The Gospel and Solitude

by

When my grandparents married in 1919 and began farming, solitude was a way of life. my grandfather spent most of his days alone in the fields, and my grandmother spent her time alone (until the children came along) in the farmhouse. There were no planes flying overhead and no cars or tractors rambling nearby. No radio, television, or telephone was heard, nor even the slightest electrical hum. The only sounds my grandparents heard all day were the sounds of God’s creation — the wind, the birds, the animals — or the ones they themselves made while doing their work. It was quiet. To get news, music, or entertainment, they had to make a trip to town or to church.

Just two generations later, solitude is now as difficult for many to experience as locating a telephone would have been for my rural grandparents in 1919. Times have changed, but our need for solitude and the benefits it fosters for our souls have not.

What kind of solitude? The sort of solitude that refreshes the Christian soul is more than just separation from other people. Scriptural solitude is the biblical practice of temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. The period of solitude may last only a few minutes or for days. Generally it is sought in order to engage in other spiritual disciplines without some of the distractions typically experienced by the presence of people.

Jesus and solitude While Jesus is much more than our example, He is nevertheless our example, including our model for spirituality. Even He pursued times of solitude. The Gospels tell us that Jesus often got alone, not just for some rest and a change of pace, but also that He might spend time in communion with His heavenly Father. Notice these observations by His disciples:

  • Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and He was alone there for forty days, except for when the Devil came to tempt Him (Matt. 4:1–11). 
  • After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23). 
  • Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). 
  • When it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place” (Luke 4:42).

Jesus not only modeled prayer in solitude, He exhorted us to do the same: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).

True grace delights in solitude American Christians in particular are prone to understanding many of the New Testament teachings relating to the local church as passages addressed to individual believers. In other words, we wrongly “individualize” many texts intended for an entire local church. But it is nonetheless true that the gospel is first directed to us as individuals. And while each Christian is added to the body of Christ — a body that collectively is the bride of Christ — the reality remains that God knows us by name and relates to us one to one.

So while believers are members of the family of God and the New Testament prioritizes the congregational aspects of faith in Christ, biblical Christianity also normalizes meeting with God alone. As Jonathan Edwards put it, “True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer. … True grace delights in secret converse with God.”

Some spiritual benefits of solitude 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.

So seek at least a few minutes of time alone with God daily, and seek some extended times occasionally. Seek solitude for the sake of your soul. If you are like most, solitude with God won’t consistently occur without intentionality. But it’s a pursuit worth the discipline. So when will you start?

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