Pastor Bills Daily
March 16, 2020
A few days ago I read an article in the Boston Globe: "A coronavirus cautionary tale from Italy: Don’t do what we did". Mattia Ferraresi began the article with these words:
"Many of us were too selfish to follow suggestions to change our behavior. Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying."
Selfishness is a common characteristic of all mankind. In spite of the Governors request in regulating gatherings my wife witnessed a mob enjoying recreation at a new facility in Gorham that recently opened up for business. Drinking, eating, engaging in recreational activities, with no concern about proximities or contact with one another. Granted they may have been in the younger age bracket that is less susceptible to the Virus, but even as carriers, they could easily pass on the Virus to those who would be adversely affected.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbors. That means not to become selfish both in the hoarding of toilet paper and in reckless behavior that literally could claim the life of another.
It is certain that the disease will spread and for many of us that may mean that we in some way were engaged in the process. But there is a standard of love that we are to embrace and we are called to do our best to protect and care for our neighbor.
So when you are out and about do the elbow bump. It's not that bad. Pay for the coffee of the next person in line at Dunkin Donuts and make their day. And purchase what you need, leaving the rest on the shelf for the next person in need. I would add that we obey the advise of the CDC and others in authority as they seek to help us through this crisis. Bury the arrogance and defiance of the ignorant for as Matti warned it leads only to people needlessly dying.
Christians can set a wonderful example in a world that centers on its own desires. Be kind, loving, encouraging, affirming, and giving, all attributes of the Spirit of Christ. Remember sometimes the best way to let your light shine is by playing nice in the sandbox.
March 17, 2020
My latest focus during Lent has been on the Spiritual Disciplines. For many Christians this is a bridge too far. Not only do we not know what they are, but we also have no idea what benefit we derive from them or how to engage in them in a sustainable manner. Consequently they are filed in our Junk bin and few explore them.
That may be a critical mistake.
Dallas Willard in his book "The Spirit of the Disciplines" argues that a failure to discipline the body, mind, soul and spirit is a failure to be a disciple of Christ. Believing in Jesus intellectually, and practicing gluttony physically are two contrary directives. The disciplines help us to train our entire being to walk with God.
Lewis Sperry Chafer in his book, "He that is Spiritual" writes, "The Biblical, as well as practical, cure for 'worldliness' among Christians is so to fill the heart and life with the eternal blessings of God that there will be a joyous preoccupation and absentmindedness to unspiritual things..."
I think we all can relate to the fact that we that often fail to ascend to this level in our walks. Instead we share the apostle Pauls frustration when he writes; "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."
In point of fact we are a new creation in Jesus. "The old" writes Paul, "has passed away, and the new has come." Yet we all know that the new needs attention or the old weeds quickly come back and fill the garden.
So where do we begin. Ironically the Corona-Virus is giving many people the one thing that stops most from practicing the disciplines, - time. With more and more cancelations, and more shops and services that are closed, our daily routines are grinding to a bit of a halt. Nothing could redeem the time better than growing in your walk with the LORD.
Because most evangelicals practice the disciplines of prayer and bible reading, I'll not explore them. Instead I will spend a little time each day exploring the more exotic disciplines. Join me each night as I post a discipline and a short study surrounding it. Hopefully you can begin to enlarge your understanding of how to train both body and soul in our pursuit to grow in Christ.
Much Love- PB
March 18, 2020
CONTEMPLATION-A story from James Bryant Smith "THE MONK IN A JOGGING SUIT"
Today I wanted to talk about the spiritual discipline of CONTEMPLATION. A person I met years ago wrote this article that captures both the frustration and joy of this discipline. Notice that Scripture, repetition, time, and mental stillness are key elements in this story. After you read the story why don't you practice with Proverbs 3:5&6.
"THE MONK IN THE JOGGING SUIT"
During my second year of seminary, the spiritual moorings of my life came loose. Earlier, before starting seminary, I had asked the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen which one would best nurture my spiritual life. “None of them,” he responded. “That will be mostly up to you.”
After a year and a half, I learned the truth of his words. I decided to go on a five-day silent retreat at a Northeastern Episcopalian monastery to try to reclaim the spiritual warmth I had somehow lost.
Upon arrival I was assigned a monk who would be my spiritual director for one hour each day. He walked into our meeting room with jogging clothes underneath his cowl. I was disappointed. I had been expecting an elderly man, bearded to his knees, who would penetrate my soul with searing blue eyes. Instead, I got “the jogging monk.”
My director gave me only one task for the day: meditate on the story of the Annunciation (BIRTH OF CHRIST) in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. I walked back to my cell, wondering how I would occupy my time with only this one assignment. After all, I thought to myself, I could exegete this entire text in a few hours. What was I to do for the rest of the day—in silence?
Back at my cell I opened my Bible to the passage and began reading. “Birth narrative,” I muttered to myself. For the next hour I spliced and diced the verses as any good exegete would do, ending up with a few hypotheses and several hours to sit in silence. As the hours passed, the room seemed to get smaller. There was no view to the outside through the window of my room. Other rooms, I would come to find, had a beautiful view of the river that flowed adjacent to the monastery. Without any view to the outer world, I was forced to look within. Despite my hopes of finding spiritual bliss, I never felt more alone.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The next day I met with the monk again to discuss my spiritual life. He asked what had happened with the assigned text. I told him it was just shy of disaster in terms of profound spiritual revelations but that I had come up with a few exegetical insights. I thought my discoveries might impress him.
“What was your aim in reading this passage?” he asked.
“My aim? To arrive at an understanding of the meaning of the text, I suppose.”
I paused. “No. What else is there?”
“Well, there’s more than just finding out what it says and what it means. There are also questions like, What did it teach you? What did it say to you? Were you struck by anything? And most importantly, Did you experience God in your reading?”
He assigned the same text for the next day, asking me to begin reading it not so much with my head but more with my heart.
I had no idea how to do this. For the first three hours I tried and failed repeatedly. I practically had the passage memorized and still it was lifeless, and I was bored. The room seemed even smaller, and by nightfall I thought I would go deaf from the silence.
The next day we met again. In despair I told him that I simply could not do what he was asking. It was then that the wisdom beneath the jogging clothes became evident: “You’re trying too hard, Jim. You’re trying to control God. You’re running the show. Go back and read this passage again. But this time, be open to receive whatever God has for you. Don’t manipulate God; just receive. Communion with him isn’t something you institute. It’s like sleep. You can’t make yourself sleep, but you can create the conditions that allow sleep to happen. All I want you to do is create the conditions: open your Bible, read it slowly, listen to it, and reflect on it.”
I went back to my cell (it had a prisonlike feel by now) and began to read. I found utter silence. After an hour I finally shouted, “I give up! You win!” though I am not certain at whom I was shouting. I slumped over in my chair and began to weep. I suspect it was for my failure that God had been waiting.
LET IT BE TO ME
A short time later I picked up the Bible and read the passage again. The words looked different despite their familiarity. My mind and heart were supple as I read. I was no longer trying to figure out the meaning or the main point of the passage. I was simply hearing it.
My eyes fell upon the famous words of Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word,” her response to God’s stunning promise that she would give birth to his son. Let it be to me. The words rang in my head. And then God spoke to me. Some might say it was “all in my head” or “just my imagination,” but how else does God speak?
It was as if a window had been thrown open and God was suddenly present, like a friend who wanted to talk. What followed was a dialogue about the story in Luke, about God, about Mary, and about me. I wondered about Mary—her feelings, her doubts, her fears, and her incredible willingness to respond to God’s request.
This prompted me to ask (or the Spirit moved me to ask) about the limits of my obedience which seemed meager in comparison to Mary’s. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel to Mary. We talked about fear? What was I afraid of? What held me back?
“You have found favor with God,” the angel told Mary. Had I found favor with God? I sensed that I had, but not because of anything I had done (humility had become my companion in that room). I had found favor because I was his child.
I wondered, too, about the future, about my calling. What was God wanting of me? Mary had just been informed of her destiny. What was mine? We talked about what might be—what, in fact, could be, if I were willing. If I were willing.
Like Augustine who turned to the Scriptures after hearing a voice say, “Take up and read,” I had reached the end of my rope and was, for the first time in a long time, in a position to hear. There is much to be said for desperation as desperation led me to begin praying. My prayer was really a plea: help me. After an hour of reflecting and listening, Mary’s “Let it be to me according to your word” eventually became my prayer. The struggle had ended. I had a feeling that I had just lost control of my life, but in that same moment, had finally found my life.
The room that had seemed small now seemed spacious. The fact that there was no view no longer mattered. The view was wonderful from my vantage point. The silence no longer mattered, no longer made me anxious, but rather, seemed peaceful. And the terrible feeling of being alone was replaced by a sense of closeness with a God who was “nearer to me than I was to myself.”
THE WORD EXPOSED IN THE WORDS
Before my retreat, I would have laughed if someone had tried to tell me that my real problem was not prayer or meditation or personal discipline, but that it was my inability to read the Bible. After all, to me, an evangelical with a touch of Wesleyan pietism, the Bible was sacred. I had memorized 2 Timothy 3:16 early on as a Christian. When Carl F. H. Henry had come to speak to us at Yale Divinity School on the authority of the Scriptures (Daniel in the lion’s den?), I stood by him and championed his cause.
I had studied under brilliant Bible scholars and maintained a high view of authority and inspiration. Even my Bible could attest to the hours I labored to understand it, covered as it was with marginal notes and multicolored “highlighter” markings. Like Paul, I list my achievements to point a finger not at me but at the God who redirected my ways.
Quite simply, I had forgotten that there is much more to reading the Bible than merely understanding the words on the pages. Karl Barth wrote of how “the Word is exposed in the words.” It was as if the Word—strong and pure, convicting and yet strengthening—now emerged from the words.
Learning how to study the Bible was an important and essential skill. However, I had lost “the ears to hear” anything beyond that kind of study.
I say “lost” because there was a time when I had ears that heard. I was given my first Bible at the age of sixteen and I remember vividly how I read the Gospels with a kind of awe, hearing the words as if they were spoken to me. Somewhere along the way I lost those ears, and it took a monk in jogging shoes and a Jonah-like three days of anguish in the belly of a monastery to get them back.
What I relearned in my room without a view was how the Bible should be read, namely, with an ear to what the text might be saying to me. Simply doing responsible exegesis is not enough, as enlightening as it often is. The next steps are listening to the text, reflecting on it, asking not merely what it means, but what it is asking of me, what it is asking me to hear.
What I had been unable to understand was what Søren Kierkegaard called the “contemporaneity” of the Bible. The past does not merely parallel but actually intersects the present. The Christ who called his disciples to follow him is calling each of us at this moment. I had been reading the Bible as if it were describing a world in which I might find parallels. I now came to understand that when I read the Bible, I am reading about a world that in some sense also now is.
For example, I had been prone to read the story of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac by saying, “Boy, Abraham sure had a tough decision. I am glad I am not in his shoes.” Now I see that I cannot read it only that way. Why? Because I am in Abraham’s shoes. God sometimes calls me to sacrifice my most precious possession. The story has much to say to the present.
I had to relearn that the Bible is a book aimed primarily at the will of the reader. I was afraid to hear what the Bible might say because I suspected it might ask me to change my life. It did. When I was “running the show,” as the monk observed, I could sidestep the contemporaneity of the Bible. Mary was Mary, and I could observe her dilemma and even write a good sermon about it. But now it was my dilemma. Could I—will I—say, “let it be to me?”
Finally, I relearned that reading the Bible requires what the saints of old called “contemplation.” It was in solitude and silence that the noise and hurry of the world finally ceased long enough for me to hear. There was not enough silence in my life for me to hear the Word within the words, and I knew that deep down, which is why I went on a silent retreat in the first place. Now I have learned that silence is possible outside the haven of a monastery, but I still have to work to find it.
I also learned that contemplation is more than just silence. The monk’s insistence that I stay with the same passage for three days unnerved me. Now I understand what he was trying to do. Contemplation requires deep reflection, repetition, patience, and persistence. The veil that covered my heart would not be removed by a single reading. I needed then, and still need, to read it slowly, until the words strike a chord within me. Once they strike, I am able to let them resonate.
A NEW WORLD OPENS UP
The end of the retreat was much better than the beginning. My “jogging monk” was pleased to see that I had relearned how to read the Bible. He gave me different passages to meditate on for the remainder of the retreat, and, like Mary, I was able to “ponder” them in my heart. I felt what an illiterate person must feel on learning how to read. A new world opened up.
Seminary, too, became more of a joy. I finished that year and my final year with a new way of looking at the Bible. I found that there can be a happy marriage between textual study and contemplation, viewing them not as competing but complementary. One without the other feels incomplete. Now, five years later, I feel that any day on which I do not open the Bible and let the words descend from my head into my heart, letting them mold my thoughts and shape my prayers, is wasted.
Unlike the room at the monastery, I now have a beautiful view outside my window. Now and then I close the shades.
March 19, 2020
The Corona-Virus is certainly changing the way that I go through a typical day.
To be honest I rarely washed my hands before the Virus came to town. Yah- sorry about that. Much less wipe down every door-knob, cell phone, and flat surface that I come into contact with. And that part about not touching your face-forget about it. I find myself resting my head in my hands all the time. It’s hard to break habits. Heck I just witnessed a health official on T.V. who was explaining the steps for being safe, stick her finger on her tongue to turn the page in her notes! (just need to mention that the virus lives up to 3 DAYS on cardboard- yeah she’s infected).
So I definitely find that I am living an abnormal life now just to be able to do the things that I once enjoyed and absolutely took for granted.
In some small measure I can suddenly begin to appreciate the sacrifice of Christ in the Incarnation (his birth). Imagine being the Son of God, dwelling in the purity of the courts of Heaven where sin could not abide, and breathing nothing but the fresh air filled with the wonderful love and grace of the Father.
What a difference that first breath in the manger must have been. Oxen, sheep, donkeys, and a mother soaked in the sweat of child-birth. And what of the life he then lived. Sin showed up clearly to Christ. He saw it, detested it, and was surrounded by it. Like the virus He knew it’s intent was to kill, and He knew that only one antidote existed to be rid of it- His own blood.
It’s curious to me how the blood, or more specifically the white blood cells, of survivors of diseases is a coveted commodity. These cells become immune to the disease offering the opportunity for vaccines to be developed.
And so it was with the Son of God. Subjecting Himself to the total exposure to sin the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Taking on the sins of the world Jesus died, destroyed sins power, and rose from the dead carrying the antidote for sin in His veins, the seal of the Holy Spirit which He now could offer to those who sought the vaccine for their souls.
So in a very real sense it was the blood of Jesus that paid for us and heals us as John writes; “the blood of Jesus His Son, cleanses us from all sin”.
In a world were we are suddenly exposed to the danger of a virus, it is good to know that Christ knows exactly what it feels like to be surrounded by death. It is because of His familiarity with my condition that I know he hears my cry, and I know he heeds my needs. And I also know that has given me victory over the darkness because He defeated the ultimate virus of sin, and gave you and I the antidote through His blood.
Nuts I just stuck my finger in my mouth... thank God we have a SAVIOR!
March 20, 2020
THE SPIRITUAL ART OF FASTING
If you are like me I start fasting on January 2nd every year. Shortly after the holiday season I stand in front of the mirror and stare at my swollen mid-section. It is amazing to me what the accumulated effects of gluttony and high caloric foods can do to your body. My six pack turns into a keg and I began to wear my "expanded" wardrobe. Hence the motivation for fasting....
Needless to say there is little spiritual benefit derived from binge fasting with the emphases on loosing weight. But fasting nonetheless has the potential to greatly enhance your growth in the LORD.
WHY FAST? Fasting is the act of abstinence. (I'll talk about this spiritual disciple in its own blog). In short you choose to deny yourself something in deference to spending time with the LORD. I would call it an act of LOVE. You express your fidelity to Christ by pushing aside worldly sustenance and pleasure.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A FAST? Curiously, you actually begin to die. I mean think about it. We eat to live. Not eating, not living. Spiritually this denial elicits the Spirit inside of you to move from a secondary level of awareness to a heightened sense of primary awareness. In short, the Spirit inside of you begins to dominate your heart, mind, and soul. As your body recedes, your spirit is enlarged.
Being a Pastor I have had the Holy privilege of being with Christians who have died. Many times they experience a heightened sense of Heaven in those last few days. Our spirit responses to the physical signals of death, and it begins to emerge to transform us into our true self in Christ. Fasting generates this same sensation.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? First the battle. I will admit day one is kind of easy, especially if you eat like a pig prior to the fast so that you can cruise through it. Day two, not so much. The fascinating thing about hunger, is how it dominates your entire consciousness. This season of the fast allows you to choose CHRIST over your flesh and generates integrity in your soul. Each day, if you spend time with the LORD during the time you would have been eating, you will find you will grow closer to Him. Combined with contemplation, and meditation I find it not uncommon to gain powerful insights into your own heart and soul.
But the best benefit is the elimination of the noise. During regular attempts at prayer we are of the victims of distractions. In the heart of a fast there is this sense of being in the eye of the hurricane. Peace, power, and even the voice of God.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FAST? It has been my practice to fast Thursdays. I like to try to fast for the entire day but several meals is of some benefit to me as I spend that time talking with God. During lent, multiple days. It is a wonderful time of the year to become closer to the lover who dies for your wellbeing and salvation.
There are all kinds of blogs written about how to begin and end a fast in a manner that will be good for your body. And of course some folks have medical conditions that prevent this discipline from being practiced. But for those who can, it is a discipline that yields high rewards.
I hope that you have found this blog helpful and that you will give this disciple a try.
As for me -thank God its Friday, I'm starving:)
Much Love- PB
March 23, 2020
THE JESUS PRAYER
The Jesus Prayer is an ancient monastic tool for developing both a quick and full connection with God through prayer. Originally written about and practiced for monastic purposes by St. John Cassin (360-425A.D.) it quickly became a standard discipline in the life of all Orthodox monastic orders. (Eastern Greek, Russian and Coptic).
It is believed that the prayer in its simplest form is found in Luke’s gospel. In Luke 18:8-14is the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both of them are praying in the temple. The Pharisee is extolling his virtuous life and religious achievements to God. On the contrary the tax collector utters this simple and contrite prayer, later set apart by Christ as an example of the proper attitude towards God in prayer, 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This prayer became a staple of the Desert Fathers and is found in primers as a tool to achieve the three steps of holiness. Purgatio “the cleaning of the soul”, Illuminatio “enlightenment and service”, and Unitio or unity- “oneness with the Spirit of God”. Young Monks who struggled with the ascetic practices could use this simple prayer to invoke God’s grace and gain control of the flesh. It is with this intention that St. John Climacus recommends The Jesus Prayer in his writing, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” circa 600A.D. The prayers impact is felt in all monastic orders, and was a foundational element in the Rule of St. Benedict.
HOW TO USE THE PRAYER
First the prayer has many different forms but all yield to the humility and brevity of the original Lucian passage. In the Catholic and Episcopal Liturgy you will hear, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.” Russian monks also had variations. In the Philokalia we read, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner” All variants seem to work quite well as the original intent and character of Christ’s teaching is preserved.
THE FIVE FUNCTIONS OF THE PRAYER
The prayer provides five important functions. First its brevity makes it a prayer for centering down through repetition. Contrary to the vain repetition Jesus refers to in Matthew 6:7 where Christ rebukes the practice of the pagans who think they will be heard for, “their many words”, monastic repetition is designed to center you by eliminating the street noise, and helping you to focus on God.
Some may fear that this is a mantra, utilized by pagans to invoke demons. It clearly is not, as its central themes are to invoke Christ, God’s mercy, and to remind us of our position as sinners before the throne of Grace. Hardly a recipe for demonic invocation.
Second the prayer serves as a means which you can actually Pray without Ceasing. Once you are familiar with the value and the meaning of the prayer, its ease in repetition can become an inner source of constant prayer. The longest I have prayed it is about five hours, and that during a horrible business meeting. Its' comfort and power speak for themselves.
Third the prayer is a Divine invocation. When prayed the powerful name of Jesus is consistently infused into your day. Monks would use the prayer as a quick check in with the Lord in the midst of their daily chores. It has the ability to keep your life centered on Christ.
Fourth the prayer embeds Humility into your life and character. “Have mercy on me” speaks to our grasping the reality of our need for a Savior. We cannot do this on our own. The prayer never lets us leave the posture of out stretched hands.
Fifth, the prayer never lets us forget our Fallen nature. Contrary to the prayer of the Pharisee, Christ teaches us that the proper profile before God is that of a sinner.
So here is another discipline for your spiritual toolbox. To practice the Jesus prayer simply dive in. It is amazing to me how everyday God reveals new facets of the prayer that will enrich your soul and help you feel connected to HIM in a new and refreshing way.
March 24, 2020
THE NATURE OF MAN
It seems that in an effort to exonerate humankind, today’s culture advocates that all people are inherently good. Blame for bad outcomes, or misdeeds, is squarely placed on the economic and social circumstances that the “victim” is raised in. (no fault of their own). Would that it was that simple. But the truth is kids from good homes turn bad, and everybody has secrets.
Biblical theology has long stated that since the apple in the garden humankind has lived in a fallen sinful state. Our enslavement to sin generates evil even in our most virtuous moments. Calvinism identifies this nature of humankind as “total depravity”. Unfortunately the Bible states that this crack in our nature will only grow wider as we enter the last days. Paul writes the following:
2 Timothy 3:1-5
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive...brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited...-having a form of godliness but denying its power.
As tensions rise during this medical and now economic crisis, we are in fact seeing the true nature of humankind on display.
Perhaps it is unfair to isolate the political process during these times of duress, but they are such low hanging fruit! Many politicians certainly are generating a host of “situations” that model the apostle Paul’s warning. Insider trading scandals revealing “lovers of themselves, lovers of money” as United States Senators profit from information they had private access to while the rest of the country takes it on the chin.
Then there was the conflict generated in the House and Senate, by what appeared to be “ conceited, boastful, proud and abusive”, behavior. Senators willing to destroy the lives of millions by delaying badly needed relief packages to Americans and American businesses so that personal agendas could be satisfied.
Unfortunately the private sector fairs no better. Every night on the news we witness atrocities like the hoarding of badly needed supplies that protect health care providers, for the sole purpose of price gouging. YouTube, Facebook, and other social media displaying videos of fistfights over toilet paper, and conflicts with store employees over excesses in purchasing limits. And lets not forget the self-indulgence witnessed on Florida’s beaches as the next generation ignored social distancing measures and most assuredly became complacent carriers of the Corona virus.
No matter what the culture pitches the Bible teaches us that Humankind has a broken nature and that no person will ever get into heaven on his or her own initiative. Romans 3:23 reads, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of GOD.”Once we sin, we are banished from heaven no matter how hard we pretend otherwise.
It is exactly for moments like this that we who know the love of Christ must share the incredible message of Jesus. He came because even though we are broken, God loves us and wants us back. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but gain, everlasting life.” John 3:16
What God gave was the life of Jesus, for your life. Jesus literally absorbed and paid for our sins on the cross, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21
There is only one way to change your nature. It must be transformed, causing it to pass away, and in its place you must receive your new nature in Christ. “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
There is no doubt in the days ahead we will see more examples of our fallen nature. But we who know Christ have a bigger role to play then simply grousing about the failures of others. We are Nature Changers. People are vexed, un-vex them with Jesus. Much Love- PB
March 25, 2020
So it’s finally come to Maine. Governor Janet Mills ramped up Maine’s coronavirus fight ordering businesses that are nonessential to close at midnight on Wednesday.
Suddenly we are all introduced to the Spiritual Discipline of Solitude.
Solitude is a powerful tool for spiritual development.
It is the art of separating oneself from contact with the world. Solitude was clearly practiced by the prophets and the Lord alike, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword. We confront ourselves in Solitude and Solitude can break you.
Warns Dallas Willard, “In penal institutions solitary confinement is used to break the strongest of wills. It is capable of this because it excludes interactions with others upon which fallen human personality completely depends.”
It is amazing how much social interaction affirms and sustains our being. There is indeed a powerful unmasking when we are separated from the noise of others, when we are standing in the quiet of ourselves. Here we have no one to impress, no one to blame, no one to confess and no one to sustain. It is a place where oddly truth prevails as the social underpinnings that support falsehood- slip away.
Abortion seems less attractive in solitude. Debt seems less stimulating in solitude. Lying seems regrettable in solitude. Anger seems weaker in solitude. Standing alone in the halls of eternity there is a sense of depravity that is felt, and a desire to have both mind and soul cleansed by GOD.
The Tools of Solitude
Solitude alone can drive you mad. Confronted by social isolation loneliness quickly sets in. Hence Tom Hanks needed Wilson to retain his sanity. In practicing the spiritual discipline of solitude two other disciplines are essential, prayer and fasting. Remember fasting is the act of dying, illuminating the Spirit of Christ inside of us, and prayer is connecting with God.
God & Solitude
Many wrongly assume that solitude makes you weaker. Miss-interpreting Christ’s wilderness experience in Matthew chapter four many see the encounter with Satan as a product of Christ’s weaken state from having spent Forty days spent in solitude, fasting and praying. When in fact, Satan could not have picked a worse time to tempt, the now spiritually fortified Son of God.
Solitude was Christ’s fortress, his place of power. He sought solitude to pray and commune with the Father. This was not time spent prayer wandering, Jesus had real focused concerns as He confronted the emotional struggle of providing help to so many needs....
Matthew 14:23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
-And the weight of the demands place on Him everyday...
Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there
-And the selection of the men He must choose to become His disciples...
Luke 6:12 Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.
-And for strength to carry out the most tremendous request God ever made...
Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
Devoid of the noise and distracting inter-actions of companions, Christ centered down in Solitude.
How do I practice the Spiritual Disciple of Solitude? Baby steps.
#1. First create a safe place; where you can feel undisturbed by friends and foes alike! Christ instructs us; Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret....” I have friends who built “She Sheds” and “Hermitages” for this safe space. Mine is a chair, Charlie, and a cup of coffee in our yard. Be creative, but find the space.
#2. Designate some time. My longest was a solo experience where I simply went for a walk in the woods for three days. I know pastors who schedule a day a month but you can also center down and be with the Lord for thirty minutes alone anywhere. Finding the time may be inconvenient, but Jesus rose, “while it was still dark” because it was so important to His spiritual life.
#3. Let GOD speak. What does that look like? First you have to shut up . Second, ask God to speak. Third, validate His leadings. Many explain away impressions or words, or insights, but God uses all of these to speak to us. Fourth respond. Sometimes it is in faith we do something.
#4. Trust the Experience. Remember God’s voice never violates the Bible. And if the directives seem radical, ask mature Christians for guidance. In time you will know His voice as He speaks to in solitude.
May God meet us all in the still small spaces of solitude that the Corona-virus creates. Silver linings.
Much Love- Pastor Bill