Building on the disciplines we spoke of last week, where we talked about being reminded of where our contentment really comes from, this week we try out a few practices that will strip away distractions from our lives and cause us to look more deeply at ourselves.
“Be still, and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
Dead Space. That’s what our world calls it when there’s no music, no immediate transition from commercial to the program, a low lull in the performance…and to them, its to be avoided at all costs. But the lack of dead space is what is really killing us. The fact that we are never alone with ourselves. We are always being entertained and advertised to and influenced…and we need to find more breaks in our lives.
We fill our lives with clutter—and we don’t realize that it blocks out a part of us that we need to learn to interact with. We need to get comfortable with ourselves. We need to hear the crazy thoughts that come in moments of aloneness, instead of reaching for our phone or pulling up a favorite song, or seeking out a friend every time there’s some “dead space” in our lives. You’re going to be uncomfortable with “you” in those moments, but you need to hear that part of you speak, and learn to deal with it. Like fasting, silence often times reveals bad aspects of ourselves that lurk beneath the surface.
Leave the TV off this week. Turn off the radio in the car. Don’t look at your phone during periods of pause. Eliminate Pandora and Spotify and Grooveshark, etc. from your computer for a few days. Try to get comfortable with silence. You can use that time to pray to God, but you may just need to absorb the calm and quiet. Take a walk without entertainment. Let your thoughts wander, and think about whether you are truly comfortable being just “me and God” for an extended period of time. At first it will feel VERY awkward, but you’ll find that there are benefits to the silence. You may think that only the large blocks of time focused on God are truly beneficial, but this practice will help you realize that all the small moments add up and matter too.
Question to Answer:
· Did you see a side of yourself when fasting or sitting in silence that you didn’t like? How are you using food, noice, etc. to control or hide that part of you?
· What things did you give up only to realize that you really didn’t need them? Are there things that you can replace with conversation with God permanently or for a season?
When I gave up games long ago for the practice of silence, I realized how much time with God outweighed the hours spent playing Starcraft and Civilizations. I made a decision to play games only with friends present, or in short 20 minute blocks in order to devote more time to things that were important. Sometimes I will return to games for a specific game or specific season of great stress, but for the most part, gaming is not as good as the alternative I discovered in my experiment with silence.
Stacy and I both experimented with silence on our drives to work long ago and found alternative practices that have also been very beneficial. To this day, Stacy will turn the radio off and pray during the drive to and from work. I am too easily distracted to pray well on my drive to work, but I have since given up the radio for listening to sermons AND most importantly, for making phone calls to family and friends that I would otherwise be too busy to make.
Alone with God. Not simply in the quiet, but utterly alone. Like Moses in his years in the desert, Joseph in his time alone tending to the sheep, and John the Baptist in his desert lifestyle, there’s a special formation that small and large quantities of time alone with God can provide. Elijah (1 Kings 19), Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), and Paul (Galatians 1:17) also spent considerable time isolated, listening for the voice of God.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions went searching for Him. 37 They found Him and said, “Everyone’s looking for You! ” (Mark 1:35-37, HCSB)
31 He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, (Mark 6:31-32, HCSB)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2 After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. (Matt 4:1-2, HCSB)
Learn to Listen. Extend your silence for a period of doing nothing but listening. Find a block of time 1-2 hours long, and simply sit with God. No book, phone, or people. Sit somewhere that distractions are minimal, and just try to talk with God for an hour. Be reminded that you need to live at God’s pace for your life, and often times, that will mean living slowly, and awaiting His voice in the still and silence where you can hear it best.
“I commend solitude to any of you who are seeking salvation, first that you may study well your case as in the sight of God. Few men truly know themselves as they really are. Most people have seen themselves in a looking-glass, but there is another looking-glass, which gives true reflections, into which few men look. To study one’s self in the light of God’s Word, and carefully to go over one’s condition, examining both the inward and outward sins, and using all the tests which are given us in the Scriptures, would be a very healthy exercise; but how very few care to go through it!” ~ Charles Spurgeon
Discover that you are never alone. This can be the hardest discipline to do by far. It’s action has often been associated with desperation: some of the first monks wandered into the desert to try to work out their issues alone with God. They found that solitude was a useful tool in their pursuit of Him. In fact, what they found is one of the most surprising truths of all: if you can find God in the solitude, you’ll find that you are NEVER lonely, ever again.
21 But this I call to mind; therefore I have hope: 22 ח (Khet) The LORD’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end. 23 They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! 24 “My portion is the Lord,” I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in him. 25 ט (Tet) The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one who seeks him. 26 It is good to wait patiently for deliverance from the LORD. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 י (Yod) Let a person sit alone in silence, when the LORD is disciplining him. (Lam 3:21-28, NET)
Reorder your time and priorities. Solitude often allows us to refocus our minds on the bigger picture in life. When we pull out of the rush, the hustle, the entertainment, we find ourselves thinking through the larger picture and the more important long term goals we desire. It ensures that when we do get back into the busy schedule, we can make decisions with the long term costs and benefits in mind, not just the immediate consequences. That change alone can transform how we invest money, parent, and build relationships.
Hear God on BIG issues. Many of the men of history in the Christian world received life-changing answers that created or gave stability to their life endeavors during extended times of solitude where they wrestled to hear God’s answer to a key question or concern for weeks or even months. Many found that they were pulled back from the brink of disaster only by finding God through a long time of solitude. Think of Solomon’s request for wisdom—he must have spent countless hours sacrificing the animals to God, seeking help to rule the nation of Israel (1 Kings 3).
Isolation’s Blessing and Curse. We should feel uneasy after prolonged periods of solitude. Many who have taken solitude to an extreme like the monks of ancient and modern times, have found that they go from seeking God to hiding from the relationships and responsibilities that God has called them to. Our time alone with God should be balanced by a desire to return to key people when God allows, and an ever-growing desire to get back to the work that He has empowered us to do in serving others.
· Seek out 2-3 local places where you can find solitude. Consider these:
- o Riverside and Liberty Park Pavilions
- o The Library at Austin Peay
- o A portable hammock or folding chair you can setup
- o A hike along a local trail
- o A stay at Linden Valley Baptist camp
- o Staying with a friend who lives out of town and will respect your desire for time alone
· Make sure you have a place to get alone with God at home. Sometimes you can’t go out, but you need isolation from your spouse, kids, and noise—where can you flee in moments of great urgency?
Questions to Answer
· How comfortable are you with the idea of being alone with God? What makes you uncomfortable?
· What pressing matter or question do you have, that God might wish to answer only when He has your complete and undivided attention?
Some are greatly affected when in company; but have nothing that bears any manner of proportion to it in secret, in close meditation, prayer and conversing with God when alone, and separated from the world. A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitude. And this also has peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging his affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer…it is the nature of true grace, however it loves Christian society in its place, in a peculiar manner to delight in retirement, and secret converse with God. ~ Jonathan Edwards
“Former President George H. Bush once became suddenly, violently ill at a state dinner. He retched on the Japanese prime minister. The media caught it all…That was the default picture I had when I thought about confessing: groveling on my knees, reeking stuff spewing from my mouth, the person receiving it pulling back in revulsion, those appointed to protect me panic-stricken, and the paparazzi capturing the moment for all to see and forever remember. Confession, I thought, was wrecking the dinner party.” ~ Mark Buchnan
We live our lives with a giant game of masquerade, concealment, finger-pointing, and blame shifting. It’s exhausting enough to carry the guilt of our mistakes, but we also carry the work of trying to appear better than we are.
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away” ~ Psalm 32:3
Personal Story: I’ve usually been honest and truthful when asked direct questions about my actions, but on two occasions I was so embarrassed by my actions that I simply denied doing things directly to my parents. However, God would not let the guilt of those lies and improper actions go. I thought about them regularly for a year, until the guilt finally wore me down. I confessed. I’m pretty sure my parents knew I had lied the whole time—they were over it, but I could not get rid of the guilt. God needed to build a better man in me—so the Holy Spirit hounded me with my sin over and over and over. Regret like that will either wear you down or make your heart hard as stone. God would prefer either outcome over letting you simply get away with those actions.
We live our lives boldly displaying our sordid actions and trying to convince people that it’s “just who I am” and “morality is wrong on this one.” It’s why reality TV and talk shows are so popular in many cases, and why we have things like nudist parades, etc. People want to try to convince you that certain behavior is acceptable, because they want permission to do it everywhere. We need someone to help us break down our desire to hide and our desire to absorb sinful actions as “just part of me.”
“At first we would rather die than open up our inner life…but after a while it makes us feel alive.” ~ Mark Buchnan
Confession is presenting our real self to God by presenting ourselves to another person. Not the person we hope to be, but the person we truly are. Confession is healing. It’s easy to become hard to a sin or hard to talking with God when we don’t process our struggle with sin. Confessing ensures that nothing comes between us and God.
Confession keeps us calling sin, sin too. Many of us downplay our sin or our attitudes, but when we confess to a friend on a regular basis, they are able to see patterns and ask penetrating questions, and force us to see our actions for what they are, instead of downplaying our actions and highlighting the actions of others. They keep us from justifying our actions because they can see the situation more objectively. You can always see the speck in your friend’s eye better than the log in your own. We desperately need to keep a sensitive conscience. Confession keeps our lives from growing hard toward sin.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed” ~ James 5:16
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov 14:12, HCSB)
12 Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. (Heb 3:12-13, HCSB)
Guidelines for confession:
be specific about your actions. Go beyond “I lusted.”
to “I looked at porn Thursday night because I was frustrated and alone.”
but not with this much detail, “and the picture showed…”
Confession to someone who can be trusted to (1) keep your conversation private and (2) model God’s response to your confession. Man-to-man, or woman-to-woman, but not across genders as a regular practice. Confession works best when you have a close relationship with the other person, and often when you can understand their motives—which works best when you are the same gender as the other person.
The catholic church has made confession institutional—and now it’s perceived as a way to earn God’s favor and have sins forgiven. Our sins are ALREADY forgiven—we don’t earn forgiveness through confession, we simply repair the relationship we have damaged.
Confession is a great habit to practice from time to time, but a poor requirement for the church to impose. It keeps us humble and reminds us of how amazing the sacrifice of Jesus is for us, past, present, and future, as long as we can find a way to do it sincerely. By requiring people to confess to a priest that they barely knew and who could not keep up with their personal life, confession lost much of it’s impact.
You are getting to know your mentor better. Tell them more of the parts of your story that you are not proud of. If they are going to help you fix weaknesses, it will help to know the weaknesses of your past. So take some time and be honest about the bad parts of your life, and let them listen without condemning you. You’ll feel a greater sense of relief when you are done, and you’ll have a better understanding of the way God hears you when you confess to Him.
Share your wounds too: When we share our hurts, we let them go to some extent. Some of the weight lifts off our shoulders. Think through your past to the ways in which people have hurt you or life has dealt you a poor hand, and talk about whether those instances drove you away from God or brought you closer to Him.
One of the most difficult, yet transformational tasks we can undertake, is to confess and ask forgiveness to those we have hurt with our actions in the past. To pull a person aside and simply say that we are truly sorry for the hurt we once caused them. Consider making the effort to ask forgiveness for anything you regret doing in the past. You’ll be amazed at the sense of release you find in your conversations with those people.
· Consider journaling an in-depth confession as a stepping stone to a more appropriate confession with an accountability partner. Start by simply answering: Where have you stumbled in your obedience to God this week? What do those mistakes reveal about you?
· What BIG things in the past do you wish you could ask forgiveness for? Is there a big issue of guilt that follows you around? Can you track that person down and talk to them? (If not, confess that whole thing to your coach or another trusted friend and do your best to ask forgiveness through them and God)
Questions to Answer:
· Tell us a story of a big moment of confession: who have you asked for forgiveness from before, and how did it go?