Solitude in the Ministry
Here’s another great reminder for busy leaders from my “archive.”
Taking it From the Top
Moody Monthly – May 1991 Dr. Wayne Hopkins
Each of us regularly needs solitude, especially those in the ministry. At least one day a week you and I, individually, must get away. Normally, Sunday is not that day! For those in the ministry, it is a battle day.
In light of what a typical servant of God routinely faces and in order to remain calm in heart and gentle in spirit, a full day with God alone every week seems to be a minimum. Streams of living water do not pour forth from barren and burned places.
Life presses on us, leaving us alarmed in heart and hard in spirit. ”The length of our days is 70 years–or 80, if we have the strength–yet their span is but trouble and sorrow; for they pass quickly, and we fly away” (Ps 90:10).
American culture structures against one literally taking a day in seven for rest and reflection. The corporate world believes, as do some hard-working Christians, that any form of “shut-down-time” is sloth and dawdle. But alcoholism, deception, divorce, superficiality, and ulcers rank high among these same folks.
Solitude, found in isolation, has several components. One, the day must be one of studying the Scriptures (Deut 17:18-20; Ezra 7:10). A soul weary with sorrow is strengthened with God’s Word (Ps 119:28). A brief quiet time, even observed every day, has never been enough.
Two, the day of solitude is constructed with stillness (Ps 37:17; 46:10). Such a day probably impossible to attain by a neurotic American, or by a guilt-driven believer, is characterized by a moratorium on activity (Ps 4:4): no chores, errands, phone calls, or TV (Isa 30:15).
Three, quietness is required (Lev 10:3). Sitting still for some does not eliminate noise. But the radio, music, Walkman, even mental racket must go. For in the long hush, not in the loud hurry, we learn about God (Ecc 5:1-7; Jer 17:19-29). Only privacy provides the silence needed for God to re-order my life, bashed and sapped from six days of mauling (Prov 17:1; Lam 3:25-33).
Four, waiting for God with patience is mandatory (Ps 5:3; 130:5-6). The rude, robust, and righteous person chafes at lingering in God’s presence for any period longer than a 30-second church prayer (Hos 8:4; 10:12-13). For a society that measures Olympic races in hundredths of a second, a full day can be an eternity. However, the barbarian heart which undercuts God’s kingdom naturally jeers at any apparent dilly-dallying or wasting of time by reposing before God (Ps 131:2; Isa 8:17).
Not uncharacteristically, Moses waited, not only 40 days on two occasions, but six days on another (Ex 24:15-18); Ezekiel tarried seven (Ezek 3:15-16); and Jesus fasted 40 (Mt 4:2). Frequently, God’s servants–e.g. Job, Abraham, Jeremiah, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul–logged days in seclusion. The willingness to wait, both before Him and for Him, displays courtesy, faith, and dependency (Isa 30:18, 33:2; 40:31). Personal and work-related mission, passion, and creativity surface and flame in those hours.
Five, meditation is an absolute (Ps 1:2; 119:27). Pondering deeply the nature and the ways of God takes not only time and serenity but controlled thinking. Totally unknown to anxious Americans addicted to action, speed, work, and noise, meditation is the only vista whereby I can meet with Him (Ps 119:15,23,27,48,55,62,78,97,148; Isa 57:11). While we praise God loudly in music and testimony, we learn about Him in silence-free from distractions-as we mentally and calmly dwell on Him (Ps 86:1-17; Prov 22:17-21; Lk 10:38-42).
Six, fasting follows next (Ps 35:13). The discipline of fasting, not originally initiated for hefty American pastors or missionaries, decreases the clutter and static for the day’s devotion and, in turn, enhances solitude (Ps 69:10; 109:24). Never intended to be routine or ritualistic (Isa 58:1-14; Mt 6:16-18) or even a total abstinence, fasting portrays an inward awe for God which is particularly appropriate at critical decision times (Ezra 8:21-23;Acts 13.1-3). To consult truly with God over heavy matters in life, one’s inner contriteness and brokenness are matched by an outer withdrawal from daily routines. Jesus directed that fasting would be fitting after His departure and during His absence (Mt 9:14-15).
Seven, a prayer response to what God shows one in secret is expected (Job 42:5-6; Isa 6:5). Confession qualifies me for further illumination regarding God’s truth, whether about Him or me (Josh 9:14; 1 Ch 10:14; 15:13; 2 Ch 16:12). Some devotees ask to be taught how to pray. But as God teaches solitude and these disciplines of the soul which compose it, prayer is a natural reaction to what He discloses. Prayer without revelation is vain religion.
As serious Christians today with a penchant for action, we are impressed with David’s valor in defeating Goliath. We puzzle over how he did it, perhaps failing to notice that as a shepherd he received his boldness for the battle not from the frenzy of the freeway but from the solitude of a sheep meadow (1 Sam 17:34-37). God loves shepherds. They are known for their solitude.
Busyness is normative for leaders. If you don’t want a busy life, then don’t lead! But the busyness of leadership is no excuse for spending time with the King in quiet reflection, meditation, and prayer. When’s your next time of solitude with the King?