And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. (Matthew 14:23)
We lead busy lives – even frenetic at times – and are constantly surrounded and bombarded by an endless stream of noise and activity in one form or another. Our world has so much to offer – television, movies, music, dvds, live entertainment… The list is endless, and even our ‘time out’ often involves some kind of diversion, not just from the demands of our careers, but often from ourselves and each other. I’m often astonished at how many people I’ve heard declare that they avoid spending time alone, and can’t help but wonder how humanity would cope if our ‘at the ready’ technology and entertainment were to vanish overnight.
Looking back on my life, I think the greatest legacy I received from my dad – a simple, down to earth farmer – was the appreciation of solitude and an enduring love for the early mornings. I’m so grateful for those hours, long before the rest of the world is awake, when I can be alone with God to pray, to worship, to learn, and to listen for the still small voice so easily drowned out by the things of life.
Think, for a moment, of Jesus. The Gospels mention many occasions when He removed Himself, not only from the multitudes but even from His disciples, to a place of solitude and silence to commune with God. What a remarkable thought – even the Son of God, who lived in total surrender, obedience and unity with God, needed to take ‘time out’ to make space for the still, small voice. Even He knew that this time was vital if He wanted to remain in right fellowship with His Father.
Both Moses and Paul, like Christ, paint a vivid portrait of the the value of solitude and time with God. They both spent years in seclusion, as did Jesus – a time apart in which He prepared them for the ministry He had called them to. Elijah, too, spent time alone beside the Kidron river, waiting on God and in earnest prayer that was to culminate in his victory against Jezebel and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. All these men learned the real value of solitude – in seeking seclusion, they made space for the still small voice that was critical to their calling.
It is in these moments apart that a number of things happen. First, we get to take a good look at ourselves without diversions and distractions to cloud reality. It is when there is nothing to ‘hide behind’ that we confront who we really are without roles or expectations. It’s just us and God, and our perspective makes a radical shift from clutter to clarity. Perhaps this is why so many avoid these moments. It’s not always easy or comfortable to confront self, but God is there in those moments to guide us and teach us and heal us. Transformation begins in solitude, because it’s not so much a place as a state of mind, a willingness to humble ourselves before God.
Second, solitude is a place of worship. As we begin to see ourselves as we really are, so we begin to see the awesome magnitude of God. The shift in perspective builds faith, it engenders the ‘fear of the Lord’ we need in right relationship. It enables us to praise and worship Him in a spirit of thanksgiving and awe. And where there is true worship, we will always find true communion. It is impossible to truly hear from God if we haven’t learned to worship Him in solitude and surrender.
Third, our heavenly Father will draw us into the fellowship He desires. And fellowship means communication. This is the place where He reveals His will, His plans, His purposes. This is where He speaks to us, and where we are able receive what He has planned and purposed for our lives. This is the place where there is no pretence, no confusion, and no hindrance. This is the place where He whispers words of love, words of comfort, words of guidance and words of encouragement
Think, for a moment of Elijah, there on the mountain alone. First came wind, then earthquake, then fire. But God was in none of these. Only when these had passed did God manifest to Elijah – in the still small voice. God manifested and spoke from the silence when Elijah had waited through storm, tremor and fire, when he stood – humble and patient – before God, and let God speak on His own terms.
In a world where everything is loud and larger than life, when things blaze in technicolour and present a total barrage to the senses, how often do we miss the still, small voice? More than ever, we need to draw apart from the crowds, seek out the space of silence and solitude and fix our eyes on God. He desires to speak to all of us, but we should remember that He’s a jealous God. He won’t compete with noise or distractions. He won’t shout to be heard above the clamour of life. He won’t join the cacophony with which we surround ourselves and hope to be heard.
We serve a loving God who desires to speak with His people. That is the most awesome thought, the ultimate gift of grace. The God who holds the entire universe in His hand wants to commune with us. Shouldn’t we set aside the time to meet with Him? It doesn’t have to be a specific place, a regimented time, or even a religious exercise. It should simply be a joyful meeting, a conscious choice to shut out the world and be alone with Him. It’s not about duty or obligation. It’s about recognizing the grace offered, and making space for the still small voice that is the only source of life.
Father God, the knowledge that You desire to speak with us is humbling. It’s a source of awe and joy and thanksgiving. Forgive me, Lord, for those days where I may have neglected You, and then still wondered why I never heard You speak. Help me to draw near to You, to find times of solitude, to worship and to praise and to pray, and to listen beyond the wind and the earthquake and the fire to hear Your still small voice.