FIRST-PERSON: When Christ sought solitude

DALLAS, Ga. (BP) -- Examining the Gospels, I never cease to be amazed at the way Jesus ministered among people. Whether it was one on one, in small groups or before masses, He tirelessly made Himself approachable and available.

Yet what also impresses me about Christ is the time He spent alone.

Before He launched into public ministry, Jesus spent 40 days and nights by Himself in the wilderness. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed alone even though the disciples were a short distance away. The Gospels include other instances of solitude as well (e.g., Luke 5:15-16; Luke 6:12-13; Matthew 14:23).

Here are some reasons why we, likewise, would do well to seek solitude:

1. To get away from people.

While it's true that God loves people, they can be difficult, demanding and draining. For that reason, we must break away periodically to a place where it's just God and us. The fruit of such a respite is renewed compassion and increased sensitivity once we get back on the grid.

2. To reflect on our spiritual condition.

The next best thing to a clear connection to God is an honest assessment of ourselves. I know people in ministry who are extremely gifted and very hard working, yet they're hampered by a lack of self-awareness. Solitude creates an atmosphere of transparency and vulnerability wherein God can do a mighty work.

David, for example, despite his glaring imperfections, remained a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). Why? Because he owned up to his sin, going as far as asking God to reveal the things to him that were displeasing (Psalm 139:23-24).

3. To hear more clearly from God.

It may not be audibly, yet I firmly believe God consistently speaks to faithful servants willing to minister on His behalf. However, a constant barrage of noise makes it difficult to distinguish His voice from others around us.

The call of Moses is an example of hearing God amid solitude. Having spent decades secluded in the Midian desert, he was primed for a fresh challenge from the Lord. And though he initially offered excuses, Moses clearly heard and understood what God wanted him to do.

4. To cleanse us from a worldly mindset.

Once again, Moses comes to mind. He seemed to have too much "Egypt" in him the first time he tried to intervene on behalf of the Israelites, and he murdered an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14). Forty years in isolation helped cleanse his soul.

After Paul's dramatic conversion, God sent him on a three-year desert retreat to Arabia as preparation for the work ahead (Galatians 1:15-18). I believe God used this time of isolation to transform a zealous defender of the law into a passionate missionary of grace.

5. To soothe and calm our souls.

The psalmist says, "Cease striving and know that I am God." Jesus invites, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Psalm 46:10 NASB, Matthew 11:28). While these commands don't directly mention solitude, they certainly lend themselves to it. Most of our ministry loads would be lightened if, at times, we would just break away and disengage.

6. To realign our priorities and goals.

I recently wore out a set of tires prematurely due to an alignment problem. Likewise, we wear ourselves out and minister ineffectively when we are out of alignment. Solitude helps us recalibrate.

Take Elijah for example. Fearful and exhausted, he fled into the wilderness, yearning to die. Following a period of rejuvenation, he left the presence of the Lord with a renewed outlook and updated assignment (1 Kings 19:15-16).

It is said that some of the early African converts to Christianity eagerly participated in private devotions, each in an isolated spot in the thicket where he or she would commune alone with God. In the course of time, the paths to these places became well worn. Consequently, if one grew lax in this discipline, it soon became apparent to others. They would then lovingly remind the negligent one, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."

If the weeds have grown over your path, hack through them and carve out some needed solitude. Break away from the strong wind, earthquake and fire. Listen for the gentle whisper of the Lord. Once you've heard it, march forward with a clear vision and renewed strength.

Todd Gaddis, online at toddgaddis.com, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga. This column first appeared at LifeWay.com/pastors.
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