Silence and solitude can lead us through reflection and self-discovery into an understanding of God’s plan, help us identify our inner struggles, and ultimately draw us nearer to God.
[00:00:00] You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. [00:00:07] For me, personally, having grown up in the church, this is kind of a funny topic of discussion because I was under the impression as a kid that there was a certain amount of prayer, a certain amount of church attendance, a certain amount of penance. And I don't necessarily know that I was taught this, but I kind of felt it maybe from the culture that you needed to do a certain amount of things. You need to put in your time in order to achieve this life for eternity in heaven. And that's why the disciplines existed, so that you could have some things to do in order to accomplish the amount of time, and then you would get to heaven at the end. And of course, that's a really difficult thing to master for a young kid, especially one that I didn't really feel like a whole lot of fear about that for some reason, where my dad would say, you really need to get up and you need to do your devotions in the morning. I would go, I don't think that's right, actually more of a night owl guy. [00:00:59] But I remember having this weird relationship with some of these disciplines, like scripture or like prayer or worship. And then as I got older, 19 2021 and I discovered that indeed, I do know all the answers to the questions of the universe, I was like, These aren't for me. Maybe they're for other people. [00:01:20] And that's not the only way to have a relationship with God, which, by the way, is true. But the fact of the matter is that we want to live and train our lives in a way that, as Paul says, leads us to Godliness. That leads us to Godliness. Now, that's not this weird pious existence, but instead it's one that is pursuing God and puts our purpose, the purpose of our soul, our hearts, our lives, everything we do in the direction of pursuing and following Jesus. Now, Paul talks about in Colossians, chapter one, he says, don't be blown about by every wind of doctrine. And then he instructs the Colossians on many ways that they can practice not being blown around by every wind of doctrine or every idea that comes through or every new theology or even emotion inside of you. Don't be blown around by all these different things. Instead, test them or put them up against this way of Jesus that has been presented before us. And then Paul also says in one, Timothy, chapter four, verses six through ten, he says, if you explain these things to the brothers and sisters Timothy, you will be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, who is nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching you followed. Do not waste time arguing over Godless ideas and old wives'tales. Instead, train yourself to be Godly. Physical training is good but training for Godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and the life to come. It is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the savior of all people and particularly of all believers. So Paul's encouraging Timothy, teach the people in the Christian church that you encounter to pursue this life of Godliness so that we can prove that we're better than all the other people or all the other religions. That's not the point. The point is so that we would experience this benefit in our life and the life to come by pursuing the way of Jesus. And so the rhythm that we're talking about today is the rhythm of silence and solitude. Now, in a world and even in a church where so much of what is praised is things that seek attention, right, that if I were to dumb down social media into one little phrase, it was whoever seeks and gets the most attention, wins, is kind of how the idea is. But even in some of the practices that we regularly do here on Sundays that are good and we will continue to do them, we should do them things like worship and congregational prayer and even gathering of the community together. These are all rhythms and disciplines that are necessary for our life, but they are far sexier than that of silence and solitude. Pastors really, really like measuring this stuff, right? We can go look at how many people are in our church. Did you hear how loud the worship was and the people singing? Can you see what's going on in our community groups? They're measurable. You can determine success if you wanted to, the same way that the world in every context determines success by how many people are coming and consuming and participating. Silence and solitude remove all of those markers, and they are replaced by something that is as simple as time with God. [00:04:42] And it is my belief that I personally have not participated in this as well as I could, because it is not something that's outward that other people can do with me or that I can show off what I've learned or what I've done. Instead, the practice of silence and solitude is, by its own nature, all by yourself, and very often not even saying anything, but instead listening. I recently jumped headlong into this idea of silence and solitude and probably for sure bit off more than I could chew. [00:05:15] I always feel a little bit like an imposter when we go through teaching a lot of these things, because I'm very, very much learning these different practices, especially around prayer and around solitude. But just a couple weeks ago, I got back from a trip that I took to Scotland, where I walked the St. Cuthbert's Way, which is a trail that goes from a little town called Melrose all the way to Holy Island on the eastern shore, and you actually go over into the UK. And you have to wait for the tide to go down to walk across the sands to get to Holy Island to finish the walk. [00:05:48] And my idea in approaching this about a year in advance, because it took a lot of planning in order to be able to find the time to go there and get permission from my family and from my work and all this, the idea was, I just want to be by myself. [00:06:04] My son just had his 9th birthday, and I can honestly say I have not been alone in nine years. [00:06:11] This child who is so wonderful and sweet and beautiful and annoying and loud and God, I love Joel so much. Ever since he came into my life, there is this constant. Even if I would find time by myself in the evening, there's always this, but he could be next to me at any moment, kind of feeling. My son was a little bit like Batman for a know, he could just walk in while you were sleeping, get right up into your face. [00:06:38] And so the whole idea heading into it was, look, I just want to be by myself. I like being by myself. I'm a bit of an introvert. I don't mind spending time all by myself. And that was the idea. But then as I got closer and as I've been learning a lot of things about my own practices and health and stuff, I thought this actually could be a good practice in solitude. I need to actually engage in this. So for me, it was when I'm on the trail, which is about a 65 miles trail, but when you make a couple of mistakes and then you book rooms that are not near the trail, it turned into close to 75 or 80 because I'm a glutton for something. [00:07:16] And I said, all right, I'm not going to do headphones for at least the entire time on the trail. And then maybe some other part, because I really want to see what happens if I immerse myself in this idea of solitude. So I didn't run into anybody on the trail. I wasn't checking my phone, except for the few times I needed to consult all trails to get back onto the trail. [00:07:37] And I was curious as to what I would discover. And so I'm going to share with you a little bit today about my own personal story with that. And of course, I'm going to reference how this makes sense in light of Scripture, in the life of Jesus. So let's start with that. I'm going to show you a few instances where Jesus is regularly participating in this practice, and especially Luke. The book of Luke seems to capture this better than others. It says in Luke, chapter four, verses one and two, it says, then Jesus full the Holy spirit returned from the Jordan River, and he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. And then it goes on the next chapter. It says in verse twelve, in one of the villages, jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. And when the man saw Jesus, he bowed his face to the ground, begging to be healed. And Lord, he said, if you're willing, you can heal me and make me clean. Jesus reached out and touched him. I'm willing, he said, be healed. And instantly the leprosy disappeared. And then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, Go to the priest, let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who've been healed of leprosy, and this will be the public testimony that you've been cleansed. But despite Jesus'instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. So I want to make this point real quick before we go on to a few more scriptures. If you're already hearing me and saying if I'm going to practice solitude, the idea is that I have to go to Scotland. Is that the point? I was super lucky to be able to do this. When I say lucky, I'm super grateful to my wife, who allowed me to do this, took on the family all by herself for those ten days, essentially, that I was gone. And the idea is not that you have to do a long pilgrimage, that you have to immerse yourself in this way, but the point is that we should begin to practice silence and solitude, even if it's 15 minutes, 30 minutes. And of course, we'll talk about why, but a lot of the resistance immediately is, don't you understand how busy I am? [00:09:41] And Jesus, in these first couple references of scripture, the first time he goes off into the wilderness and he's tempted by the devil, he had just been baptized by John, and the Holy Spirit had shown up and spoken over the place, that this is God's beloved Son in whom he's well pleased. This is a huge moment where Jesus'name is accelerating and people are understanding who he is and knowing that there's some kind of power that's following this man. There's plenty of work for Jesus to do, and yet he goes off into the wilderness in solitude, and then he comes back heals a man of leprosy. The word begins to spread even more of who Jesus is. The needy need him. The people need him. They want his teaching, they want his healing. And still, immediately after, he goes again off into solitude. If we are going to be a people that simply wait for the perfect moment to spend some time in solitude with God himself, then the time will never come. This is why we call it a rhythm. It's got to be a part of our lives and it takes training, as Paul is talking about, in order to implement this into our lives. And in Luke six it says, one day soon afterward, jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak. He called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Chapter six. About eight days later, Jesus took Peter, John, and James up to the mountain to pray. Luke Nine. When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites, Jesus says, who love to pray publicly on street corners, in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself. Shut the door behind you, pray to your Father on private, and your Father who sees everything will reward you. That was Matthew chapter six, verse five and six. Jesus made this a regular part of his rhythm. Even though the demands on his life and his teaching were extreme, people wanted to be with Him and they wanted to hear from Him at every moment possible, and yet he still would find time to go away. [00:11:39] So what are the benefits? What do we get from this new practice, for many of us, myself included, of silence and solitude? What are the things that we gain? Well, I'm going to talk about some of those things that happen with me and I know happened with Jesus and maybe have happened with you or will happen with you. But before we even jump into that, I love this quote from Dallas Willard who says, among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence. We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we smell the roses, and dare we say it, we do nothing. [00:12:16] If you engage in a rhythm of silence and solitude, I promise sometimes the silence and solitude will be its own reward. [00:12:25] Sometimes the only thing you gain in these moments is a greater understanding of what roses smell like, of what silence sounds like. [00:12:38] Your experience may not be my experience. God may speak to you in a clear and honest and hopeful way, or you may hear nothing. But all of these things are the reward of a life rhythm of solitude. [00:12:50] So the first thing that I believe that happens often, and it did for me, when we find some time in solitude, is that our soul speaks. [00:13:01] Our soul speaks. Solitude helps us discover what's next, of course, but in the moment, our soul is welcome to speak. Now, there's so many distractions and things, and our brains can only handle so much input right, which is why we talk about things like texting and driving or distracted driving. Our brains can only hold so much information. And so if we begin to do something else with our hands, our eyes may not have caught that this car is coming this way or this is the flow of traffic. And in our lives and with our souls and our bodies, a similar thing often happens. And if we allow ourselves to get so distracted by so much input, we can be missing some of the pains and the problems or things that we need to acknowledge in our own souls or even our own bodies. And an example is this even while I was walking, I had turned my right ankle just a little bit and it began to hurt. And over two, 3 miles, it hurt a little bit more. But then my left leg hurt and it hurt worse. And I got to the room that night and I was like, I thought my right leg was hurting earlier today, but I don't even remember. I can't even feel because my left leg pain is so strong. There are some things that are existing in your soul or in your body right now that because of other pains or other attention or because your mind has been taken away into so many different directions, you don't even know maybe that a relationship is hurting in your life. You might not even know that there is an old trauma or an old wound that you haven't acknowledged because you haven't found the time to learn even what's happening inside your soul. [00:14:37] I got 15 minutes into this 65 miles trail walk before I was overwhelmed by what was happening inside my mind. [00:14:55] It was as if somebody had taken a door to my brain and opened it wide open and said, anybody that wants to come in, now's the time. [00:15:05] This is the party. [00:15:07] I thought about stuff at work that I'd left behind immediately. I had thought about my family. I thought about joyful things. I thought about painful and grieving things. I thought about messages that I preached when I was 20 years old, which nobody should ever let a 20 year old preach that I really, really regret and hold a lot of disdain for myself at the time. There were people and thoughts and processes coming into my mind that I was going, I didn't even care about that then. I didn't even feel anything about that then. And now it's coming back. My heart rate increased. There was this really terrible opening up the hood of my own life where I was going, I have to sit down because this is a lot. And it wasn't a practice that I was trying to do. There wasn't even anything that I said where all of a sudden this was kind of allowed to come in. It was happening to me because I was in this silence and solitude that I hadn't been in in maybe my entire life. And it was a lot. It was overwhelming. I learned and thought about many people that I had wronged that I wanted to ask forgiveness from. I thought of many people that I needed to offer forgiveness to. I even took notes at some places saying, I'd like to call this person or reach out to this person when I'm done. And there were so many little issues along the way that I thought, I need to sit down with each one of these things, do a bit of an inventory on my soul and on my body, and consider maybe what God is trying to tell me through all of these things. [00:16:30] But I wasn't ever going to go down those roads and those pathways until I found a certain amount of silence. My soul was speaking because all of the volume of everything else had been brought down. For the first time in forever. [00:16:44] I wonder what your soul might say, what encouragement you might receive, what grief you might process if you allow your soul to speak in solitude. [00:16:55] Now, there was a process to all this. For me, the first couple of days were really almost manic, where I was like, I think I'm losing my mind out here. [00:17:05] And then I really believe God led me into day three and four of a place where I did have a moment where I sat down and I said, it sounds really silly saying in front of a group of people where I sat down and I said, Ben, I forgive you. [00:17:20] Because I was thinking about, I need to forgive them, and I want forgiveness from them. But then I sat down with myself and I said, Ben, I forgive you for all this grief and all this pain that maybe you've caused, you've caused yourself for these decisions that you feel like were wrong or poor. [00:17:35] And that led into my soul continuing to speak after that moment for day three and four, where something else happened to me that hasn't happened in a long time, several years at least, where I began to lighten a bit. My mood changed, and I got fun for the first time in a long time. [00:18:00] I talked to somebody after first service, said, I don't know, you've always been funny, and I like being funny. I have noticed in myself that my humor has gotten darker and darker, and I'm out in these fields. There's lots of sheep in Scotland, so I saw lots of sheep, talked to lots of sheep. That was part of the hello, you know. [00:18:26] But I was practicing something called Lectio Divina, which is praying sets of scripture to kind of meditate on scripture. And so one of the first things, I think maybe I was inspired by the sheep. I said, the Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. I'm walking down the road and saying, the Lord is my shepherd. And then I totally think this is a God thing. I'm going, There are lots of sheep out here. There are many sheep. Many, many sheep. There are walking these fields. [00:18:55] I have run through the field. [00:18:59] I still haven't found what I'm looking for, still haven't found. [00:19:10] I'm listening to myself and I'm going, I think I'm having fun. I think this is good for me. Oh, my gosh. There are times I'm trying, there's boggy, little muddy places. I'm going, we're going to jump to the left over here. And I'm looking at myself and I'm going, I am so glad no one is here. [00:19:33] It was fun, it was light and it was all part of this process. [00:19:40] I felt lonely for the first time in a long time. I have a very social job and love being with my family and with people all the time, years and years and years and years of it. And I remember feeling lonely, like I wanted to be with someone. And I thought, this is beautiful. [00:20:00] I passed one couple along the trail, they were retired therapists from Yorkshire. And as I went to pass by them, she said, Are you walking St. Cuthbert's way? And I said, I'm so happy to talk to you. [00:20:14] Hi. [00:20:16] My soul was speaking. I had missed thinking and feeling and experiencing many, many things. [00:20:24] And God was reigniting my soul with many of those. [00:20:30] So, first thing is, I believe our soul speaks. Second thing, we hear God's plan. We often hear God's plan, love that Jesus goes away in many of these scriptures and then something happens when he comes back, that the disciples are chosen after he comes back from a time alone. That a leper is healed after he comes back from a time alone. There's a time in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is praying alone and the disciples are kind of in another area and he comes back with the boldness and the courage to go to the cross to die for you and for me. [00:21:05] Sometimes when we're looking for courage, it's tempting to always go to a mentor or to a spouse or to a family member or to a friend, which is a good and beautiful thing that we should continue to do. But I also believe that God gives us a plan and courage when we go and we seek him in solitude as well. The encouragement of God happens in these one on one places. [00:21:30] The third thing is this we see and we begin to understand our enemy. [00:21:39] Now, the Apostle Paul again says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities of this world. And so when I say we see our enemy, it's not that we discover how we should function in forgiveness with all these other people and things, including ourselves, but we also identify that one person that deserves the fires of hell. [00:22:00] Finally, some clarity on someone I get to hate as much as I want. [00:22:04] Now, Paul again, would say that it's not about people. It's about this thing that exists in our world that oftentimes exists in us, especially when we haven't practiced these rhythms that have kept us centered on the way of Jesus. So when Jesus goes into the wilderness after he's baptized in this there's this beautiful moment with the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes and the scripture tells us that he's tempted by the devil in these 40 days. So he's experiencing this physical hunger, and now he's experiencing this conversation with the devil where he's tempted. And to sum up the whole story, for those of you who don't know, it essentially what it is, is the devil coming to Jesus saying, how do you know you are who you say you are and who God says you are? You should probably test it out because I don't believe in your identity as the Messiah. And Jesus pushes back on all these comments from the devil. [00:23:04] I believe that our common enemy is a voice, is a word, is an enemy that would look at each of us and say, you are not the person that God says that you are. [00:23:19] I'm walking down this trail. And that was part of day one. Day two and some of day three was this real, almost identity crisis of some of the common things that all of us have, not all of us that some of us have. When we try to disconnect from work, we think about, well, somebody else is doing my job right now, or somebody else is taking over and running this thing and I'm missing this and I'm missing that. And then it continued to go deeper into, well, maybe I'm not the guy that I thought that I was. [00:23:46] Maybe I need to continue to seek some more affirmation. Maybe I need to get somebody else on my side. Maybe I'm not the person that I believe that God has made me to be. Maybe I'm not as loved as I had thought. [00:23:59] And this is amazing. And I will own my own luck, my own privilege, my own experience in my life. You guys, I am such a loved person. My family deeply loves me. I love this church. And I'm so grateful for all of you who encourage me all the time and send cards and notes and emails. And it's been such a positive experience, especially in the pastoral transition that we've had this last year. I am so loved, and yet somehow, because of all the volume and the things that I experience in my life, I can somehow draw the conclusion that I am unloved and unwanted in my community and place. [00:24:38] That is the voice of the enemy. [00:24:44] And I think a lot of times when we get our fur up or we get so frustrated over this next election cycle or these people that are on this side and this people that are on this side. I'm not saying that we don't participate in that. I'm not saying that we don't engage and try to care for our country and our world and our city in every single way possible. But I really believe that the reason we get so fired up so fast and make the decision to make enemies out of people instead of things and of evil is because we're so unsure and insecure about our own standing in our own place. And God is coming into this moment of silence and solitude and a moment of silence and solitude for you, and it's saying, I love you so much. You are mine, and I am yours. [00:25:27] God did not come to me and say, ben, you should go back with this new plan, and you should tell them to vote Democrat or Republican. You should come back and you should tell them to propose this initiative. You should come back and you should instruct the church in this way. God came to me in this moment of solitude and said, you're mine and I am yours. [00:25:49] It's simple when we have these moments with God, isn't it? Right? I've experienced it with my kids. I think they're growing out of it too. But there's moments that I remember where I'm just walking with my daughter or my son, and somebody will come and say, what are you guys doing? And Jovi would go, I'm just with dad. [00:26:06] Don't even care where we're going right now. I'm just with dad. And that's what silence and solitude can bring to us. The final point is this, and it's real simple. [00:26:18] We draw near to God again in Luke, chapter four, and we read this a moment ago. I'm going to read it again. Verse one. It says then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. [00:26:35] He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days. [00:26:42] Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. [00:26:49] Man, I'm thinking about I know there's so many of you out here today because this is the culture and the water that we live in. It's like these moments hit that we almost feel like we can't handle. [00:26:59] And it could be anything. It could be thoughts, it could be real stuff. It could be resources and finances, and it could be planning. [00:27:07] And our tendency is to be like, I got to run faster. I got to go faster. [00:27:13] I'm out here in Scotland, and I'm all by myself, and I'm on this retreat, and I'm doing 24 minutes miles. This is insane. [00:27:23] The point wasn't to go as fast as I can or to reach it in record time or to be successful or to win, but to be and I will tell you, I do believe that it is just pure loneliness if we find ourselves in the wilderness, in solitude, and we're. Not brought there or participated with the Holy Spirit or with God. It is loneliness. I am all by myself. [00:27:52] But solitude is with the intention to walk into these quote unquote lonely places and experience just the presence of God, whatever that looks like. [00:28:06] To walk out into the desert is to be alone. But to walk with God is to never, ever be alone.