#363 - SOLITUDE (2/6/21)
On Sunday we continued with our series on discipleship from The Sermon on the Mount. This week we are looking at the power of fasting and some of the other spiritual disciplines.
Today, I want to look at the discipline of solitude. Foster, Richard, in his book, A Celebration of Discipline, wrote,
'Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times. Crowds, or the lack of them, have little to do with this inward attentiveness…Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.’
Jesus began His ministry with 40-days of solitude and fasting (Matthew 4:1-11). Solitude is making space to be still and listen to your Father. It’s often very helpful to include solitude when you fast.
Oftentimes our days are filled with activity and distractions. Solitude is making space to listen to God - to be with your Father with your total attention.
Many of us will not make time for solitude with the Father. Many of us say that we cannot spare the time. However, it’s not that we do not have the time to spare, it’s just that we think that it’s more important that we give it to practical things than to be alone with the Father. In history, there have been many gold rushes. Multitudes will make a great sacrifice because of a vision of great wealth. Many of them had family and responsibility - they did not have the time! We will all make the sacrifice for true gold!
i) Take the small moments
Throughout all of our days, we have moments of ‘solitude’. We walk up the stairs. We are waiting for a bus. We can choose to get off the bus at an earlier stop. We are in the kitchen stirring a pan of food. We are up early before others are awake. That few minutes before we fall asleep… Rather than watching a YouTube video. Rather than worrying. Rather than being distracted, let’s centre our hearts on the presence of the Father. Recall a song. Recite and pray a truth. Recite The Lord’s Prayer with focus…
Solitude is like the practice of mindfulness. In that practice, one focusses on the breath. We breath all the time but in this practice we notice it. Solitude is recalling and ‘making real’ the presence of the Father who is always with us but we have been unaware.
Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, had nineteen children (nine of whom died in infancy). She is renown for her spiritual devotions. In a small home, so full of people, it is recorded that she would simply pull her apron over her head in order to be alone with God.
ii) Make the big moments
Most of us would never go on holiday unless we made a plan to do so. Most of us will not spend a day, two days, a week… in solitude with the Father unless we make a plan. Why is it that so few of us would use a small amount of annual leave for time in prayer?
In the Old Testament, they were commanded to let the land lay fallow year after every six-years. They were to have a weekly sabbath - 1 day in seven being devoted to holy recreation (Exodus 23:10-12). There, we see the principle of rhythms of life. Like the land, we need ‘fallow’ periods of extended solitude with the Father. We also need, like the sabbath principle, regular shorter periods of recreative solitude.
Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) was an example of extended solitude with the Father. His practice of ‘often withdrawing to lonely places’(Luke 5:16) was an example of shorter periods of solitude.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches this ides of solitude.
‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6)
Fasting, the subject of Sunday’s message, helps to make solitude possible. It frees up time to be alone with the Father.
How will you make solitude with the Father a reality in your life?
COMMUNITY GROUP STUDY - WHEN YOU FAST
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
Do you have any funny stories regarding food?
Recap of Sunday's message - please share in your group
On Sunday we continued with our series on discipleship from The Sermon on the Mount. This week we are looking at the power of fasting as it is combined with prayer.
On Sunday we continued with our series on discipleship from The Sermon on the Mount. This week we are looking at the power of fasting when accompanied by prayer.
Fasting, for many, is a mysterious or even a scary subject. The devil wants to discourage us from true prayer and fasting because of the power that it releases.
Please read Matthew 6:5-18
i) When you fast
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus includes fasting alongside giving and prayer. We are to must assume that, like these, fasting is an essential part of the Christian life.
Jesus expects his disciples to fast. Jesus makes it clear that there is a reward if we do it as He directs.
Jesus teaches us how not to fast - for a show. This perversion can easily infect any spiritual practice. I’m told that the Pharisees often had a practice of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. These were market days and so their spiritual devotion would receive greater attention.
Jesus teaches that our fasting is for God alone. We fast so as to focus on Him rather than in order for people to focus on us!
ii) What is fasting?
Fasting, strictly, is going without food for a set about of time in order to pray. Other kinds of fasts from delicacies or distractions can also be also be implemented.
Fasting helps us in two main ways:
Firstly, If you go without food for any time you will quickly realise your weakness and dependence upon God.
Secondly, fasting also frees up the time spent in preparing and eating, for prayer.
There are a number of reasons - ill health, pregnancy… - as to why it would not be wise to fast from food. However, we can fast from entertainment, social media etc. In fact, when you are fasting food, I encourage you to remove these distractions also.
The average person spends around 1 hour 50 minutes on social media and 4 hours watching video on demand each day! That’s a lot of potential prayer time!
iii) It’s time to fast.
Jesus said about the church in this age,
‘…The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.’ (Matthew 9:15)