In the September issue of Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk Magazine, there is an article on The Gospel and Solitude by Dr. Don Whitney. In large part it’s a summary of the chapter on solitude Dr. Whitney wrote in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (a chapter you can read in a pdf file from his website here)
He defines this discipline as follows: “Scriptural solitude is the biblical practice of temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” In addition to the fact that our Lord often sought quiet and solitude for times of prayer, Dr. Whitney gives this summary of the benefits of this endeavor:
A mark of those who have experienced the true grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ is that they take pleasure in being alone with God. Solitude provides the opportunity to meditate on Scripture, to pray, and to enjoy the worship of God in private — experiences enlivened by the Holy Spirit for those who have believed the gospel. Withdrawing from the presence of all but God affords an excellent occasion for focused thinking about gospel truths and realities, to freshly apply the gospel to our souls again, and to reflect on the blessings and hopes that are ours through the gospel.
Again, the chapter in the book goes into greater detail on some of these areas, but there’s a good start. About six years ago, before Dr. Whitney went to Southern Seminary where he now teaches, I took a doctoral seminar he taught at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. The seminar was on Spiritual Formation and he was extolling the virtue of solitude and meditation when I became a good “object lesson” for him.
Being a NASCAR fan, I was wearing a shirt with my favorite driver’s number on it, and Dr. Whitney pointed it out. He said basically, “Let me tell you why I hate NASCAR. It epitomizes the very things I’ve spent all these years trying to encourage people to get away from: Noise, Crowds, Hurry, and Going in Circles!” Glad I could add to the discussion, Dr. Whitney.
But he’s right, of course. (About the things needed for prayer and meditation; not about NASCAR being evil!) We do need to get away from those things, slow down, and seek God. In addition to the above summary, in his text Dr. Whitney also includes these other benefits/purposes of solitude: To be physically and spiritually restored; To regain a spiritual perspective; To seek the will of God. These three are the things that are of most interest to me right now.
And it’s because of those three benefits that I am taking Dr. Whitney’s further advice from the book. He suggests “Try to get away for a few extended (half-day to overnight or longer) times yearly.” He elaborates: "'Getting away’ for an extended time of silence and solitude may be nothing more than finding an empty room in your church in which to spend an afternoon, an evening, or a Saturday. Or it may involve spending a night or a weekend at a retreat center, lodge, or cabin.”
It’s the last suggestion that I’ll be doing in the very near future. Now, to be honest, my plan for a 48 hour stint at a retreat center near St. Louis was being planned before I read the Tabletalk article, reminding me of the things from Dr. Whitney’s book and class. But what great timing. What a great affirmation of the plan.
I’ll be spending 48 hours alone at a nice little abbey set aside for this very purpose. I plan to take my Bible, a notebook, and a couple other books and spend the entire time in reading, praying, listening, etc. My goal truly is to hit on those three benefits mentioned: restoration, perspective, and the will of God. I wouldn’t even mind if you prayed for me, that the time would be used purposefully and effectively, not wasted. I’ve never had the chance to do this before, and I’m grateful to our church leadership for giving me the time.
Being alone with God is a good thing, and while we can certainly do that in shorter times more often, I’m eagerly anticipating this time and its benefits. I’ll have more to say, I’m sure, after the time is over. But even before, I would strongly urge you to consider doing something similar if you haven’t already. As an added encouragement I’ll leave you with the quote from Jonathan Edwards which closes Dr. Whitney’s chapter on this topic:
Some are greatly affected when in company; but have nothing that bears any manner of proportion to it in secret, in close meditation, prayer and conversing with God when alone, and separated from the world. A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitude. And this also has peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging his affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer. . . . it is the nature of true grace, however it loves Christian society in its place, in a peculiar manner to delight in retirement, and secret converse with God.