From my sermon preached September 27, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here
If you came to the church this week, you likely know that I had an extra assistant with me. Caleb’s pre-school was closed as they continue to rebuild from the tornado that went through Dover in August. If you don’t know Caleb, he is a talker. He had me worn out before even getting to Milford! Having Caleb around while trying to get work done helped me appreciate Andrea and other moms who have spent years having kids around their ankles and on their laps. Even when moms try to retreat into the bathroom to take care of business, or just to hide out for a few minutes, there is often a young kid who wants to go in with them. For Mom’s there is little time for silence and solitude when young kids are around.
We are in the third week of our series, SLOW FAITH, where we have been looking at how to develop and an intentional, deep, and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. We live in a culture and time of instant gratification where we get bored if we don’t have quick results. Our faith is more of a slow cooker that takes time. If you missed either of the last two weeks, they are available on our website, iTunes, or Spotify.
This morning we are beginning to look at practices and habits that enable our lives to be formed to Jesus. We often call these “Spiritual Disciplines.” These are habits practiced in the church for thousands of years and are evident in the scriptures. There are no silver bullets. There are no shortcuts for spiritual growth. Practiced over a lifetime, we do not master the disciplines, God masters us through them.
The first practice we want to look at to develop a SLOW FAITH is the habits of Silence and Solitude.
Silence and solitude are not something that Jesus commands in the Gospels. It is something that he lived out in practice. Jesus’ apprentices, the disciples, would have seen this regular practice even more obviously than we read about it. Since our lives are modeled after the example of Jesus’ life, then we must look at this practice.
Since our Gospel reading is from Mark, we will just look there. In Mark, Jesus specifically prays three different times. There are five times when Jesus retreats to “lonely places” or “deserts” to get away from the noise and the hustle and bustle. If you were to go through the other Gospels and make a list, it would be longer. The practice of Silence and Solitude was a regular habit that Jesus practiced.
Lonely places or desert places were thin places where the human and the supernatural came together. We can think of times when people were in the wilderness and it was a place where they were spiritually attacked by Satan. Likewise, there were times in the wilderness where people came to experience the presence of God. Jesus, during these forty days in the wilderness encountered both the temptation of Satan and the ministry of angels who attended him. Jesus regularly retreated to these places to be renewed and to hear from God.
These habits are challenging because we live in a culture where we do not like silence or being alone. Many of us have constant noise going on in our homes, cars, and offices. We find the noise comforting and maybe even a bit of a defense mechanism from having to deal with the thoughts in our heads.
When we talk about solitude, Richard Foster says it is more of a state of mind and heart than it is a place. It is not a practice of getting away from people. Solitude, for Foster, is the freedom to be alone in order to hear the divine whisper of God. Silence is coupled with solitude. Silence often involves the absence of speech- but it ALWAYS involves the act of listening. Foster, again writes, that silence is related to trust. “When we are silent, we trust God to control the conversation. We will never do this until we trust him.” Some of us are so quick to talk, so quick to fill the silence with words- and this is a lack of trust in God that God will guide the conversation.
Silence and solitude are how we open ourselves up to God. It is how we hear God’s voice. Pastor and author John Mark Comer writes that “The noise of the modern world makes us deaf to the voice of God, drowning out the one input we need most.” Think about all the noise in our lives. How can we hear the voice of God if we are not in the regular habit of seeking silence and solitude. We cannot do this with our airpods constantly hanging in our ears. Henri Nouwen writes that
“We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be alone with God and to listen to him.”
If we want to grow in our faith and grow in our understanding of God and God’s work in the world, then we must make time for silence and solitude in our lives.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus has finished a long day of powerful ministry. He drove out a demonic spirit. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Mark writes that after sunset that the whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many who had various diseases and drove out many demons. I’m guessing Jesus went to bed quite late that night.
In verse 35, Jesus gets up early while it is still dark and went off to a solitary place in order to pray. After the long night of ministry, I might have been tempted to sleep in and take a slow morning with a great breakfast spread. Jesus gets up early, before his disciples, to spend time in silence and solitude.
Peter and the other disciples come and find Jesus to tell him that “everyone is looking for you.” Now, the disciples may have been pretty excited about this. They saw the miraculous the night before. They saw “successful ministry” taking place and were part of it. When the crowds showed up the next morning, they excitedly went to get Jesus.
Jesus does something remarkable here. He replies:
“Let us go somewhere else- to the nearby villages- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
The silence and solitude that Jesus practiced helped him to hear the divine whisper of his Heavenly Father and to be very clear about his identity and calling. In the success of the night before, it would be easy to linger and stay with the gathering crowd, but Jesus had a clear purpose that was reaffirmed in his time of silence and solitude that morning. Jesus was called to preach the Good News throughout the countryside, not to become anchored to one location.
When the disciples come to get Jesus to tend to the growing crowd, Jesus says “No.” To ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives, we must remember that “No” is a complete sentence. In this life there will always be the opportunities for busyness, for hustle, for distraction. Every time we say “yes” to a lesser purpose, a lesser calling we are saying “No” to a greater calling. Every time we say “yes” to the noise and hurry of our culture we are saying “NO” to the divine Whisper that guides and directs our lives. When we say “yes” to listening to God, our time in silence and solitude reaffirms our identity and calling is in Jesus and empowers us to say “no” to the things that pull us away from God.
Your identity- my identity- is not found in what we do. It is not found in the people we associate ourselves with. Our identity is not found in the amount of people following us on social media. Our identity is not in the success or failure of our business or finances. Our identity, as Christians, is found in Jesus. Our identity and our purpose are affirmed and made clear when we seek silence and solitude in order to hear God’s voice: You are loved. You are valued. You have purpose. You are forgiven. There is grace for you. You are a son and daughter of the king.
Let’s be real here- Silence and solitude are not just going to happen in our lives. If you’re a parent, your kids are going to have needs. There will always be noise. But we can find ways to make time for silence, solitude and prayer. If you read through the Gospels, you get the sense that the reason Jesus was up early was because it was the only quiet time he could find. I want to suggest some ways you can begin to practice silence and solitude in your life:
- Find Small Quiet Places
- Take a few minutes after waking up to lay or kneel in silence
- On your Commute, rather than listening to the latest podcast, drive in silence
- Step outside before bed and take in the beauty of the night
- Develop Quiet Spaces
- Create a space in your home to spend time in silence. A comfortable chair. No phones or TVs.
- Go Deeper
- Find a place to regularly retreat to where you can meditate on the scriptures and listen for God’s voice. It may be a regular morning walk, a hike around Killen’s Pond, or sitting on the bench at the boardwalk. No cell phone, no airpods. Just you and God.
- Schedule times in your week where the phone, computer, tablet, and TV are all turned off.
- Camp Pecometh offers silent retreats that are partially directed by a leader and self-directed. It is an opportunity to listen for the divine whisper.
If we take our spiritual life seriously, if we want to have our inner life shaped to the inner life of Christ, and if we want to be clear on who we are in Jesus- then we must commit to practicing Silence and Solitude.