We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Silence and Solitude. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here.
Last week, we discussed Fasting. In that post, we discovered that few disciplines go so radically against the flesh and mainstream of culture as fasting. We also learned that few things can focus our minds on spiritual things like fasting.
Forgo ritual and routine and instead pursue the things that lead to godliness. While the Disciplines we are discussing are meant to do just that, we must lend special care that they don’t secure a noose about our necks. Engage in them because they get you more of Christ, and not for any other purpose. In so doing, you’ll avoid the lifeless twitch awaiting at the end of the rope.
If you were to get up early, while the sky is still dark, and before the rest of the world starts to move, you'd notice something so special and unique you'd most likely miss it if you encountered it at another point in the day. In fact, it might strike you as awkward and uncomfortable at any other moment in your day. An attractive stillness and quiet dominates the early morning hours. The mass of humanity hasn’t stirred from its slumber and cars aren’t rushing to and fro—hurriedly trying to get to one place or the next. No the majority of the sights and sounds of our day have yet to begin. It's a peaceful scene, when you stop to think about it, just you, your thoughts, a warm cup of coffee, and the hushed silence of early morning. Such a picture sets even the most troubled heart to rest. Once the sun creeps over the horizon, the gentle sounds of silence are gone—they are washed out by the rapid squeaks, hums, and horns of another day.
“There is something,” Whitney said, “both appealing and transforming about silence and solitude.” While many are overcome with discomfort at the silence in social settings, and may even cringe at variable moments of quiet during outings, we find the twin disciplines of silence and solitude the perfect recipe for what ails our soul in troubled times. Whether it is a glass of sweet tea in the rocking chair on the back porch late at night, or a hot cup of coffee watching the sunrise, Whitney is right—we treasure those moments of quiet and stillness.
Simply sitting in silence may have a calming and relaxing effect upon us, but as with the rest of the Disciplines, purpose matters. “The Discipline of silence,” Whitney said, “is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goods might be sought.” We would do well to note that a lack of outward expression should be replaced by a flurry of internal activity. Silence could be observed for Bible reading, prayer, journaling, or meditation upon Scripture. Our retreat from the noises of life can be leveraged towards so many varied goods.
“Solitude,” Whitney said, “is the Spiritual Discipline of voluntary and temporary withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” Our world makes it difficult to practice many of the Spiritual Disciplines, or simply be alone with God, there are too many interruptions. The amount of time we spend apart from the world to engage in the Disciplines is of little importance, rather the regular practice of doing so is. There are times when we need to be alone, away from the distractions of life, away from our many responsibilities, and away from every other thing but our Maker.
Silence and solitude are twin Disciplines, they compliment one another perfectly. While they can be separated and enjoyed apart, they work best as a pair, and that is exactly how Whitney addresses them in this chapter. Rather than approaching them as unique and varied Disciplines, he presents them as a unified team seeking to make you more like Jesus.
“We live in a noisy, busy world.” Jean Fleming said, “Silence and solitude...fit the era of Victorian lace, high-button shoes, and kerosene lamps better than our age of television, video arcades, and joggers wired with earphones. We have become people with an aversion to quiet and an uneasiness with being alone.” Our culture conditions us to be more comfortable with noise and crowds, than with silence and solitude.
In light of our learned aversion to these twin tasks, Whitney presents nine, “biblical reasons for making priorities of the Disciplines of silence and solitude.”
- To Follow Jesus’ Example - “To be more like Jesus,” Whitney said, “we must discipline ourselves to find times of silence and solitude.” Again, again and again, we see Jesus withdrawing to a desolate and quiet place to commune with the Father and He taught the same practice to His disciples. It’s part of being a follower of Jesus.
- To Minimize Distractions in Prayer - “Many of us,” Whitney said, “need to realize the addiction we have to noise. It’s one thing to listen to the television or another device while doing housework or chores, but it’s another to be unable to stay in a room for a while without it. Even worse is the requirement of background noise during Bible intake and prayer.”
- To Express Worship to God - “Regardless of the state of your emotions,” Whitney said, “there is always a place for wordless worship, a God-centered silence based upon what God has revealed of Himself in His Word.”
- To Express Faith in God - “Verbalized prayers,” Whitney said, “can sometimes be filled more with fear and doubt than faith; silence before the Lord can sometimes express more faith and submission to God’s providence than words.”
- To Seek the Salvation of the Lord - “Times of silence and solitude to seek the salvation of the Lord,” Whitney said, “can refer either to a non-Christian seeking salvation from sin and guilt in Christ or to a believer seeking God’s salvation from certain circumstances.”
- To Be Physically and Spiritually Restored - “Everyone has a regular need for restoring the resources of both the inward and outward person. It was true even for those who lived most closely with Jesus.” And it is most certainly true of me and you.
- To Regain a Spiritual Perspective - “What we are in them [solitudes],” John Owen said, “that we are indeed, and no more. They are either the best or the worst of our times, wherein the principle that is predominant in us will show and act itself.” Habitually seeking God in stillness and quiet helps us to see ourselves rightly and therein appeal to His grace afresh each day.
- To Seek The Will of God - The most common reason believers get alone with God is when Christians need to make a decision and aren’t sure what to do. Few things serve to get the believer’s attention like a good crisis.
- To Learn Control of the Tongue - “There’s no doubt that learning control of the tongue,” Whitney said, “is critical to Christlikeness. The Bible says that the religion of the person with no tongue control is worthless...Godliness, therefore, involves learning when you shouldn’t talk as well as when you should.”
“One reason why the dual Disciplines of silence and solitude can be so thoroughly transforming,” Whitney said, “is because of how they connect us with the other Spiritual Disciplines. They should normally be the context, for example, where we engage in personal Bible intake and prayer.” Whitney makes a wonderful point on this score. The Disciplines we are studying in this series, are meant to interconnect, one is set forth for the very purpose of bleeding over into the next. No Discipline sets you up for success in the enjoyment of other Disciplines like the dual Disciplines of silence and solitude.
If our goal is Christlikeness, few Disciplines could have as deep and profound an impact on to what extent we attain that end, as these.
“It has been said that no great work in literature or in science, Austin Phelps said, “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.”
How often do we sit in complete silence for more than a few seconds? Not nearly often enough, if we’re anything alike. “Many of us,” Whitney said, “need to realize the addiction we have to noise. It’s one thing to listen to the television or another device while doing housework or chores, but it’s another to be unable to stay in a room for a while without it.”
I’m addicted to noise; whether it’s music or a podcast interview. Two little white earbuds sit firmly fixed in my ears all day long. Any serious session of activity—whether house related or work-oriented—requires background noise of some sort. I’m rarely comfortable cleaning, typing or walking without some sound filling the air.
I would fill any lull in conversation when Hannah and I were first dating. It used to drive her crazy. “Do you have to always be talking?” she’d ask. I didn’t even notice myself doing it most of the time, but her pointing it out helped me see that silence made me uncomfortable. It left me alone with my thoughts and that’s something most of us tend to avoid.
Six years later, I’m usually comfortable with silence—meaning I don’t immediately jump to fill quiet moments—but still have far to go in leveraging it for spiritual purposes. Most mornings I wake up around 5:30 am, pour my coffee and spend an hour in silence writing, but when I turn my attention to reading the Bible and working on Scripture memory, the headphones quickly get popped in—usually softly playing Psalms Live with Shane & Shane. Rarely do I sit in the same silence I devote to writing during this time with God. Sound and song crowd my mind, sometimes distracting me from meditating on God’s Word.
This has to change. Not every moment of life requires a soundtrack, nor should it. Just as I have grown to appreciate the natural lulls in conversation, I must learn to crave silent time alone with the Lord.
We will continue with the next chapter (chapter eleven) of the book next Sunday. We may be in the midst of reading Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together, but it’s not too late for you to jump in. In fact, I’d love nothing more than for you to grab a copy and join in. Click here to see what ground we’ve covered so far. Each chapter can be read on its own, so jump in with us this week as we read about journaling.
I’d like to hear what stood out to you this week. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below.