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Summary: The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude strengthens our soul.

Tilling the Soil of the Soul March 12, 2006


There are many places in the Bible where we are compared to trees – trees that bear good fruit, like the fruit of the Spirit, or bad fruit. Have you ever looked at your life and wondered why there is so little of the fruit of the Spirit, and so many crab apples?

Jesus told this parable in Luke 13, "A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, "What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

"The gardener said, "Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’" - Luke 13:6-8

Wow – it makes you want to bear fruit! The gardener of our soul is the Holy Spirit, he digs around our roots and feeds us so that we might bear good fruit. But unlike a tree we have a choice in the matter – we give him permission to “garden” us. In fact, we partner with him in the gardening. The way that we partner with him is through the classic Spiritual Disciplines like Meditation, Contemplative Prayer, Study, Fasting, to name a few that we have already looked at. Today we are going to look at the Spiritual Discipline of Solitude.

Just as nutrients strengthen the core of the tree, solitude strengthens the soul

Dallas Willard writes,

“We must reemphasize, the “desert” or “closet” is the primary place of strength for the beginner, as it was for Christ and for Paul. They show us by their example what we must do. In stark aloneness it is possible to have silence, to be still, and to know that Jehovah indeed is God (Ps. 46:10), to set the Lord before our minds with sufficient intensity and duration that we stay centered on Him – our hearts fixed, established in trust (Ps. 112:7-8) – even when back in the office, shop, or home.”

What is Solitude?

Just as fasting is the abstinence from food for spiritual purposes, solitude is the withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. The period of solitude may last only a few minutes, or for days. Solitude may be sought in order to participate without interruption in other Spiritual Disciplines, or just to be alone with God.

Solitude and Silence

In both Foster’s and Whitney’s books on the Spiritual Disciplines, they partner the disciplines of Solitude and Silence. They do so rightly because the two do go together. Even when we do not fill our lives with people, we can fill our lives with noise – the T.V. or radio on to “keep us company.” In modern times we have every convenience to fill our ears and eyes with noise which serves to drown out the voice of God in our ears and the image of God from our eyes. True solitude removes ourselves from company, but it also removes ourselves from other distractions as well.

I’m going to look at the Discipline of Silence in the next sermon in this series in about three weeks because there is too much to be said about both disciplines for one sermon, and because, in my own experience, while I turn off all distraction in Solitude, I often keep a very vocal conversation going with God! I often walk through the forest, or paddle down streams talking out loud to God as I go. So my silence and my solitude don’t always go together.

The Joy of Solitude

Out of all the Spiritual Disciplines, this is the one that makes me sigh like you might when you think of chocolate. For a guy that loves people, and loves a good party, I would like nothing better than to spend time in solitude with God. When life gets really busy, and even when it doesn’t, my heart cries out for a day or just a portion of a day when I can get away on my own and be with God.

Nothing replenishes my soul like solitude.

Bono sings about his yearning to get back to the loneliness of Africa in “Where the Streets Have No Name”

“I want to run,

I want to hide.

I want to tear down these walls

that hold me inside.

I want to reach out

and touch the flame,

Where the streets have no name

… and when I go there,

I go there with You

It’s all I can do.”

There are times when I am able to go out with just one of my kids – either to do something special, or to run errands. Inevitably doing these times, they will say to me, “Dad, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I.” When I can get away for extended periods of solitude, inevitably, I say to God, “Father, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I.”

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