By Brock Bondurant
Mark 6:30-32 – 30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” … 32 And they went away in a boat to a desolate place by themselves.
In today’s world, silence is extremely difficult to come across. We are surrounded by noise from phones, machines, and advertisements. How are we to abide in a world that is constantly seeking our attention? It takes some work, but our first practice of silence & solitude can help us to be with Jesus.
When you think of following Jesus, do you think of his repeated rhythm of retreat – withdrawals from crowds even in the moments of most momentum? Probably not. You probably think of his miracles or the self-sacrifice he perfectly exemplifies telling his followers to do the same. We don’t typically think of garnering time to retreat by ourselves as Christ-like. But just read through the book of Mark and you’ll see a continual rhythm of Jesus withdrawing to a place of solitude. He invites his disciples to do the same.
In the above passage, the disciples are returning from doing works of ministry where they performed incredible feats of faith and good works. You can practically feel their excitement as they return in verse 30 proudly announcing their accomplishments for the Kingdom. And what is the first thing Jesus says? “Let’s get away for a bit.” Jesus must know something about being human that we don’t. To be filled and experience God most intimately, we must get away by ourselves to hear his voice and to rest. We have to take time to let our soul catch up to our busy body. There is something of personal renewal to be had in moments of solitude.
Perhaps this is best reflected in the life of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After a heroic miracle an exhausted Elijah flees for his life. He ventures deep into the wilderness and finds a desolate place. As he quiets himself and listens for the LORD he finally hears the voice of God in sheer silence (v. 12). Now your Bible probably translates that phrase as “whisper”, or “still small voice”, but the actual word means silence. It’s just hard for our brains to comprehend that in the absence of noise something can be heard, therefore it’s translated differently. But that’s exactly what the text is saying. In the desolate place, Elijah hears the voice of God in silence.
I’ve been away from the confines of my mid-Missouri office for the past week, exploring the southwestern United States. What I looked forward to and enjoyed most were the moments of silence that I got to experience away from the crowd, the noise, and cell service. With the help of my very prepared brother-in-law and the overlanding capabilities of his Tacoma, I got to experience one of these moments that I look back on in gratitude as I found my desolate place.
Atop a mountain in Utah I found complete and absolute silence. There was no sound. The silence was deafening. As I sat there, my soul found its way back to me. In silence I heard what I often need reminding of: You are my son. I am your Father. It was a moment of freedom for me: to realize I’m a child of God without any of my own effort. To be a son or daughter is not up to anything of our own doing. You can’t earn a place in the family. But it takes moments of silence in solitude for me to be reminded of that simple truth.
On this out-West adventure I took up Jesus’s offer to accompany him to a desolate place where I could hear God’s voice. He’s inviting you to the same. Come away by yourself and rest a while.
Simple Steps to practice:
- Select a special place – ex. Back deck, quiet study, closet, out in nature – where you can get away and experience as much quiet as possible.
- Focus on your breath, perhaps reciting a simple prayer – ex. “Here I am, Father. I’m listening.”
- Sit in silence. As your mind drifts away, bring yourself back with a simple word or prayer – ex. “Father,” or “I’m here.”
- Start small. Can you sit in silence for 10 minutes? 5 minutes? 1 minute?
- Give yourself grace. This isn’t about having a profound experience, but simply opening ourselves up to what the Lord might have to say by slowing down and being present in the moment. Your mind may wander. That’s okay. If all that happens is you sat still in place for 1 minute, that’s a win. Your soul longs for stillness. Practice being. That’s what you are after all – a human being.
If you’re having trouble getting started, I recommend 15 minutes for this helpful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5_vOr6mPCA