The Power of Solitude: Finding Balance in Relationships

Transcript from Kate Southward’s sermon Fruitful Solitude, preached on the 14th April 2024.

We’ve been created to be in relationship with both God and other people, not just God, not just people. We actually need both. But without times of solitude with God, we can run dry.

And then our relationships with other people suffer as we try to actually meet with them in our own strength. Jesus showed us by his life how to do both solitude and community well. This morning we are moving back into our series “Fruitful” after a couple of weeks break and you know I’m really excited to see where God takes us with this in the coming weeks.

I’m just going to quickly remind you of what we’ve been doing we’re focusing on with this sermon series. Our key verse and the inspiration for the title, Fruitful, comes from John 15, verse four. And this is what Jesus says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.

For a branch cannot produce fruit if it’s severed from the vine. And you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” me.” You know, as followers of Christ, we’re actually called in a very real way to be his apprentices. Our job is to learn from him, to grow to be more like him, and then to emulate him in everything that we do.

And the way that we do this is by finding ways to connect with him, deliberately placing ourselves regularly in a position where we’re not. we can be taught. And the outcome of this is that we should start to see transformation in our lives that’s brought by the Holy Spirit and that’s transformation that brings good fruit.

Now Galatians 5, 22 to 23, I know you know this well but we’re going to have a look at it, tells us what this fruit looks like. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives, love Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self -control. And the key to growing this fruit, according to Jesus, is connection.

Truly good fruit can only grow if we are choosing to stay connected with the vine. You know, have you ever experienced the frustration? frustration of wanting to see something happen you wanted to change something in your life But you just don’t seem to make any headway. I actually know that feeling really well And what I’ve discovered is we can’t do it on our own and we can try sure But you’re only ever gonna see the ho hum under right meh Kind of fruit and not what God really intends for us to grow It’s never really going to reach maturity, but when we make the choice to connect the vine and we’re relying on him for our nourishment and growth, then we’re going to see that change happen and we’re going to see good, juicy, yummy, appealing fruit start to grow in our lives.

There’s a quote that I heard recently. which I think really sums up well, our need for connection. It comes from somebody that you may be familiar with.

It says this, “The better the connection, “the better a flow of grace from the vine,” that’s Jesus, “through the branches,” that’s us. “The better the flow of grace, “and the longer that connection is, “the stronger we are, the more mature we are, “the more mature we are, the more mature we are.” the more fruitful we are. It is good.

It is good. It came from a very wise person I met once. If this is true, then connection with Christ has to become a treasure that we pursue with all our heart, yeah? Matthew 621 says this, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

So we need to ask the question, what do I value? What is my ambition? What am I prepared to do to make it happen? So I’m going to give you a little example as an analogy. I enjoy getting out into nature and walking because one of the the things that I really value is immersing myself in God’s creation. When I walk and I get out into the world that He created, I don’t know, I experience His love for me in new ways.

It refreshes me. And getting out into the wilderness with my family is something that I treasure. So when I get the opportunity, I walk.

Often, sometimes. sometimes, it’s for several days at a time, often with the heavy pack on my back, up and down mountains, sometimes in the wind and the rain. Now, generally, I really enjoy the walking, but I’m going to tell you, at times, it’s a little tough.

In fact, it can be really hard. I have relatively short legs, okay? And I can often feel quite awkward navigating the obstacles. obstacles and I will admit to occasional grumbling as I’m trying to scramble over some of the more difficult bits.

So why do I do this? Because I treasure the time we’re out there. Because when I do this, I find new strength and I’m refreshed. Because the experience of being in those places and the joy of sharing with my family far outweighs the difficulties of actually getting there.

And because when the goal is achieved, I can look back and find great joy because it’s often the places that are hardest to get to that bring the greatest rewards. So using that as an analogy, let’s go back to Matthew 6. You know, I’ve had to ask myself, if my treasure and ambition is connection with God, God, am I pursuing that treasure with all my heart? If this is what I yearn for, what am I actually doing to make it happen? Am I prepared to try things that feel pretty awkward or take a bit of extra effort in order to grow good fruit in my life? In this series we’re looking at some of the spiritual disciplines that can help us to connect.

Each of these disciplines Each of the messages is inspired by a chapter from Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline, which I meant to bring up here to have as a demonstration, but I forgot to bring it. There it is. Okay.

The disciplines are not a formula for spiritual growth. It’s not like if I do A, then God is going to do B. What they are is they are means of grace.

They are ways of putting ourselves. before God so that he can bring change in our lives. So far we’ve looked at three of these disciplines.

We’ve looked at prayer, simplicity and study. But today I’m going to explore another one of the chapters from this book and this is the discipline of solitude. Okay, so what do we actually mean if we’re talking about solitude as spiritual…

discipline? Initially, I thought this simply meant spending time alone with God, reading scripture, listening to music, worship music, things like that, podcasts, praying, bringing my knees before God. I can actually talk about the benefits of that because it’s something I really enjoy doing. I love taking a few hours to a day out of my normal routine to be alone with God.

You know, I go to the beach, I go to the bush and I walk, strangely enough, and I usually have a list of things that I’m trying to work through or I’ll go to do some goal -setting or things like that. I really treasure these times, but as good as this is, as I started to read about the spiritual discipline of solitude, I realised that’s not what it is. Thank you.

Simply being alone does not equal solitude. Solitude as a spiritual discipline is about being in a place that is free from all inputs except God and your own heart. I came across this quote by Henry Nowan, he says this, “Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and to listen to Him.

And the key word here is listen. So what is the discipline of solitude? Here it is. It’s time set apart.

In silence. Just to be alone. with God.

Full stop. It’s not listening to musical podcasts, it’s not reading the Bible or other good books, it’s not even coming to him with prayers of thanksgiving or intercession for other people. It’s not telling God about what we need, our problems or our goals.

These are all fantastic, great things to do. But when we’re engaged in them, we continue to fill our own thoughts. The purpose of solitude is to hear from God and God alone.

It’s about giving Him our undivided attention. No agenda, no requests, no demands. No expectations but to sit in His presence and allow Him to lead.

It is simply being in silence, quietening our minds and waiting, fully surrendered. It’s about giving up all need to accomplish anything and just listening, waiting to see what he will do and what he will say. This is solitude.

So, every extrovert in the room has just freaked out, am I right? Okay, don’t worry, a lot of the introverts are here. are with you there as well. Okay, and why is that? It’s because being alone in silence with no external stimulus, no agenda, and nothing concrete to achieve is so ridiculously foreign to us that just the thought of that can make us really uncomfortable.

In fact, you know, we can be so uncomfortable with solitude and silence that we would go to jail. great lengths to avoid it. There was actually a study done recently.

Participants were told they had to sit in a room on their own for 15 minutes. They had nothing to interact with, nothing to do, they just had to sit there and be silent for 15 minutes. The only thing that they had available to them to interact with was a button.

And if they pushed that button, it would deliver a painful electric shock to their ankle. In their 15 minutes of solitude, 67 % of the men and 25 % of the women chose to push the button. They chose pain, they chose physical pain instead of the internal pain that they were feeling because they had no stimulation.

Here’s the thing, for many of us, we’ve lost the ability to be still. still. We can sit still, but it’s really difficult for us to not be actively engaged in one form or another.

You know, with the advent of earbuds and noise -canceling headphones, you know, we’ve got YouTube, social media, podcasts, audiobooks, streaming services, news feeds, the list goes on and on. It’s not only possible, but really highly likely, that we never experience true solitude in the world. silence unless we actively pursue it We keep up a constant stream of words and stimulation and noise and activity and when we’re addicted to stimulus like this Our brain is always switched on and we’re often paying attention to multiple different things at the same time We can be alone But we’re probably never in solitude If you step back and think about it, how often do you allow your mind to really stop and be still? So the question is raised, why do we actually need times of solitude? Well, the first one is we follow the ways of Jesus.

As I said before, if we’re apprentices of Jesus, then we need to learn from him. He showed us a pattern of how to live. a life and be in relationship with God.

And what did Jesus do so often? He went out to the quiet places or the wilderness. Solitude and silence were integral parts of his life. Here’s just a few instances of when he prioritized solitude in his life.

There was the 40 days after his baptism, then again before he died. he chose the 12 disciples. He went out into the wilderness after the death of John the Baptist, and again after he fed the 5 ,000.

And of course Jesus went to Gethsemane to be with God before he went to the cross. In fact Luke 15 says Jesus often, often withdrew to the wilderness to pray. Now don’t get me wrong.

Jesus wasn’t only about… about constantly being on his own, he thrived in community. In fact, he is the perfect example of how we should live in relationship with other people.

But he relied on times of solitude to allow God to fill him so that he could give of himself fully when he was with others. He didn’t allow himself to run dry, but he went regularly to the Father to be renewed and refreshed. The same way for us, times of solitude fill us so that we can be with others in a really meaningful way when we’re with them.

We’ve been created to be in relationship with both God and other people, not just God, not just people. We actually need both. But without times of solitude with God, we can run dry, and then our relationship with other people suffer as we try to actually meet with them in our own strength.

Jesus showed us by his life how to do both solitude and community well. We follow him. The second reason we need times of solitude is to restore our soul.

Psalm 23, 1 -3 says this. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” That word restore in other versions is refreshers or renews.

It speaks of rest. So what does it mean to have our soul restored? I did a bit of a… deep dive into the word “soul” used in this verse and it wasn’t what I expected.

You know, there is a word that is often used in the Bible that describes the soul as the non -physical part of us, our mind, our will and our emotions, but that’s actually not the word that David uses in the psalm. In Psalm 23, when David says, “He restores my soul,” the word that he uses is nephish. Nephish refers to the whole person, our entire being, with all of its capabilities and limitations.

When David says the Lord restores my nephish, he’s saying that God restores all of us, our physical body, our desires, our thoughts, our passions and our emotions. He re -orients us and renews us both. mind and spirit.

And how does he do this? He brings us to a place of rest. He brings us beside still waters. That word still is really important and it comes up again in Psalm 46 -10.

Be still and know that I am God. Be still. stop striving, cease your business, relax, sink into God.

And why? So that we can know God, not know about him, not have head knowledge about who he is or what he’s done, but so we can know him. This is the goal of solitude. to do this.

We need to surrender ourselves and our agenda completely to him and find a place with both external and internal stillness Now as I said before external stillness is hard enough to find Internal stillness is even harder Right, I’ve got a photo which is a sample of creek water taken from the park near my house. Can you see that? What do you see? It’s murky and it’s chaotic, isn’t it? There is a constant swirl of pond scum which clouds the water and makes it impossible to see through. When we are constantly active and engage in like this, this is what our brains, our souls, our lives actually look like.

Confused and murky. There is no clarity. It’s hard to see and focus on what’s really important when that’s what we look like.

So I was having a bit of a think what makes up our pond scum. Here’s just a few thoughts to do lists and busyness. Our emotions and fears.

Constantly writing, checking and responding to e -mails, texting. and personal messages. Social media and scrolling and news reports, online games and funny cat videos, and distracting thoughts that are all on the go and wrestling for our attention at the same time.

Our soul can feel uneasy, unsettled, frazzled even. It can be exhausting. And when our mind is full of of activity and restlessness, it is almost impossible to hear the still small voice of God.

But God promises us rest and restoration for our soul, our nephish, our whole being when we learn to be still and focus on Him. So let’s see what happens to the creek water when we allow it to be still. still.

The stuff is still there, but it settles to the bottom and the water becomes clear. When we sit quietly in God’s presence, the sediment that is swirling in our souls begins to settle. In silence and solitude, we are more able to hear and receive God’s voice as we allow Him access to work in our inner person.

Stillness in our soul can then lead to clarity, hope, and a deeper trust and relationship with God. Peace replaces chaos. In stillness, we can know God.

And we don’t have to do anything except show up and trust that the knowing will come as we allow ourselves to be still. Solitude is a meaning. means of grace.

It’s a way of putting ourselves in a position to allow God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. So that’s all good, but what does it look like practically? It’s great to talk about this practice of solitude, but how do you even begin to make this possible? How do we make it work? Now just to help you out in your bulletin bulletin on the sermon section You’ll see I’ve put 10 points just so you don’t have to be madly writing this all down as we go. I Want to acknowledge a book that I read called invitation to solitude and silence by Ruth Haley Barton In this book she writes about her own journey of discovering the joy of solitude But also the difficulties that she’s found in trying to bring this into her normal rhythm in life It also gives really practical steps.

And I just want to acknowledge that it’s her work that I’m going to be referring to in just a moment. It’s very readable, and it is incredibly real, and just so helpful. So if it’s something you’d like to look at even more, I would really recommend this book to you.

As I said earlier, the practice of solitude is not about having a devotion or a quiet time. These things are– are really important and so great but this is different. In solitude there is no agenda but to be in God’s presence.

It’s about letting the pond scum settle and waiting with expectation to see what God will say or do. It’s about quietening our own voice so we can hear His. So here are some steps to get you started.

I’m going to tell you I was pretty skipped. skeptical at first about my ability to be still in this way, to let go of my need to control and to be honest, completely overthink things. But after a few attempts, when I use these steps, I’m finding it easier and easier to just be with God and I’m going to tell you it is actually incredibly freeing.

So the first thing is, find a sacred place. This is a place that you go to. specifically to go into solitude.

It’s somewhere with no distractions and minimal noise. Find somewhere that is your place to be with God and God alone. The second thing is silence your phone.

Now this might sound really obvious but it is so important and don’t just silence it, put it out of arms reach so that you’re not tempted to pick it up and look at things during your time of solitude. Then you need to set aside a defined time. Decide how long you want to spend in solitude.

And then set a timer so that you’re not going to be, again, tempted to be constantly checking, “Oh, I’ve only done five. Oh, I’ve got it. Oh, you know.” So it could be as short as five minutes, or it could be several hours if you’ve got the opportunity to do that.

The length of time is your choice. But I’m just going to tell you my experience. experience is that it takes time to settle into the stillness and quiet So if you you need to take that into consideration I started with 20 minutes and I’m finding now half an hour is a really lovely length of time to just sit and be with God Then we need to acknowledge the things that are distracting us What’s playing on your mind? We all have things that are going on now lives What’s playing on your mind as you come into solitude name it? it and then ask the Holy Spirit to hold that for you as you go into solitude.

And then pray for peace and clarity as you begin. The next step is to choose a word or phrase to take with you. And then when your mind starts to stir up this pawn’s gun, which it will, come back to this word or phrase to help you to focus again on God.

It could be something as simple as come, Lord. Lord, or I’m here.” It could be a favourite phrase from Scripture. It could be, “Be still.” It could simply be the name of Jesus.

And then breathe. Concentrating on our breathing, deliberately slowing down and deepening our breaths can instantly calm our bodies and our minds. Then this is the funder.

it Allow the thoughts to come Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind as you settle into the stillness and silence What am I feeling? What am I thinking? Are those things actually true? If they’re not true, can I replace them with truths from God? Am I sensing correction from God? Is he wanting to direct? me? This isn’t about trying to force thoughts or feelings, but paying attention to those that come. If your mind starts to drift off, re -center your thoughts with your focused word and deep breathing. The key is to surrender to the work of God and your soul during this time.

Journalling is then a wonderful tool to use in these times to allow the thoughts, feelings and impressions. to come out so that you can process them and seek for the clarity. What were the main things that came into your mind? Write them down.

What did you learn about yourself, your thoughts, your faith, your direction, your struggles? Was there a really clear message from God or just vague ideas? Journalling helps to sort out the impressions and it can be really useful to use later when you pray. praying. And then pray.

As you leave your time of solitude, thank God for his love and his presence with you during that time. Tell him what you’ve discovered and ask him for further clarity if you need to. The last one in this rather long list is be persistent.

Learning to allow our minds to settle takes time. My early attempts at solitude were awkward and awkward. best, with my mind constantly wandering.

But even then I came away knowing that I’d been with God, that I’d connected with Him in some small way, and that was enough. With practice it’s becoming easier and easier to just be with Him and to be still. And I’m enjoying this time of connection more.

Don’t give up if it’s hard at first. And please don’t ever feel like you’ve failed. failed because there hasn’t been anything really concrete that you’ve heard.

Just remember that God wants to connect with you. We just have to practice being silent so that we can hear him. It’s important to remember that there are three possible encounters that you could have in solitude.

First of all, you may encounter your true self, and that actually can be a very confronting. It can be uncomfortable to face the truths about ourselves, things that you may be subconsciously pushing down, or even things that you are actively avoiding dealing with. Solitude can strip away the things that we use to help us to hide from ourselves and from God, but it gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to identify those things in you so that you can protect yourself.

bring them to Him, allowing space for His love and His healing. You don’t need to fear exposing yourself before God. He’s going to meet you with grace, sometimes with correction also but always, always with grace and love.

Now one thing I’ve discovered over the last few years is that He is big enough to deal with the very real things in your lives so you don’t need to fear that. Solitude and silence can also be a battleground. You need to be aware of whose voice you’re listening to and do not allow the words of the enemy to get a foothold.

How do we discern whose voice we’re hearing in this time? Mark actually touched on this a few weeks ago in his sermon when he was talking about prayer but just a quick recap. recap. If we’re hearing the voice of God, it may convict us, but it draws us closer to him.

The voice of our enemy condemns us and drives us away. God reassures us, he frightens us. God enlightens us, our enemy confuses us.

God encourages, he discourages. God comforts us, our enemy confuses us. us.

As just a really simple thing to remember, God’s voice will always bring peace and love. The voice of our enemy brings anxiety and fear. So what do we do if we encounter the voice of our enemy when we’re in solitude? We follow the example of Jesus when he was in the wilderness after his baptism and he was tempted by Satan.

We speak God’s God’s truth back at him to combat the lives that he wants us to believe. Just remember, scripture does say, “Resist the devil, and he will flee.” The ultimate goal of solitude and silence, of course, is to encounter God. But remember, it’s not something we can force.

It is not up to us to tell God how he should meet with us. God wants to connect with us. to us so pay attention to the thoughts, ideas and feelings that arise in the silence.

He might want to direct you and help you to see the next step you need to take. He may need to correct you but again as I said before he’s going to do it with love and grace. He may want to bring clarity to your thinking or most importantly he may just want you to experience.

a deeper understanding of his love for you. Whatever it is, sit with those thoughts and allow God to speak to your soul. You know, solitude is a radical discipline because it flies in the face of everything that the world tells us is important.

Business, achievement, success, self -improvement. ticking off the to -do lists. Solitude tells us to stop when everything else is telling us to do more, to be more.

It calls us away from the constant stream of noise and the relentless exhausting input of the world that we live in. And it calls us to be still, to rest, to allow God to restore us body, mind, and spirit. Solitude puts us in a place to truly connect to the vine so that he can cause good fruit to grow in us.

Solitude says, “God, you are enough.” When we follow the example of Jesus and regularly go to our wilderness, we give God the opportunity to bring change. in our life that we can’t make on our own. We allow Him to fill us with Himself so that we can then engage with others fully in His love.

As we finish today, can I ask you to dwell on that picture of the creek water? Do you identify with that feeling of having constantly swirling pond scum? Do you long for clarity and risk? rest? To be able to see through the murky chaos, to be able to be still and know. I’m going to invite the team to come up. I would like you to encourage you to take some steps towards incorporating solitude and silence into your life.

You know God longs to connect with you and you need that connection if you’re going to be fruitful. fruitful. The prayer team are going to be down the front here at the end of the service and as always they’re here to pray through anything that you need to bring to the God.

But can I encourage you today, if you identified with that need to find space to simply rest in God, to restore your soul, come down for prayer this morning. Let him know that this is your desire and ask him for help. help.

Let’s pray. Father, in the busyness and chaos of everyday life, it can be hard to find you, to hear you, and to rest in you. We confess that in the middle of our lives, we often don’t prioritise time to simply be with you, to put ourselves aside, and just let you speak to us.

Father, we ask that you would meet with us. Help us to recognize our need for true connection and soul restoration. Holy Spirit, would you prompt us to make space for solitude? Help us to follow the example of Jesus, so that we can be the light and salt in this world that you have called us to be.

Amen.

Watch the full sermon here