Solitude is one of the most important disciplines for the spiritual life, especially for pastors and leaders who need help unhooking from ministry stress to experience God restoring their souls. There are many Bible verses on solitude to guide us in this practice.
Kristi and I regularly practice solitude and silence and we encourage pastors, pastors’ wives, and other ministry leaders also to do this. Our five-day Soul Shepherding Institute Retreats for pastors and leaders feature extended hours for solitude and silence with Jesus.
Understanding Solitude and Silence
Solitude is for being alone with God. It is completed by silence. There’s much to be said about solitude, but what’s most important is that it is a way to do nothing. Yes, do nothing. Don’t try to be productive — even in Bible study! Solitude and silence is an opportunity to focus on your Intimacy with Jesus, to unhook from your daily responsibilities and the people you interact with, in order to attend to the Lord alone. In solitude we don’t try to make anything happen. We just bring our naked self to the Lord to be with him.
“Solitude is the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposely abstaining from interaction with other human beings, so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God” (Life with God Bible, p. 531).
Some Bible Verses on Solitude and Silence
Here are some Bible verses on solitude and silence that we’ve found especially helpful. (All Bible verses are from the NIV84 unless indicated otherwise.)
Solitude is Important for Spiritual Growth
“But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Solitude Can be Difficult and Beneficial, Practice is Needed
“I was silent and still… my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me… I meditated… Show me, O Lord… how fleeting is my life… Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah.” (Ps. 39:2-5)
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.” (Psalm 62:5)
“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
A Good Way to Learn to Practice Solitude and Silence is with Support From a Mentor and/or a Community of Christ-Followers
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him.” (Luke 9:18)
In Old Testament Times God’s People Practiced Solitude
“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’… The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (Exodus 33:7, 11)
“[Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him… a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:9, 12).
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (David; Psalm 23:1-3)
“Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:28)
Jesus Practiced Solitude and Silence (If He Needed it How Much More do We!)
“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12-13)
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.” (Luke 6:12-13)
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…”‘” (Luke 11:1-2)
“When Jesus heard what had happened [that John the Baptist was beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 14:13)
“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
These are just a few Bible verses that show us Jesus’ pattern of going into solitude and silence to be with the Father in a special way, praying and listening to him. There are many more examples in the Bible of Jesus’ Solitude and Silence. This was an essential part of Jesus’ Rhythm of Life.
Jesus Calls his Disciples (including us!) to Join Him in Solitude and Silence
“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32)
Jesus said to his disciples and a crowd of people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)
Jesus’ Disciples Prayed in Solitude and Silence
“When [the disciples and other followers of Christ] arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying [waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them to do]… They all joined together constantly in prayer… When the day of Pentecost came [ten days later], they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 1:13-14, 2:1-2)
Peter went away from his traveling companions to go into solitude and silence and seek God. He had a vision and heart the voice of the Lord three times. His experience led to the Gospel being spread among the Gentiles. “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened…” Acts 10:9-11).
Apparently Paul spent three years mostly in solitude and silence in the Arabian desert with the resurrected Christ before he began his ministry. (The other Apostles were with Jesus physically for three years, but for Paul, like us, he was with Jesus in Spirit for his discipleship and training.) Paul wrote, “God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace… to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia.” (Galatians 1:15-17)
Paul experienced times of profound revelation from God. Probably this came in solitude, at least in some instances. “The mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly” (Ephesians 3:2). “I know a man who was caught up in the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).
Paul meditated on God in nature. Probably he often did this in solitude. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
According to tradition, John was in solitude and silence for years, exiled on Patmos Island. It is here that he received the Revelation. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…” (Revelation 1:9-10)