Monday, 24 March 2014

Solitude & Silence

Solitude & Silence
Sermon at Deliverance Church Kahawa Sukari, Sunday 23rd March 2014.

Introduction: Self, Family & Ministry [iServe Africa]
-        Personal greetings. Self & Family intro.
-        Acknowledge long standing relationship with DC KS.
-        A highlight of the ministry of iSA.
-        Invitation to further partnership in the coming years. APR/Apprenticeships etc.
-        Introduction of  select iSA resources [Events, Books & Notebooks]

The irony of speaking about silence!

Opening Reflections:
It is a noisy world that we live in,noise everywhere, noise glorified. People make a career out of noise-making and indeed the heroes among us are perhaps the loudest. I might also add, with your leave, that we pentecostals are a particularly a noisy lot. My task here is therefore clearly huge – to try and get a bunch of pentecostals to be silent for a while (!)
Our times are filled with incessant noise invading every place. Noise in the public square and in private places. Papers, on social media, Whatsapp, Images everywhere – so much competition for our attention. Even the restroom, perhaps the only place one could go and have sometime alone is not spared. If there are no witty notices, crude humour or even dirty jokes, then there might be a book or a magazine to flip through to while away those few minutes.  

We are also a busy people. In my estimation, the avarage kenyan has at least 5 major stressors – A job, immediate family, extended family, masomo [that masters degee!] a side hustle [This could be anything – A Matatu, taxi, Hoteli, Lorry pahali, shamba ya Ngano Narok, Viazi Kinagop, Quails, Ngombe Nyumbani] Mjengo [ Own or rentals – hii ni lazma for 40 and above, though it never ends], Chama/Vyama, Kanisa, friends etc. That is why kenyans totally love their mobiles and will walk out of any meeting to answer that crucial call. It could be anything fro the vet in the village to your boss in the city calling for your attention. Whatever you do to a kenyan dont take their mobile phones. Hata kanisani ukiwaabia wazime hawawezi – wanaiwekaga silent, ili wawe wakiangalia from time to time. 

We are an overloaded lot – exposed to so much data that I wonder how spirituality would thrive if we do not withdraw and seek solitude and silence. I actually fear for our mental health as a generation; we are  eternally alert forever held at ransom by the Tyranny of the Urgent

Brothers and sisters, I come to you not as an expert on the subject, not a great practioner of the discipline myself but as a fellow struggler, one who speaks and works more than they should, one whose spirituaility is hardly ever what it should be, one who needs to hear this as much as anyone else in the congregation. 

The Scriptural Call to Silence & Solitude
Solitude is one of the most important disciplines for the spiritual life, for all who need help unhooking from daily stress to experience God restoring their souls.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
 “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
“In repentance and rest is your Salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
 “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.” (Psalm 62:5)

A Definition of Terms
Solitude and silence is an opportunity to focus on intimacy with Jesus, to unhook from daily responsibilities and people in order to attend to the Lord alone. In solitude we don’t try to make anything happen. We just come naked to the Lord to be with him.
“Solitude is the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposely abstaining from interaction with other human beings, so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God” (Life with God Bible, p. 531).
Solitude is not the same as Loneliness – Loneliness is inner emptiness while solitude is inner fulfilment [Richard Forster]

S&S in the OT
“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’… The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (Exodus 33:7, 11)

“[Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him… a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:9, 12).

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (David; Psalm 23:1-3)
“Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:28)
“I was silent and still… my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me… I meditated… Show me, O Lord… how fleeting is my life… Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Ps. 39:2-5)

Job and his 3 friends.

S&S perfected in Christ
“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12-13)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.” (Luke 6:12-13)

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…”‘” (Luke 11:1-2)

“When Jesus heard what had happened [that John the Baptist was beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 14:13)

Jesus Invites us to join him in S&S
“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32)

Jesus said to his disciples and a crowd of people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)

S&S in the early church
“When [the disciples and other followers of Christ] arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying [waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them to do]… They all joined together constantly in prayer… When the day of Pentecost came [ten days later], they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 1:13-14, 2:1-2)

Peter went away from his travelling companions to go into solitude and silence and seek God. He had a vision and heart the voice of the Lord three times. His experience led to the Gospel being spread among the Gentiles. “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened…” Acts 10:9-11).

Apparently Paul spent three years mostly in solitude and silence in the Arabian desert with the resurrected Christ before he began his ministry. (The other Apostles were with Jesus physically for three years, but for Paul, like us, he was with Jesus in Spirit for his discipleship and training.) Paul wrote, “God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace… 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.” (Galatians 1:15-17)

Paul experienced times of profound revelation from God. Probably this came in solitude, at least in some instances. “The mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly” (Ephesians 3:2).  “I know a man who was caught up in the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Paul meditated on God in nature. Probably he often did this in solitude. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

According to tradition, John was in solitude and silence for years, exiled on Patmos Island. It is here that he received the Revelation. ”I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…” (Revelation 1:9-10)

The Life of Anthony by Athanasius.
Born in 251 in a wealthy family. At 20 he sold all his possessions and moved to the desert but served the poor nearby. At 35 he withdrew for 20 years into total solitude and no one knew if he were alive or dead. Then at 55 he returned and ministered to the monks and the people who came to him for prayer and counsel in the desert until he died at 105. Athanasius wrote the biography of Antony. This was Athanasius’ ideal, the combination of solitude and compassion on the poor based on rock-solid orthodoxy.

S&S in contemporary times
It seems to me S&S is a discipline we possibly lost at reformation. Whereas we should and must avoid the dangers of ascetism [seeking divine merit through personal sacrifice] we need to rediscover spiritual disciplines as means that God has ordained for the good of his people and the growth and enrichment of His church. There are many retreat centres where one can withdraw to from time to time and even more importantly is to create private moments and spaces to be silent and in solitude. 

Implementing Silence and Solitude into Our Lifestyles
As earlier suggested this habit may very well be the most difficult of spiritual disciplines to develop and practice with any regularity. Most of our lifestyles have become too fast-paced with too many responsibilities in too little allotted time. There is little margin in our lives. For silence and solitude to happen there will need to be planning to carve out such opportunities. 

Solitude and silence can occur in the midst of our daily lives, but making such a time will require resourcefulness and creativity. Early morning or late evening schedules may need to be altered. Middle of the day meals may be a chance to spend some time alone in silence. Discovering a place in our lives where we are less apt to be interrupted is a part of the challenge of the development of the discipline. Even time spent driving a car by oneself can be an opportunity if the intent to spend time alone in silence is there. At intervals in our schedules there is the need for withdrawal from our normal routines to a place away where we can have a more extended time to practice this discipline. Such retreats can last for half a day, a day, a weekend or a week. The longer the time the more planning is required.

Initial thinking may be there are too many reasons why I can’t do this. This discipline, while taught little, is a major pathway to spiritual maturity. Unless we are willing to make lifestyle changes to get alone in silence with the Father our spiritual development will be greatly hampered. This time for study and listening to the Father speak to us is foundational for growth. Being in church activities everyday will not replace what this time alone with God can do.
Where can I go to be alone with God? When during the day can I make opportunity to do this? When During a Year can I retreat for Silence & Solitude?
We live in a culture that is permeated with noise. We suffer from noise pollution as much as we suffer from air pollution. We are never anywhere without human contact. In addition to the constant flow of conversation the volume of most sound has increased substantially. The problem has not caused a spiritual dilemma; it has amplified it. The constant sound we are bombarded with makes focusing on God and hearing his whispers in our souls much more of a daunting task. The psalmist expressed this need for all of us when he wrote: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)

There is something about silence that enables us to hear with our soul. We need to again deeply sense that God is present and wants to impress us with thought and with awareness of his creation. It is in such silence that there is opportunity for the act of prayer to be completed. More often than not our praying is a time of telling God what we want to tell him, but not allowing time for him to reply. We are off to other responsibilities or engagements. Silence invites God’s response. 

In some ways silence is the most difficult of disciplines to develop. Such silence is void of music and all human sound. It creates the environment for one to better pay attention to God and to himself. Special attention and planning may very well be needed to arrange such an environment. Solitary places allow the mind and heart to refocus. If Jesus found it necessary to be alone,  then how can we not also do the same? It is interesting to note that at the very beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus went into the desert for forty days of solitude where he would be silent. No doubt it was during that time he received confirmation and direction from his Father concerning his coming ministry.

It is in solitude and silence that one may more fully discover how best to use his words. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote there is a “time to be silent and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Perhaps it is in the silence that one learns when and what to speak. Because of the amount of communication that we are bombarded with there is need for the words of the Christian to be marked by timeliness and wisdom, not frequency.

Soli Deo Gloria!