There is nothing more powerful than an encounter with the One True God. The practice of the discipline of solitude is what creates the atmosphere for this kind of encounter. Remember, he wants us to want him more than we want anything else. And even though we are designed as relational beings, sometimes we are called to temporarily withdraw from all other relationships so that our sole attention might be focused on God alone. And this, after all, should be the desire of our hearts as followers of Jesus. Right?
We’ve likely prayed a prayer and confessed some beliefs at some point in our life, and attempted to live the kind of life that we think would honor God—at least most of the time. But if you’re anything like me, then you probably wonder from time to time if all of this belief and sacrifice and effort is amounting to much more than an over-spiritualized list of convictions, practices, and striving.
We confess our love for God, and believe that he loves us back, or that he’s loved us long before we ever loved him. But we wonder if there’s supposed to be more to it. We hope that there’s more in store for us this side of heaven.
We wonder if we could ever have the kind of burning-bush encounter that Moses had in the Bible. We wonder if we could have the kind of intimacy with God that we see in King David. We wonder if we would ever be viewed by God in the ways that he viewed the prophets before Jesus, and therefore deemed worthy to live and model a life that is contrary to everyone around us. We wonder, if Jesus were to come back today, if he’d choose us to be a part of his ragtag crew and the beginning of his church.
Solitude is the place for such encounters and messages to be experienced. Again, it’s not that God cannot, or will not, speak to us in other, more crowded, places or spaces. But our reality is that we’ve belonged to a culture that has long learned to crowd God out. So if we have any hope of experiencing God in deep and profound ways in this lifetime, then we’d better avail ourselves to the regular practice of solitude.
The Refiner’s Fire
Our times in solitude are not just about encountering God, or creating a less-crowded space in which God might better have our attention, but so that the One True God might more easily have his way in our life. Henri Nouwen wrote that, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” If we want to be changed and transformed by God, more and more into the likeness of Christ, then we will choose to engage in the practice of solitude. “It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.”
The choice of solitude puts our lives in the crucible and allows God to burn away all of the impurities. It’s a stripping down of all of the false identities and over-exaggerated accomplishments that we so readily hide behind, such that we are before God with nothing to offer, but there only to be loved and accepted as we are.
This is where God wants us. And this is where God can best work within us and more readily use us in the lives of others. When we allow God the opportunity to reduce us to what he originally created us to be, separate and distinct from what the crowds of our world tell us we should do or be, then we’re ready to be shaped and molded into something that is truly useable in the hands of God.
Again, it’s important to be aware of the fact that the refiner’s fire is not a pleasant or easy thing to experience. The stripping away, the burning off of impurities, they all serve to reveal to us those things that we have held most intensely—and even in the presence of the One True God they can be very hard to let go of. But as we are faithful to God, and continue to place ourselves before him as we practice solitude, we find that God is faithful and just and willing to do new and amazing things within us.
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