Getting Away from It All
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 25, 2007

 

Main Passage: Mark 1:29-39 (NLT)


I read about an experiment done years ago to determine the effects of amphetamines on mice. Some mice were kept together in a group, and some mice were kept separate from all the rest. And what they found was this:

A mouse that is kept in solitude will require a much greater dose of amphetamines to kill it.

Hey, donít blame me. I didnít conduct the experiment; Iím just telling you what [those monsters] discovered.

You see, what happens is, when the mice are kept in a group and theyíre given amphetamines, they start to get all excited and start hopping around frantically and they feed off of each other. They hype each other up to the point that they just canít take it anymore and they drop dead. In fact, they discovered in the experiment that if you take a mouse that has been given no amphetamines and you place them with a group that has, that even that one mouse will get hyped up by all the others and will be dead within about ten minutes.

But... a mouse thatís kept in solitude... that mouse is not going to be riled up by all the others. So it takes a much greater dose before it becomes lethal.

Now, youíd think that only mice would be so foolish as to run around frantically and to feed off each otherís busyness to the extent that they put their own lives at risk, wouldnít you? Youíd think that, but we know the truth, donít we?

We know our own lives can be like that. We know how busy we can get, and we know how we can feed off of the busyness of others, and we know how the pace of life gets faster and faster until weíre all running around frantically in mindless pursuit of even meaningless things. We know how the RPMs of our lives can creep higher and higher until weíve got that needle pegged in the red and it just stays there.

And we know that... unless weíre careful... thatís a perfect description of what the next month will be like as we head toward Christmas.

So what I want to propose to you this morning is that we need a release. We need times when the pace of life can take a breathe... when we can get those RPMs down out of the danger zone... when we pull ourselves out of the rat race, re-calibrate, refocus, and regain our perspective on life.

And the good news is, God has already shown us the way to do this... through the habit of solitude.

Solitude enables us to do all those things... it enables us to get life in perspective, it enables us to take a breather, it enables us to refocus... but the greatest thing about solitude--and the real reason the Bible talks about it--is that it enables us to experience God.

ďSolitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him.Ē
~ Keith Drury, With Unveiled Faces, p. 31

Now, to be clear, solitude is important. And so is community. Itís not an either/or situation. You donít have to choose between living in solitude away from everyone else and living in community with everyone else. God designed us to live in community while scheduling and taking advantage of brief times of solitude.

Centuries ago, a man by the name of Diadochos made this observation: He observed that if youíre taking a steam bath and you leave the door open, all the heat is going to escape. I know, shocking, isnít it? I mean, thatís not news to us. Thatís why we donít leave our windows open in the middle of February. But Diadochos went on and suggested that we spend too much time with the doors of our lives open, allowing the heat of our souls to escape.

Solitude is a way to shut that door and to allow our souls to recover.

How many of you remember the movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks? In that movie, Tom Hanks is traveling on an airplane when something goes wrong, it crashes into the ocean, and Hanks is the only survivor. So he becomes this lone castaway on an isolated tropical island. Heís there all alone. And through most of the movie, we see a transformation in his character.

Beforehand, Hanksí character was ruled by his schedule. He was career focused, rushing here and there, sacrificing meaningful times with his friends and family, and doing everything he could do to get as much done as possible in as short a time as possible.

And then the island. He was stranded there... he was isolated... there were no more modern conveniences... there was no more agenda... there was no more career to worry about... there was no more rushing here and there... there was no more busyness and stress... there was no more noise... there was just him, alone on the island, with a volleyball named Wilson as his only companion.

And in the movie we see a transformation take place in Hanks. We see him progress through the first few hours on the island, the first few days, then weeks, months and even years. And over time, we find him becoming a much different person.

Now, that was an extreme form of solitude. And itís not really the kind of solitude weíre talking about here this morning because God wasnít part of the equation. But we do see that he is changed for the better, he comes to realize whatís really important in life, and he gets to know himself in a much deeper way.

And in a sense, what Tom Hanksí character in the movie goes through is what every follower of Jesus needs to go through from time to time. We need to go through regular, even weekly or daily, periods of solitude when weíre focused completely on God and we all Him to transform us. We need that solitude.

So what is solitude, anyway?


What Is Solitude?

Weíve already seen Keith Druryís definition. Let me just expand on that a bit...

Solitude is getting away from the noises of life, the stresses of life, and the people of our lives for the purpose of connecting with God.

Notice I said itís ďgetting away.Ē Itís not ďrunning awayĒ, itís ďgetting away.Ē When you run away, youíre trying to avoid life. Youíre trying to escape from your problems and pretend they donít even exist. Thatís running away. But when you get away for the purpose of solitude, youíre not trying to avoid life--youíre just putting it on hold for a while. Youíre regrouping so you can come back and face your problems and face your challenges with a renewed focus and a renewed strength.

And the example that we look to for what it means to practice the habit of solitude is none other than Jesus Himself. Jesus regularly got away by Himself to a quiet place in order to spend time with His Father.

Now, Jesus lived an incredibly busy life. He travelled throughout a good portion of Israel, teaching people, healing people, telling people about the Kingdom of God... there were all kinds of demands on His time, crowds of people followed Him around, He faced opposition daily from the religious elite who felt threatened by Him, He received death threats, He performed miracles, He squeezed in time to mentor His disciples... in fact, there were days when He was so busy He didnít even have a chance to eat!

But even with all that, Jesus made the time to get alone with God. He didnít runaway from His challenges, but He did get away from them for a time so He could come back and handle them much better. He carved out margins in His life to practice the habit of solitude.

Just a few examples...

Right at the beginning of His ministry years, Jesus spent 40 days alone in the desert.
Before He chose His twelve disciples, He spent time in solitude.
After receiving the sad news about the execution of his relative, John, He felt the need to get away and spend time with His Father.
After highly busy seasons of His life, like after spending an entire day teaching a crowd of thousands and miraculously feeding them all supper, He needed some time in solitude to reenergize.
In the passage that Karen read earlier, we saw how Jesus had an incredibly busy day healing people and it went on right into the night. Jesus was worn out. So what did He do? He got up early the next morning, took time in solitude to talk with His Father, and when He came back He was reenergized and He had a fresh focus for the next day.
And of course, there was the time Jesus spent in solitude right before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. If He hadnít spent that time alone with His Father, would He have been prepared to endure what He had to endure? I donít know. Perhaps not.

What I do know is that Jesus set an example for us to follow. If Jesus, who is God, needed to practice solitude, then Iím certain that you and I need to.

So why are we resistant to it? What are we afraid of? Let me suggest to you four reasons people avoid practicing solitude...


Why Are We Resistant to Practicing Solitude?

1.    The Fear of Limited Time

This is the fear that says, ďYouíre too busy! If you take time for solitude, thereís no possible way youíll have the time to get everything done that needs to get done.Ē Thatís what this fear says, but the truth is, thatís exactly why you need times of solitude.

ďSolitude doesnít give us the power to win the rat race, but to ignore it altogether.Ē
~ Richard Foster

Youíve got to pull yourself out of the rat race before it destroys you. And the miracle of it is, when you put God first and work Him into your schedule, He helps you with all the rest. And suddenly you find yourself able to accomplish more than you ever could before you spent time in solitude.

Psalm 127:2 (NLT)
It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Plus, spending that time in solitude gives you an opportunity to pull back and reflect. Do you really need to be doing everything youíre doing? Is there something you can cut? Are there ways you can do things better? What are you learning? How are you growing? Where do you want to go from here? When youíre franticly rushing around in the busyness of life, you donít have the opportunity to ask yourself those questions. Solitude gives you that opportunity.


2.    The Fear of Loneliness

Letís be honest. A lot of people--maybe some of you here this morning--feel lonely. Loneliness is a way of life for you, and youíre surrounded by people all the time. So you think, ďHow much worse will that loneliness be in solitude?Ē

But thatís a misunderstanding about what solitude is. Hereís how Richard Foster describes the difference between loneliness and solitude...

ďJesus calls us from loneliness to solitude... Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.Ē
~ Richard Foster
Celebration of Discipline, p. 96

Solitude and loneliness do not have to go together. They are not the same thing. Loneliness concerns itself with emptiness and despair. But solitude is all about finding joy and fulfillment through spending time one-on-one with God. And thereís a BIG difference.

ďLanguage has created the word Ďlonelinessí to express the pain of being alone, and the word Ďsolitudeí to express the glory of being alone.Ē
~ Paul Tillich


3.    The Fear of Seeing Ourselves Clearly

Maybe you donít like solitude because you donít like the company. You donít want to be by yourself because you know that youíll see yourself for who you really are.

Do you know when I donít like solitude? I donít like solitude when I know thereís unconfessed sin in my life. When Iíve done something or said something or thought something that I know Godís not pleased with, then I donít want to be alone. Because I know Iím going to have to deal with it. Iím going to need to confess it. Iím going to need to work it out. And that can be a painful experience.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah had an experience like that. He encountered God in a vision, and when He experienced the holiness of God he couldnít help but notice the wickedness in himself. This is what He said...

Isaiah 6:5 (NLT)
ďItís all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.Ē

Isaiah was confronted with the face of his own sinfulness. Thatís not a very pleasant experience. But thatís not where the passage ends, is it? Yes, Isaiah came face to face with his own sinfulness. But then he experienced the cleansing work of God. He said...

Isaiah 6:6 (NLT)
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, ďSee, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.Ē

So yes, in solitude you may see the ugliness within yourself. But thatís a good thing, because it gives you the opportunity to experience the forgiveness and cleansing work of God.


4.    The Fear of Seeing God Clearly

Again, this has to do with sinfulness in our own lives. We know that God knows us completely. Thereís nothing thatís hidden from Him. And so weíre afraid to be alone with Him because we know Heís going to call us to account for it. Itís like being called to the principalís office. Itís a scary thing, so we tend to avoid it if at all possible.

But what weíre forgetting is that God is also all-loving. And He doesnít want to punish us nearly as much as He wants to redeem us. He wants to make us right. He wants to cleanse us and restore us so that we can experience joy instead of fear in His presence.


So those are four reasons people are afraid of solitude. But none of those fears are valid. None of them should stop you from working times of solitude into your own life.


Okay, so how do we practice this habit of solitude? Whatís involved? What do we do? Well, Keith Drury (who some of you are familiar with) has written a book called, ďWith Unveiled FacesĒ. And in that book, he lays out a simple process for practicing solitude. So Iím just going to use his outline here...


How to Begin Practicing Solitude:

A.    Find a Place

Back when I was a kid, we lived in a house across from a wooded area. And I would often go exploring over in those woods. And hidden in those woods was an old, abandoned chicken coop. And my brother and I, and a couple neighbours, fixed it up a little bit and made it into a clubhouse. And it was a great place to go and be alone.

Maybe you had a hideout like that when you were a kid, too. So what Iím encouraging you to do is find one as an adult, too. Where can you go to be alone? Maybe itís a room in your house. Maybe itís a specific chair in your home. Maybe itís sitting in your car. Maybe itís a cottage. But find a place.

Look at the example of Jesus. Jesus travelled around a lot. But wherever He was, he always seemed to be able to find a place where He could be alone to spend time with the Father.


B.    Schedule a Time

Not only did Jesus always find a place, but He always made the time for solitude. Often that meant that He got up early while it was still dark, or He snuck away for a while at night. But He always made the time.

And thatís what you need to do--you need to make the time. Because itís not going to happen by accident. Itís not going to happen unless you decide to make it happen. Set a time, mark it on your calendar with a permanent marker, and stick to it. It doesnít have to be a long time... in fact, it probably shouldnít be all that long at first. Maybe five, ten minutes. Maybe half and hour. But schedule a time and make it non-negotiable.


C.    Keep Your Expectations Sensible

In other words, donít go into your time of solitude expecting to see wild visions and fireworks going off and experience earth-shattering revelations from God. Sure, I guess they could happen. But really, you should just go expecting to wind down a bit, take a breath from life, and enjoy a sense of Godís presence.


D.    Keep the Focus on God

You know, just spending the time alone has benefits. Itís good for everyone to take a break every now and then. But even better is to spend the time alone with God. Because youíre not just practicing solitude to relax; youíre practicing it to connect with God.


E.    Seek One Important Message from God

In all likelihood, Godís not going to unveil His grand plan for the cosmos to you in one hour of solitude. Heís not going to lay everything on you at once. Heís not going to challenge you in every area of your life at once. But what He will do is reveal a little bit of what He wants to say to you, and then Heíll reveal a little bit more next time, and then a little more next time... so at most, just seek one important message from God.


F.    Be Aware of Effect Lag

In other words, you may not seem to receive any message for the first little while. And you may wonder, ďwhatís the point?Ē You may feel like thereís no reason to practice solitude at all. But let me encourage you to stick with it. Give it time. Give God time to do His work in you.


G.    Seek Moments of Solitude in Your Ordinary Day

The truth is, you may not always be able to take chunks of time out of your schedule to practice solitude. And thatís okay. I mean, during this message series weíre talking about a variety of spiritual habits. And youíre not going to be able to practice them all at the same time. And Iím not saying you should. So solitude may not be something you practice all the time, at least in longer spurts. You should do it periodically, but you may not do it all the time. But even if youíre not carving out a few hours every week for solitude, you should still grab those moments of solitude here and there.

Like when youíre laying in bed in the morning. Use that time alone to focus on God. Or when youíre commuting to work--claim that time for solitude. When you pull into your parking space, sit there for a few minutes to experience solitude with God. Grab hold of those brief pockets of time and experience solitude in those moments.


H.    Try Longer Time Periods

Again, you may or may not do this regularly. But every once in a while--maybe once or twice a year--try to take an extended period of time and practice solitude, seeking to experience the presence of God. Maybe take an entire day and get away. Maybe go to a cottage or hotel, unplug the TV, and spend that time in solitude with God. Make it a spiritual retreat.



Let me ask you, what would happen if you began to practice the habit of solitude? Yeah, I know it may feel awkward at first. But what will happen over time? Let me tell you what I think will happen. I think you will experience unprecedented spiritual growth in your life, you will sense the guidance and leadership of God more fully, you will experience His comfort when you need it, you will experience renewed focus and strength in life, you will be able to withstand temptation much better, you will experience an increased sense of compassion for others, your marriage and your friendships will be stronger and healthier, you will be much more effective and productive in everyday life, and you will have a richer relationship with God.

Doesnít all that sound like itís worth a shot?

 

 

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