Psalm 46:1-11
Mark 6:30-46

A man seeking solitude moved to an isolated mountaintop. One day he heard a knock and there sat a snail and it said, “It is quite cold out here can I come in?” The man shouted, “No, I came here to be alone!” and he flicked the snail down the mountainside. One year later there was a knock at the door and there sat that snail and it said, “What did you do that for?”

I’m not recommending relocation to a lonely mountaintop, but I am strongly endorsing planned solitude as an important aspect of Christian living.

To be sure, there is a difference in being alone and solitude. Being alone is by definition, being alone; that is, by yourself. Many of not most people would say that they do not relish being alone. Solitude, on the other hand, is a preferred state of being in which we seek God’s own heart to keep company with Him.

The author of Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster, writes, “Loneliness is inner emptiness; solitude is inner fulfillment.” 1

Famed theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” 2

The irony is that the pain of loneliness often deters people from seeking the glory of solitude.

If Jesus is our model for Christian living, then we need to follow Him as He seeks solitude on a regular basis. Anyone who reads the gospels quickly picks up that Jesus is a very busy guy as He ministers to droves of people seeking something from Him. But it is only the careful reader who discovers that Jesus was very proactive about getting away to spend time alone with His Heavenly Father.

Seeking solitude was how He made important decisions; it’s how He dealt with troubling emotions; it’s how He handled the constant demands of His ministry; and it’s how He prepared for his death on the cross.

Today’s text from Mark aptly illustrates both the busyness of the ministry of Jesus as He feeds the 5,000 as well as His purposeful sending away of His disciples so that He can seek a few precious moments of solitude with His Heavenly Father.

Jesus invites us to join Him in solitude for at least four very good reasons.

First, to give some attention to our true spiritual condition.

Too many of us glide through our spiritual lives without ever giving any thought to our true spiritual condition.

We have so many distractions clamoring for our attention: our jobs, our families, and friends, other people, housekeeping, lawn work, television, computers and cell phones. Because we never shut down, guess what? We seldom, if ever, take the time to simply think; to think about anything, much less, our spiritual condition.

When was the last time, you purposefully set aside some time to simply think? To think about your life, where you’ve been, where you are headed? Are there any changes that need to be made in your life? And more specifically, are there any changes that need to be made in regards to your spiritual life with Christ Jesus, your Lord?

David provides a wonderful example of someone who took the time to reflect upon his spiritual condition. In Psalm 139:23-24 he writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

When was the last time you ever asked God what David asked God? “Point out anything in me that offends You.” If we are going to grow in Christ, we must be willing to make that request.

And after making it we must learn to listen to God’s answer; which leads to the next point.

Seeking solitude enables us to hear more clearly a word from the Lord.

When it comes to hearing God speak to us we have three problems.

We’ve already mentioned the first: the constant barrage of noise around us makes it difficult to distinguish God’s voice from others around us.

Second, let’s face it most of us don’t listen very well. Psychologists tell us the human brain thinks four times faster than a person talks. So most of us are formulating a response to what people are saying to us before they even finish. In other words, we don’t pay very good attention to what others are saying.

Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded, “Keep up the good work, we’re proud of you Mr. President.” Finally the last man, the ambassador from Bolivia, actually listened and leaned over to whisper, “I’m sure she had it coming.” 3

Seeking solitude implies that we will not only get away from people but also that we will keep quiet. For solitude requires silence.

And there’s the third problem: we do not like silence. This partially explains why we talk to ourselves when no one else is around.

But we need silence in order to hear God more closely. Solomon reminds us, “There is a time to speak and a time to be silent” (Eccl 3:7). It is in those times of silence that we are enabled to hear more clearly. It may not be audible, yet I firmly believe God ‘speaks’ to faithful servants who are willing to be silent and wait.

The story is told that Joan of Arc was mocked by the King of France: “You claim to hear the voice of God, but I am the King and I don’t hear it.”
Joan replied, “Don’t you wish you did?” 4

Don’t you?

Practicing the discipline of solitude will not only enable us to evaluate our spiritual condition and hear God more clearly but also (next point)

Help us make mid-course corrections and even realign our priorities and goals.

Take the Apostle Paul as a prime example: In his letter to the Galatians he writes:

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. (Gal 1:15-17)

Most scholars believe this period was a spiritual retreat into the desert, to work out the implications of his encounter with Jesus to flesh out what “Jesus as Messiah” meant to him and what his role as the ‘light to the Gentiles’ should be.

According to Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, “Our chances of properly re-aligning and recalibrating increases exponentially when we seek God’s will in solitude.” 5

On the advice of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the parents of Helen Keller sent for a teacher from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. 19-year-old Anne Sullivan was chosen for the task of instructing 6-year-old Helen. It was the beginning of a close and lifelong friendship between them. Anne would spell into Helen’s hand such words as doll or puppy. Two years later Helen was reading and writing Braille fluently. At 10 Helen learned different sounds by placing her fingers on her teacher’s larynx and ‘hearing’ the vibrations. Later with Anne’s assistance, Helen graduated with honors from Radcliffe. Helen traveled around the world making speeches on behalf of the blind. Since her speech was not intelligible to some, Anne often translated. After Ann Sullivan died, Helen wrote these endearing words about her lifelong friend:

My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent or an inspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch. 6

In many ways, what Anne Sullivan was to Helen Keller, God is to the believer who learns to seek the heart of God in solitude.

Lastly, in solitude, our souls will joyfully discover calm in the midst of fear.

In the midst of fear associated with numerous natural disasters, the Psalmist says, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). What he is reminding us of is that in the midst of chaos when fear threatens to undue us if we will seek solitude we will more clearly hear the voice of God speaking into our hearts saying, “Peace be still, I am with you.”

I was reading about a college student who traveled with a group across the United States.
Each evening he would keep in shape by running two miles with a friend, usually later in the evening after it was dark. One very dark night somewhere in West Virginia, they began their usual evening run. Dogs were always a concern and on this particular night, in the middle of nowhere, they heard a very low, deep and most intimidating bark. The bark was so impressive that they immediately stopped in their tracks. It was so dark they couldn’t see where the bark was coming from, which made their hearts really start to pound. Then the strangest thing happened. They actually felt the ground begin to pound as a huge shadowy form came running at them. It had to be the biggest dog ever! Because they were runners, they ran!

The next morning they returned to the scene of their near demise. There they found a hound dog chained to a tree. He didn’t look very intimidating but his bark was still impressive.  Then they heard the rumbling from the night before and to their surprise, a horse came galloping from behind a house to see what was going on.  The mystery was solved; in the light of day it became clear that there never was anything to fear. 7

Life is full of events and circumstances that often cause us to be afraid.

And when you throw in the fear of the unknown, fear is magnified.

Spending time in solitude will better enable us to react to these fears with faith that God is by our side. “Be still and know that I am God.”

One tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves not to be afraid. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was taken into a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods by himself. All night, every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long. 8

So is our Father. “There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God that is delightfully discovered through the practicing of the Christian discipline of solitude.


1 Foster, Richard, J. Celebration of Disciplines; the Path to Spiritual Growth (Revised Edition) [San Francisco: Harper and Row, © 1988] Page 96.



4 ibid.

5 Foster, page 108.

6 Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky; source: Helen Keller, The Story of My
Life (Doubleday, 1954)

7 Sweet, Leonard. Soul Salsa [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 2000). Pages 23-24.

8 https://www…/1287…