Everyday Faith: Solitude

  • Everyday Faith: Solitude
  • 1 Kings 19:9-14
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • June 25, 2017
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6-25-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Last week I spoke to you about practicing the presence of Christ in the midst of our everyday lives this summer. One of the key ways that we do that is by listening to God, by spending time alone with Him – spending time with Him so we can hear Him.

Have you ever thought about how much noise there is in our lives?  Sometimes there are so many voices crying out for our attention that it can become difficult to sort them all out.

Rather than adding to our lives, sometimes what happens is that all of the sound around us becomes a distraction, especially when it comes to the idea of listening to the voice of God in our lives. If you ask me, summer is the perfect opportunity for us to make some space for listening to what God might want to say to us.

I want us to try a little experiment for just a moment because I think it will really help make my point. I’m going to need a couple of volunteers.

This is __________________________. She is your average person. She’s a bright person with a busy life full of activities and things to do.

This is ______________________. He is going to play the part of God. Now God loves _______________________ and wants to be part of her life. God wants to give her guidance, direction and encouragement for everyday life.

There’s only one problem. Sometimes it is hard for _______________________ to hear God’s voice because of all the other noise that is part of her day. Let’s take just a minute and think about all of the different kinds of noise that fills ___________________’s  life.

SPOUSE:  Honey, have you seen my keys? I can’t seem to find my keys.

CHILD #1:  Mom, I need $10 for school. It has to be turned in today.

CHILD #2:  I don’t feel so good. I think I’m going to throw up.

BOSS:  I’m going to need you to work late tomorrow. We’re running behind on the project.

CITY WORKS OFFICE: We regret to inform you that the back flow valve attached to your sprinkler system of your home needs to be brought into compliance Please do so or you will be assessed a $200 fee.

MOTHER: You haven’t called in a week. I just wanted to make sure you’re still alive. A mother worries you know.

TV: Live! It’s American Ninja Warrior!

TV #2: The political gridlock in Washington D.C. has reached an all-time low this week.

These are just a few of the voices in _________________’s life that cry out for her attention. We all know that there are many other voices out there so I want the rest of you to say things to ______________________ as well. Without yelling, start talking to _____________________ about anything you want to say to her. When you see me give the cut sign, stop.

While all of these voices are speaking, God is going to give ___________________ some directions to do something. The goal will be for _____________________ to accomplish the task while the distraction of all of the other noise is taking place.

(Have volunteer try to accomplish the task God has given. Interview the volunteer about what it was like to try to follow the directions God was giving while listening to all of the other sounds.)

Let’s all thank ____________________ and the rest of our volunteers for helping us out.

For a lot of people, hearing God speak is a very real struggle. This isn’t anything new. This is something that people have been dealing with since biblical times. In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, we have the story of Elijah recorded for us.

Elijah was one of the mightiest prophets of the Old Testament. He had an awesome ministry that had a major impact upon the nation of Israel. He confronted kings, raised the dead and boldly encountered a whole variety of false prophets.

As amazing a person as Elijah was, Scripture says in James 5:17 of Elijah that “He was as human as we are”, in other words he was just a regular person like you and me.

At one point in his life, Elijah became very discouraged. He had experienced a convincing victory over the prophets of Baal and he had to flee to get away from Queen Jezebel.

So, Elijah went into the wilderness and he is so discouraged about his circumstances that he goes as far as to say “I want to die.” Elijah finds himself on this forty day journey that takes him to Horeb, known as “The Mountain of God.”

The reason Elijah went to Mount Horeb is that he knew this was a place where he could hear God speak to him. Although you might not realize it yet, some of you are here at church this morning because this is a place where you can get away from all of the other voices of your life and hear God speak.

At this point in Elijah’s life, there is nothing that he needs to hear any more than the voice of God. He desperately wants to hear what God has to say to him. Let’s pick up our story in 1 Kings 19:9-14:

9 There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 Eljah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah was not disappointed in what happened. Did you catch what took place here? A great wind, earthquake and fire passed in front of Elijah, but there was no speaking voice.

Then suddenly, a quiet breeze stirred at the mouth of Elijah’s cave. Immediately he knew he was in the presence of God and he covered his face because he didn’t know if he would even be able to stand in the presence of God almighty.

God spoke to Elijah there in that moment. He told him exactly what He wanted him to do. He gave him the direction he needed for his life. God spoke to him about His plans for the future.

Some of you come here this morning much like Elijah – no you’re not fleeing from a Queen for your very life – but you need to hear the voice of God. You need to hear God’s voice speak to you.

Whatever your situation calls for – guidance, comfort, assurance, strength, perseverance, faith, joy, peace – God wants to speak to you. He wants to speak into your life in ways that you might not even be able to imagine at this point.

The answers that you are looking for will not be found in the noise and rumble; just like Elijah didn’t hear God in the earthquake, wind and fire.  Very rarely will we hear accurately from God in the rush and in the hurry from place to place.

God wants to speak to you individually, and for that we have to be committed to seek out solitude. Only a few minutes of sitting before the God who speaks can transform our lives, giving us new purpose and direction.

  • Maybe you are sad and need to be cheered up again.
  • Maybe you are confused and need to find clarity.
  • Maybe you are lonely and need to be befriended.
  • Maybe you are hurting and need to be healed.
  • Maybe you are rebellious and need to have your will subdued.
  • Maybe you drifting and need to be anchored.
  • You fill in the blank, because you alone know what your condition is as we come together this morning.

Whenever Jesus taught, He would say: “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” To those who heard he called them blessed. For those who rejected His truth He said that they were condemned to further unbelief.  I don’t know about you, but given a choice between those two scenarios, I would much rather be blessed.

First, however, we need to be clear on what solitude is and what solitude is not. Solitude is a time when we withdraw from the company of others in order to give God our undivided attention.

It’s not so much about what we do as it is about what we don’t do. We shut out the external stimulation of our lives and allow ourselves to become quiet on the inside. We say, “Stop” to all the noise and then say, “I’m listening” to God. That’s when we’ll most likely hear His still, small voice – in the quiet.

Chances are that many of us struggle to spend time alone with God. Even when we take the time, we often find it difficult to make our “quiet time” more meaningful. Spending time alone with God is a struggle for many of us.

What are the barriers that keep us from experiencing connection with God? Maybe you can relate to a few of these: distractions, no plan, exhaustion, chores to do, wandering thoughts, bad timing, lack of authenticity, having a sense of obligation rather than a sense of enjoyment of God.

Far too many Christians see times of solitude as an obligation. Whenever we realize we have a few moments to ourselves we think, “I know what I ought to do. I ought to have a quiet time.”

Let me ask you something: How does it feel to be with someone who feels obligated to be with you – when they ought to spend time with you? Not much fun, is it? What about someone who really enjoys being with you – who wants to be with you? Completely different, right?

God is real and He desires to be with us. Which attitude, in us, do you think God prefers? Does He want people who show up in His presence to fulfill an obligation? Or does He want people who enjoy and look forward to, and plan expectantly to be with Him?

Unfortunately, many of us approach our times with God as a duty rather than something we enjoy. We view Him as someone we’re supposed to see – such as the dentist – rather than someone we want to see – such as a best friend.

No wonder we have such a hard time with solitude. We don’t just lack the time, we lack the right view of God.

One of things I would like for us to do this morning is to think of solitude in a new way. Solitude is an opportunity, not an obligation. It is an opportunity to enjoy God – and He really is someone who is enjoyable to be with.

The question is: How do we approach our times in solitude in such a way that we really do begin to experience them as times for enjoying God’s presence rather than as a performance of a religious duty?

One way to do that is to think of how we relate to a good friend. When we anticipate times with a spouse or loved one, we usually make plans that include things we enjoy doing together. For example, we may want to go out to eat, see a movie, take a walk, or just hang out and talk. We choose our activity based on what the relationship needs at that time.

It is the same with God. We need to plan how we spend our time with Him. It might include time for silent listening, Scripture reflection, prayer, journaling, taking a slow meditative walk, listening to worship music, or singing praises to Him.

Of course, it’s best to hold our plan loosely so we can be responsive to God’s leading in the moment, but it is good to have a plan as well. A plan helps us to stay focused on our original intent so we don’t get sidetracked by distractions.

What a possible plan might look like:

  1. Find a quiet place that is free of distractions.
  2. Quiet yourself in God’s presence.
  3. Tell God what you need.
  4. Use Scripture to listen to God.
  5. Be fully present.
  6. Respond to what you hear God saying.
  7. Express gratitude and commitment.

We don’t want to just talk about solitude this morning. We are actually going to carve out a little bit of time to actually practice it.

Before we do so, I want to give you a few words of encouragement. It is impossible for you to fail at this. Your job is simply to be present with God – that’s it. You don’t have to manufacture profound experience. All you have to do is show up and be open- God will do the rest. God is delighted that you take this moment to come before Him. It’s not any more complicated than that.

Let’s pray. “Heavenly Father, each of us is here because we have a hunger for you. We long to be with you. We want to hear from you. We want to talk to you. We all have barriers and sometimes we feel like we don’t know what we are doing. We have mixed motivations and desires. But we give this time to you. We do this, not because we are supposed to, but because we want to. We open ourselves to whatever you want to do or say. Our prayer now is the same as Samuel in the Old Testament, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’…”