How Solitude And Silence Are Helpful For Repentance

This week’s 23 Thingsfocused on solitude and silence. To illustrate some of the points of these practices, I asked my good friend,

prayer..

prayer.. (Photo credit: aronki)

Hieromonk Alexander, to offer his insight on the subject. Hieromonk Alexander is a priest in the Russian Orthodox Abroad and lives and works at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, a monastery in rural West Virginia.

Enter Hieromonk Alexander:

Solitude and Silence are valuable tools for every Christian who seeks to withdraw from time to time, or even daily, from the worldly cares which can so easily drown out the still small voice of God. It is important however that we understand these tools theologically so that we benefit from them and don’t simply waste our time – or worse – fall into spiritual delusions that will harm us and our relationship with God.

Following the example of our Lord who “went up on a high mountain to pray, ” Christians from apostolic times have sought out secluded places to pray.

When these early Christians went out to quiet places to pray, removing themselves from the company of men, what exactly did they do? We understand from tradition that they did primarily three things: They prayed fervent prayers of repentance (for we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and by habit of sin we have become spiritually sick with “sinful passions”), they prayed in such a way as to unite their mind to their heart, and they called upon the name of the Lord. When we say that they united their mind with their heart, what do we mean? The mind is often directed outwards – toward circumstances, fearful possibilities, toward the past or the future or perhaps concerns about how other people view us. All these thoughts with their associated emotional and spiritual baggage not only prevent the mind from communing with the heart of a man (the center of his spiritual life and relationship to God), they even send pollution into the heart. When we think unclean thoughts our heart is polluted along with our mind. Inasmuch as we seek in our Christian life a pure heart as we know such a thing is pleasing to God, we seek silence and solitude in order to relieve the mind of the many impressions which it encounters through the five senses. When the mind begins to calm down we can then focus the mind’s attention on our heart, and begin a sincere prayer of repentance. In the Orthodox tradition this prayer usually takes the form of the “Jesus Prayer” which is “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Thus we imitate the early Christians who were taught by Jesus Christ himself to call upon the name of the Lord.

We have as the object of our silence and solitude HEARTFELT AND SINCERE PRAYER. And by such prayer we hope to call down upon ourselves, without hysteria or manufactured emotion, the grace filled energies of God. One short attempt at silence in solitude will only be frustrating for us. When we first begin to be silent and alone, we can have various reactions. Some become disturbed, feeling the impulse to call someone or check their email of make lists. It can take time and a lot of effort to become used to silence and solitude. If we persevere in this effort and understand our goal properly, these tools can be transformative for every Christian who seeks to purify his heart and please the Lord.

Why I Blog

I blog because I like to write and the regiment of a blog is good practice.

I blog because I get tired of reading “look at me I can write about hermeneutics” theological pieces that are more about impressing people or starting debates than it is about helping people or God’s kingdom.

I blog because I know that there are thousands of Christians out there who think their status quo spiritual life is all there is and they don’t realize how accessible God can be with just a little bit of intentionality and effort.

I blog because I wish there was another blog out there doing what I am trying to do.

I blog because there a few people who actually read it and find it meaningful and beneficial.

I blog because the church needs committed believers who know God on a deep and experiential level. The church needs people who have been transformed by Christ to live like, for, and through Christ. If just small pockets of believers would begin to live transformed lives and produce the fruits of the spirit then they would have such a more deeper impact than programs, campaigns, and theological debates.

I blog because I have seen the transforming nature of Jesus and I want others to experience it.

I blog because I need to hold myself accountable. Being a spiritual formation blogger is an identity that carries with it standards, challenges, and devotions that I probably would have abandoned if I didn’t envision a reader out there actually caring if I lived out what I professed.

I blog because it is sometimes hard to find an audience for spiritual formation and discipleship within the church. Angels, end times, and who the real Antichrist will be would be easy draws for church people but a class on how to bless your neighbor who curses you just seems silly to some people. Much to the church’s detriment. Still, the web and blogs provide avenues for like-minded people to find each other.

I blog because the words written by Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, and Scot Mcknight changed my life. Maybe, just maybe, through God’s grace, my words written could change someone’s life.

23 Things – Week 2: Solitude and Silence

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

This is week two of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first two things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Why We All Need A Program To Follow

Cover of "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5...

Cover via Amazon

Four Hour Work Week

Core Performance

I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Total Money Makeover

These are just a few of the programs that I have enlisted in over the years to be intentional about change or improvement. This winter and spring, I have followed Peter Walsh into what our family has called “The Big Clean” as we attempt to organize our house and schedules. I function better when I have a program to follow. Some people need to hire someone but I can usually just get a book and give it a shot.

That is why I have set up 23 Things. I realized that there may be other people like me who need something to follow, need something to track daily, need to see a plan that has a beginning, middle, and end. I know, this makes me a very linear person but even the most non-linear people I have met (artist, musicians, etc.) do better when they have a plan to follow, even if that plan is just devoting a weekend to a project instead of constant starts and stops.

Even if  you are not following 23 Things, find a plan that will bring you closer to God. Bible reading plans are in abundance and daily devotionals make reflecting on God and scripture doable and easy. You could create an RSS feed so that your favorite spiritual blogs and sermons are sent to your email. Read one daily and find a point of action. The possibilities are endless. It just takes a few moments on the front end to make a plan and then six weeks later you have learned and done more than you thought you could and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you have become more like Christ.

Now What??

Thanks for checking in yesterday as we kicked off 23 Things. Once you have completed this week’s activities, leave a comment to announce your completion or discuss the things you read or discovered in this week’s session. If you want to be eligible to receive the book, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, you have to comment on each week’s activities.

Follow me on Twitter @christlifehack and watch the blog for additional content related to our first few things.

FAQ About 23 Things

Do I have to sign up to participate in 23 Things? No, you can participate in any way you would like. Each of the “things” will be posted on the blog and you can read and do how you wish.

Will you have other blog content besides 23 Things? Yes, the 23 Things content will be weekly so there may be other times where I post other content. Though, I suspect, that I will be supplementing some of the content from that week’s “things.”

What kind of time commitment is involved with 23 Things? It is not so much about time as it is about intention. You will definately have the time to complete the exercises but the question will be whether or not you have the intention to carry through on the exercises. A good memory and discipline are more important than ample time.

Do I have to have prior knowledge of spiritual disciplines? No, that is why I am doing 23 Things. It is an introduction to spiritual practices.

How will this work each week? Each Monday, a few of the “things” will go up. You simply complete what it ask you to do. Sometimes it is just reading an article or watching a video while other times there is an exercise component to it.

Will there be other material?  Yes, I will be providing links, thoughts, and encouragement via my Twitter feed @christlifehack

Five Reasons To Try 23 Things

1. It is needed. I had a conversation with a friend the other day and we talked about how spiritual growth and discipleship are what will have an impact on a church not programs. Imagine just 25 people in your church rearranging their lives around the practices and lifestyle of Jesus. These 25 people’s influence would be felt all over the church.

2. Spiritual practices are not scary. We don’t hesitate to try out a new golf club, or new software, or a new diet. Even if we do not stick to it or end up using it, we realize that to advance and to learn new things you have to be able to conduct a little trial and error. With spiritual practices we either think we are supposed to already know how to do or are afraid of doing something wrong in the process.

The first time I fasted I acted like I was on the 40th day of a hunger strike when I had only skipped two meals. But each time I did it, I lost the drama of it and got to aspects that really mattered. 23 Things gives you the freedom to “play” with unfamiliar practices in order to experience their benefits.

3. Our faith should be challenged. Do you think P90X is easy? Have you seen Crossfit? Millions of people participate in these fitness trends, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. They want a challenge, they want something that is a sacrifice. Its demonstrated in countless areas, individuals feel more reward the harder they work.

In a quest to keep people in the fold, ministers often shy away from challenging their congregation. Maybe what we need is something hard. 23 Things won’t be hard, in fact it is designed to be fun, but keeping up with the weekly exercises and giving the practices more than just divided attention will be necessary.

4. Jesus wants to teach you. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) Jesus call us to learn from him. We can take his yoke upon us and find rest for our souls. 23 Things gives us many opportunities to learn from Jesus and experience his gentle and humble heart. I need that. I think you do too.

5. Win a Free Book. Everyone who completes all 23 Things will be eligible to win the book, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read.

23 Things will begin on March 19. If you would like to sign up to participate, leave a comment or email me at scott(dot)jeffries(at)gmail(dot)com. I am hoping to get 40 people to commit to this nine week discovery event. Stay tuned for more info. More info here and here.

Sneak Peak Into 23 Things

The next venture on the Christian Life Hacker will be 23 Things. I have discussed this event here but I wanted to provide an audio blog/podcast to help kick start it. Listen to this short (8 min.) podcast that will tell you what 23 Things is all about and why it is important.

Listen to the Podcast

23 Things will begin on March 19. If you would like to sign up to participate, leave a comment or email me at scott(dot)jeffries(at)gmail(dot)com. I am hoping to get 40 people to commit to this nine week discovery event. Stay tuned for more info.

Re-Hacked: Pick It Up And Read

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at thecollege where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.