I daresay that one of the greatest threats to the spiritual vitality of Christians today is the absence of routine silence and solitude. In 2017, Domo Inc., a cloud-based software company, measured how much data humans across the world generate each minute. Their findings were staggering: every minute, 15,220,700 texts were sent, 103,447,520 spam emails were delivered, 527,260 photos were shared on Snapchat, 4,146,600 videos were viewed on YouTube, and Amazon made $258,751 in sales. Altogether, Americans alone used 2,657,700 gigabytes of data every 60 seconds. Without a doubt, these numbers have only gone up in the past few years. We live in an unprecedented era of noise and distraction.
A well-known Christian wrote, “I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, and crowds…Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.” After reading these words for the first time, I would have guessed they were said by a pastor or theologian of our generation. But the person who wrote them was Jim Elliot—a missionary who died in 1956. These words were penned well before computers, smartphones, texting, social media, and emails. If Christian leaders were concerned by society’s appetite for chaos over calm before the advent of these inventions, imagine the effect technology has on our lives today. To say the least, the digital age of accessibility and connectivity has wreaked havoc on our ability to uphold the sanctity of silence and solitude.
Now, it’s worth stating that I am not anti-technology. Technology is woven into the fabric of my life, as I suspect it is with yours. Not a day passes where I don’t use it or feel its impact. We enjoy countless advantages and conveniences in life because of technology. More than that, technology has been instrumental in gospel advancement around the world.
I am not suggesting we cut ties with technology. I am, however, advocating that we regularly cut the power to it and dedicate part of each day to silence and solitude. No phones. No tablets. No computers. No ability to hear that notification alerting you of a text message or comment on your social media post. Turn technology off.
Purposeful Silence and Solitude
The silence and solitude we need are not happenstantial, where circumstances of the day coincidentally result in a quiet environment. The kind of silence and solitude I am advocating for is purposeful, whereby this act is not an end, but the means to the greatest end—worship. Time must be deliberately set aside for this endeavor. Perhaps Robert Plummer, a New Testament scholar, states it best: “Times of solitude and silence for the Christian are not for a mental or emotional boost, but acts of worship where one’s focus can be placed unwaveringly on the gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The day-to-day cares and distractions of this world so easily tug our minds and hearts from the preeminence God deserves in our lives. There is nothing inherently evil about technology or social media, yet their influence can subtly impose great harm to the soul simply because they consume our attention with such ease. Consider the words of Old Testament scholar, Allen P. Ross:
Our attention to the Lord must not be an ordinary part of life; our worship of him should be the most urgent and glorious activity in our lives. But we rarely see the splendor, the beauty, and the glory of worship because we are not drawn out of our world enough to comprehend this God of glory.
Routine silence and solitude afford tremendous aid for the Christian striving to maintain an eternal mindset in this world (Col. 3:2). It is a time for us to withdraw and be exclusively concentrated on the Lord. Many utilize the time to read Scripture, pray, memorize verses, or journal their thoughts. This practice is necessary not just to refresh our souls, for it simultaneously sharpens us to live faithfully in this world as we avail ourselves of the means of the grace God has granted us. The day and age in which we live demands purposeful silence and solitude.
There are three final thoughts that must govern this appeal for silence and solitude.
1. Silence and Solitude are Not Commanded
You won’t find a verse in the Bible that commands Christians to practice silence and solitude, but there is literature in print that attempts to make that case. While it is true that the Bible contains numerous examples of God’s people engaged in silence and solitude, it is wrong to view it as a requirement.
Some of the confusion stems from Jesus’s own life and habits. As we consider Jesus’s earthly years through the Gospel accounts, it is evident that He withdrew for silence and solitude (Matt. 14:13; Mk. 6:30-32; Luke 5:16, 6:12). The flawed logic of commanding “Thou Shall Practice Silence & Solitude” goes something like this: because Jesus (or Peter, Paul, etc.) engaged in it, so must we. That conclusion, however, fails to understand the authorial intent of each of those passages. We must be careful not to confuse descriptive passages (which record events that have taken place) with prescriptive passages (which inform the reader what must happen). I would argue that the silence and solitude texts of the Bible are all descriptive. Therefore, as I make this appeal, I do so with the outlook that silence and solitude are wise for the Christian life, but not a practice God demands.
2. Silence and Solitude is Not Antagonistic Towards Fellowship
The practice of regular silence and solitude does not equate to becoming a recluse. Believers should never alienate themselves from fellowship (Heb. 10:25) or from engaging with the world around them (Matt. 5:14-16). In his work, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly asserts, “One who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.” An isolated believer will become an idle believer, causing sanctification to come to a standstill. We cannot become more like Jesus by withdrawing from the world altogether. God uses the people in our lives to mold us for our good and His glory.
In 1787, a well-known writer and patron named Hannah More wrote a letter in which she reflected on her own spiritual growth. She provided an insightful remark regarding silence and solitude:
“I have always fancied that if I could secure myself to a quiet retreat as I have now really accomplished, that I should be wonderfully good; that I should have leisure to store my mind with such and such maxims of wisdom; that I should be safe from such and such temptations; that, in short, my whole summers would be smooth periods of grace and goodness. Now the misfortune is, I have actually found a great deal of comfort as I expected, but without any of the concomitant virtues. I am certainly happier here than in the agitation of the world, but I do not find that I am one bit better.”
3. Silence and Solitude is Not One-Size-Fits-All
There is no rulebook for silence and solitude. I presume this discipline will look different in each person’s life given their circumstance. A mother of four young children will need to be far more intentional to schedule time for silence and solitude than a retired widower. There is freedom in assessing how to best incorporate this practice routinely in your own life. The key is that when you do engage in silence and solitude, you are purposeful with that time and protect its intent. As the eighteenth-century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote, “A true Christian…delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitary places. And this has its peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging its affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places, for holy meditation and prayer.”
So once again, I appeal to you: Commit to routine silence and solitude. May it refresh your soul, sharpen your mind, and kindle your affection for the triune God.