“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” —Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)
It’s a sweeping claim, but it might just be the kind of overstatement we need today to be awakened from our relentless stream of distractions and diversions. How hauntingly true might it be, that we are unable to sit quietly? Four hundred years after Pascal, life may be as hurried and anxious as it has ever been. The competition for our attention is ruthless. We not only hear one distracting Siren call after another, but an endless cacophony of voices barrages us all at once.
And yet, long before Pascal, Jesus himself modeled for us the very kind of habits and rhythms of life we need in any age. Even as God in human flesh, he prioritized time alone with his Father. Imagine what “good” he might otherwise have done with all those hours. But he chose again and again, in perfect wisdom and love, to give his first and best moments to seeking his Father’s face. And if Jesus, even Jesus, carved out such space in the demands of his human life, shouldn’t we all the more?
“How many of us have the presence of mind, and heart, to discern and prioritize prayer as Jesus did?”
We may have but glimpses of Jesus’s habits and personal spiritual practices in the Gospels, but what we do have is by no accident, and it is not scant. We know exactly what God means for us to know, in just the right detail — and we have far more about Jesus’s personal spiritual rhythms than we do about anyone else in Scripture. And the picture we have of Christ’s habits is not one that is foreign to our world and lives and experience. Rather, we find timeless and transcultural postures that can be replicated, and easily applied, by any follower of Jesus, anywhere in the world, at any time in history.
Retreat and Reenter
For two thousand years, the teachings of Christ have called his people into rhythms of retreating from the world and entering into it.
The healthy Christian life is neither wholly solitary nor wholly communal. We withdraw, like Jesus, to “a desolate place” to commune with God (Mark 1:35), and then return to the bustle of daily tasks and the needs of others. We carve out a season for spiritual respite, in some momentarily sacred space, to feed our souls, enjoying God there in the stillness. Then we enter back in, as light and bread, to a hungry, harassed, and helpless world (Matthew 9:36).
Quiet Times Without a Bible
Before rehearsing Jesus’s patterns in retreating for prayer and then reentering for ministry, we should observe the place of Scripture in his life.
Jesus did not have his own personal material copy of the Bible, like almost all of us do today. He heard what was read aloud in the synagogue, and what his mother sang, and he rehearsed what he had put to memory. And yet throughout his recorded ministry, we see evidence of a man utterly captivated by what is written in the text of Scripture. And like Christ, we will do well to make God’s own words, in the Bible, to be the leading edge of our own seeking to draw near to him.
At the very outset of his public ministry, Jesus retreated to the wilderness, and there, in the culminating temptations before the devil himself, he leaned on what is written (Matthew 4:4, 6–7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 10). Then returning from the wilderness, to his hometown of Nazareth, he stood up to read, took the scroll of Isaiah (61:1–2), and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus identified John the Baptist as “he of whom it is written” (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27), and he cleared the temple of moneychangers on the grounds of what is written in Isaiah 56:7 (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). He rebuked the proud by quoting Scripture (Mark 7:6; Luke 20:17). At every step of the way to Calvary, over and over again, he knew everything would happen “as it is written” (see especially the Gospel of John, 6:31, 45; 8:17; 10:34; 12:14, 16; 15:25). “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him” (Mark 14:21), he said. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31).
“Solitude is an opportunity to open up our lives and souls to him for whom we were made.”
Even though Jesus didn’t have his own Bible to page through in his quiet times, let there be no confusion about the central place of God’s written word in his life. He lived by what was written. What an amazing opportunity we now have today, with Old and New Testaments in paper and ink (and with us, everywhere we go, on our phones), to daily give ourselves to the word of God.