has exploded open, we are sorely naïve and out of touch spiritually.
This is not a bashing of technology, though a few rounds of such wouldn’t hurt. Let me not enable any appeasers with thoughts of my being out of touch with the use of the archaic, “newfangled.” Technology is just so much of the noise. There is much more that also runs interference.
With both parents now working, and other demands being made on married couples, with high school, college, and pro sports mania consuming, especially, the male mind (they even make some of it up with Fantasy leagues), and 24 hour everything now, that “one thing needed” (Luke 10:42) is being entirely ignored. Jesus also called it, “that good part,” which is sitting at the feet of God.
Today, we must find a way to spend more time alone, quietly, in the presence of our Maker. We are intense now only is the direst of circumstances, and it doesn’t last. For this, review our country’s prayerful response to the attacks of 9/11. Busyness should not hamper patient presence before God from occurring. It should be one of the catalysts for its promotion. In the gospels, the more that life crowded in on Jesus, the more He pulled away. He would go off into the wilderness or up to the mountain. He did this with faithful habit.
One new Christian that I was discipling told me how the only real time he could muster to get alone with God was when he went in to use the bathroom at home.
“I know that sounds terrible, but no one is in there. It’s peaceful and quiet, so I leave a Bible inside and do most of my reading and prayer there. Is that wrong?”
I assured him that it is good to talk to God, and hear from Him, in any place and at any time. Making good use of shaving and teeth brushing is very wise, but I also added, “that cannot define your time with the Savior. The world gets your undivided attention 23/7 and God is regulated to a smelly toilet?” No! We have to give Him the very best of our time and attention.
What to do? First, begin with the elementary things. Get yourself an excellent devotional Quite Time routine. Master it. Be faithful to it. One will be suggested in the appendix of this essay.
Second, extol God daily. Spend time with Him praising His name. Significant time. You must sing the hymns and choruses of God. You really must. You must magnify. You have to push your thinking of God to the BIG. This is most prevalent when we are in trouble. Always, no matter how looming your predicament, God must loom larger. Act like it. Talk like it. Pray like it. Let your daily schedule show how big God is. Bask. Son bathe.
Third, you must not rush your time before God. It cannot become much of a timed thing. Daily devotions might fit into a schedule. I would compliment you if it does. There is nothing wrong with that. But presenting oneself before a great and living Creator must be unhurried.
Here is the rule for how much time is a good enough amount of time for being reflective before Him: there is no time enough. Whatever time you can manage to scrap, scrounge, protect, and present, do. Monks – who may have been the only ones to abuse this, in a cloistered manner – have long ago fallen out of church fashion. When was the last time you met a monk. Call me when you do. I’ve never met one.
Go into any casino. Look around. You will notice something peculiar, besides widows being bilked of their life’s savings. What is it? There are no clocks. Not a one. The powers that be don’t wish for you to be reminded of the time. They want you lost, floating far out in the Love of Money Sea. We must find a way to do the same with God, mammon’s counterpart. We have to find whole mornings, not mere hours. Certain things will be accomplished only by taking a week or month of being in His presence. Some take a lifetime. Yes, others, but a day. Still, consider this level of spending time with God as an unmicrowavable dish.
“Where are you living, Pastor? On what planet? Who has time for that?”
You’re right. That’s just it. I am living on a planet that has no, or very little, time for that, and that is exactly what it has come to look like – a planet that has no, or little time, for God. In exchange, give me the prophets, any of them, except for maybe Balaam and Jonah. Balaam, “no,” for sure. Give me three kings: David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, but especially David. Read the Psalms. You’ll know why. Give me Mary of Bethany. Give me the apostles, but especially John who always leaned towards Jesus’ side. He even stood dutifully beside His beloved mother within earshot of His dying words. Give me anything that speaks of closeness to God, and at the same time, distance from the world.
For this, let me be unapologetically clear, you will need to sacrifice. Things must die. There is no other way. Sacrifice IS the way. You cannot have both. You have but two ears and two eyes, the only four gates to the mind. What fills those gates? For how long does it fill them? Get radical here, brethren.
Fourth, adopt this. Do some spiritual things that relate to walking with God in a “40 days and 40 nights” block of time. It was a favorite in the Bible, surely. Doing something for over a month pushes it towards habit. You might emphasize mediation on verses of the Bible for a particular “40 days and 40 nights” timeframe. Learn and use hymns effectively at home for 40 days and nights. Promote a single Bible theme in your life for that time span (brotherly love, or faith, or mercy). Privately give one thing up for 40 days and nights. This will change and recharge you.
Lastly, learn how to walk with the Lord, both literally and figuratively. I’m talking about your two legs. We walk the dog. We go for a walk with the kids. We walk for exercise. We walk to the store for a head of cabbage. Certainly, the very Cause of our existence, God, outscores some vegetable shopping on our priority list. I am a firm believer in going for real back road, city sidewalk, or nature trail walks with the Lord. Think as you walk. Pray as you walk. Commit as you walk. Confess sins as you walk. I am dead serious. Practice spiritually walking with God as you physically do the same. It is most invigorating. If, due to weakness, you do not ambulate well, sit in total solitude in a restful garden spot. It is the same.
About here, some need to hear that this is no replacement for church. In fact, it is not church, not in the slightest. Church is church. The word church means “gathering.” This is solitude. Just because one does need time to mediate, does not mean that one does not also need time to congregate. Both are separate and individually purposed disciplines with distinct functions and aims.
Jesus always did both. He strode along the rooftops of the mountains at night, then He returned in the morning to spend quality time with his disciples. The mountains are mostly about “He” and “me.” Church brings in the necessary “we,” a very important component in the Christian life.
So, “if I don’t do this solitude stuff, what of it?”
Three things: 1. You will miss one of the greatest pleasures of living a human life on planet Earth. Animal life enjoys nothing better than a good hunt. Plant life, a wet drink of water. Human life, time alone with God. 2. You will seriously hamper your spiritual growth as a Christian. 3. This world will, more and more, gain the upper hand in your life. Eventually, you will even find yourself fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, somehow, whether deep down you wish to or not.
Let us leave God to the last words on this . . . .
“I returned and saw under the sun that – the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . “ Ecclesiastes 9:11
” . . . This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Ephesians 6:10
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6
Here is a format for daily devotions that I came upon a few years ago and have adapted to my use. It is the ABC’s of Quiet Time. But again, this pertains only to the first discipline listed. Significant time alone with God is different. In many ways, it is higher.
Assess – Start out by taking time to do a personal spiritual inventory. It’s best to journal your thoughts. Be frank. Bring all into the light. Confess any sins.
Behold! – Pray for spiritual guidance, then thoughtfully read a reasonably sized portion of Scripture. Maybe reread it. If need be, re-reread it. If you have to . . . you get the idea.
Contemplate – Take some time to study that passage and mediate on what it says. Like the spring farmer, plow your mind’s field with the Word. Turn it over in your head. Let the nutrients rise.
Direct – Give that truth a direction to go. Write out a practical application based on what you have learned from God that day. Commit this to the Lord.
Etch – Work on the memorization of Bible verses, etching their words into your brain’s cortex.
Fellowship – Take time to fellowship with God, praising His name. Maybe sing an appropriate hymn. A hymn book should be used liberally in any home. Finish with prayer. Keep some sort of prayer request sheet or log so that you can pray for the needs of “all the saints.”
That’s it! I might, in passing, mention the unwritten “G”. Go into your day now. The pump is primed for good things.