The Most Neglected Spiritual Practice
This is an article written by Rich Nathan. He is the pastor of Vineyard Columbus, which is the sending church that is planting our church plant, Life Church.
What do you believe is the most neglected spiritual practice by Christians in our day?
Prayer? Bible reading? Fellowship? Worship? Fasting?
It is so easy for leaders in particular, but Christians in general, to be so busy working for God that we miss God in the work. The great temptation for Christians is to try to do something great for God, and in the process lose our relationship with God. Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever served God in some way, but felt far from God while you were doing it?
No one in history ever had a more important job to do for God than Jesus. Yet Jesus frequently withdrew from the crowds and from successful ministry to spend time with the Father – listening, refueling and being refilled with the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul likewise insisted on periods of solitude – times of simply being along with God. Now I know this is a really novel concept in America – SOLITUDE – ALONE TIME. But anyone who wishes to live a fruitful and effective Christian life over the long haul must learn to be alone, where there’s time taken just to be in God’s presence. Whether that means taking a walk alone at a park, taking a walk on a bike trail, sitting by a lake or just being alone in our bedrooms – we must learn to be by ourselves with God.
The problem with many of our so-called vacations is that we spend all of our time busily running around but we’re never alone with God. Visiting Disney World is not solitude. You don’t hear God’s voice in the Small World pavilion with “It’s a Small World” playing 1,000 times. Spending a week with your parents, your siblings and 14 children in one house on the beach is not solitude. Driving for a day with little kids in the back seat is not solitude. We take weeks getting ready, clearing our desks, packing and when we come back we’re immediately slammed with all the work that piled up while we were gone. Most of us need vacations from our summer vacations!
Many people in our culture run from being alone and reject solitude and quietness. Many are uncomfortable with being alone because we don’t like what we find when we slow down enough to look inside. We keep busy and have constant noise in the background because being alone may make us conscious of our inner-emptiness. And this is not simply a problem for the unchurched and the non-Christian. There are many of us Christians who have never really learned how to find God or to make satisfying contact with God when we are alone and who find the thought of solitude terrifying.
Apply this to yourself. Are you afraid of being alone? I don’t mean are you afraid of being alone because you’re afraid for your safety. Rather, are you afraid of being alone because you don’t like being alone with your own thoughts? Are you afraid of being alone because your relationship with God is so distant and unreal that you would feel totally alone when you’re by yourself? Being alone makes you feel lonely. Do you insist upon constant activity, noise and diversions because slowing down scares you?
One doctor wrote a book some years ago in which he talked about the need for us in the West to have margins in our life. He said that the problem today is that we’re all running close to the edge. Everyone is pushed so close to the edge financially, emotionally and spiritually that if we have a crisis, or something unexpected occurs, we have no reserve tanks from which to draw.
Alone time – the practice of solitude – allowing ourselves the space to refuel emotionally, spiritually and physically so there’s something in the tank, is the time when we recharge, renew and refocus. Alone time is the time when we hear the voice of God. We rarely hear the voice of God in a crowd. We won’t hear the voice of God when the noise-level and stimulation-level around us is at some ridiculous decibel level or when life is spinning so fast that we can hardly hear ourselves think. We must be alone to hear God’s voice!
I talk to so many individuals who are frustrated because they say, “I never hear the voice of God.” The question for those of us who struggle to hear God’s voice is this: “How much alone time do we spend with God where it’s completely quiet?” Certainly “quiet” is a rare commodity if, for example, you have little ones who follow you even into the bathroom so you’re not even alone in the bathroom or in the shower. Moms and dads with young children, have you ever considered hiring a babysitter – not just so that you could go out for dinner together, which is important, or so that you could run errands, which is important, but have you ever considered having a sitter just so you could be alone with God? Many of us need, more than anything else, to be alone with God.
Here are a few practical questions. Do you spend even one hour a week when you’re not doing anything other than being with God? Do you take even one hour a week where you’re not sitting in front of a television set or looking at a computer screen or listening to music on your phone or talking with another person or checking Facebook or texting? Do you take one hour a week to not just “run through the shower” with God but to take a long, slow bath in his presence?
Here’s an idea. If you are frequently on a plane for your job, why not take an hour of your flight time just to be quiet, to not do work, but instead to simply put your head back, pray and listen to the voice of God? Maybe you could get a little journal and write down what you’re hearing from the Lord.
Likewise, if you have to commute any distance to get to work or if you drive for your job, turn off the radio, turn off your phone and use that commute time to be alone with God. There’s almost nothing more neglected in contemporary life or more important for our spiritual health than growing in the discipline of solitude. More than anything, we need to be alone with God!