Thursday, October 11, 2012

3 Ways To Improve Your Spiritual Solitude

I've posted a few times about how the typical church structure does a poor job of developing authentic community. You can attend for years, participate in official activities, and not have true friends at church. For real relationships, you have to do something beyond the scheduled experiences.

Today, I'm going to flip the coin and say that the typical structure is also weak for helping believers learn how to make the most of solitude. 

There are a host of verses in the Bible calling us to the private relationship with God. Jesus pulled away from the crowds--even from his disciples--to be alone with God more than once (John 6.22-24) and there are many verses calling us to be private and intimate and still before the Lord (Psalm 46.10, etc).

The sad truth is that solitude and private intimacy with the Lord don't automatically happen when you're not connecting with other people. Real intimacy in the private moments--real spiritual solitude--requires effort.

Western culture certainly isn't teaching us how to do this. Quite the opposite. We live is a world of constant distractions. On every stretch of road, someone is putting up their sign or their billboard. On every bench and bus, there are more bold colors and flashy distractions. And then we all have TVs and now phones that have constant noise and lights and entertaining distractions.

Don't get me wrong: I love my new smart phone and I do watch TV from time to time. Technology isn't bad.

But because it's constantly on, being alone no longer means having to pay attention to your heart and mind, let alone connecting with the heart and mind of God.

And our church services aren't much different than our culture. Typical churches fill every second with activity and sound and entertainment. Music is always playing, or someone is speaking. There are even advertising posters up in the lobby and spiritually inspirational images in the main sanctuary.

When is the last time you were in a church and there was true silence for more than a couple of seconds?

What would you do with that silence?

Most of us have no idea what do with it. Maybe pray? But let's be honest. In true silence, most of us would have a hard time staying focused on prayer for more than a minute or two.

We can't assume the people in our churches are doing this well on their own. And preaching a sermon on solitude and spiritual intimacy in the private moments won't cut it. People generally understand the need for it. What they need is help practicing.

Here are three elements of spiritual solitude you can practice with your church members (and on your own):

This is NOT the same as eastern religious meditation. They advocate you empty your mind, etc. Biblical meditation is about filling your mind with the laws, ways, deeds, and precepts of God. It's about mulling over the things of God again and again. You could call it worry in reverse--a similar rethinking over and over, but on truth and goodness and God. There are tons of verses about meditation (i.e. Joshua 1.8, Psalm 119.15, etc).

This requires that you have information about God to load into your mind--and then that you engage God and mull over His ways together. Meditation is not the same as study. (More on doing this well in a later post.)

Many verses talk about how God reveals the heart, how God searches our souls and brings things to light (i.e. Psalm 139 and 1 Corinthians 4.4-5). Again, this should be done with God, guided by the Holy Spirit. Done separated from God it can lead to shame--or self-justification. Done with God, I usually go through a process of experiencing his love to discovering the 1-2 areas He wants me to work on back to being loved, without losing the sense of what I need to change. (I'll talk more on this process in another post.)

Waiting on God and Refreshing Your Soul
Many other verses talk about the need to wait on God and restore our soul (Psalm 23, VERSE etc). You don't empty your mind in this posture, but you don't have to push hard to a particular point, either. This is the one where you might put on some worship music or go into nature and soak in God's creation. Again, the goal is to engage God, not get your refreshing from nature or music alone.

Like a marriage, we need to be alone and intimate with God. We need to go on regular "dates" with God (get one on one time). And, like a marriage, being alone with God shouldn't be a passive ritual. Doing it well takes real effort and regular practice. If you want to keep your spark of love going strong for God, you need to regular "dates" together.

But how do you do this at church? Think about marriage retreats. Good ones have sessions where they teach, but also built in time for couples to get alone and practice what they're learning. You could do the same in church, if you really wanted to.

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