Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16
3. Equipment: Silence and Solitude

21 Days of Focus: Restoring Rhythm
3. Equipment: Silence and Solitude    Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor
    22 January 2023

Intro: Sirens

I was thinking this week about Homer’s Odyssey. The Odyssey, written in the 8th century BC is the tale of Odysseus, a hero whose journey home from the Trojan War takes him on seafaring adventure through exotic lands, enduring terrible storms and horrifying monsters.

I’ve always loved the story of Odysseus and the Sirens. 

In Greek mythology, Sirens were mermaid-like creatures who sang mesmerizingly beautiful songs that would lure passing sailors to their deaths. As they sang, sailors couldn't help but fling themselves over the sides of the ship and swim toward the enchanting voices, but they would soon find themselves impaled, dying on the jagged rocks on the edges of the islands.

Odysseus had been warned [by the goddess Circe] about the sirens, but he wanted to hear their song. So Odysseus ordered his crew to bind him to the mast of the ship with ropes. He had his crew plug their ears with beeswax so they would be deaf to the deadly, siren song. 

As the ship approached the place where the sirens were, Odysseus could hear the magical song of the sirens as it floated over the water. His heart was enchanted.

Odysseus strained against the ropes, desperately trying to free himself. Bewitched by their song, to Odysseus the sirens looked as beautiful as Helen of Troy.

But the crew saw something very different. With their ears blocked, they see the sirens for what they really were – hungry monsters with vicious, crooked claws, seeking to devour and destroy.

And so they rowed and rowed away from the island, until the siren song was only an echo of an echo. And Odysseus came to his senses and was saved…


Perhaps it’s only once you get away from the siren song, that you realize the danger you were in…

Today’s Bible passage is all about getting away from the siren song, getting away from the noise, so that we can hear God’s voice.

So why don’t we pray that (even now) God would silence the distractions and speak to us.

Our heavenly Father, in a world with many distractions, would you silence the noise right now. Would you silence our hearts and minds so that we can hear you speak. Will you teach us how to find our rest in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Well you have joined us in the middle of our January 21 Days of Focus. It’s all about starting our year right, resetting our hearts and habits so that we can serve Jesus well in the coming year. 

 Our special theme is Restoring Rhythm: how to find balance in a busy world.

The modern pace of life often pushes faith to the fringes, and so we have been thinking about how to bring a balance between work and rest and faith. 

Because in Jesus, balance is possible. Jesus promises rest to the weary, as well as life to the full. You can have both.

But to find that balance, we need to look to Jesus. We need to come to him and look at his life and learn from the way that he went through the world, how he interacted with people. It’s in observing Jesus that we learn not just the truth, but the way and the life.

For the next two weeks, I want to get really practical. 

Because if God has been convicting you to make a change, then we need to go home with some tools in our toolkit so that we can make modifications to our life.

So the question is: how do we bring that balance of work and rest into the every day? How can we live looking forward to the sabbath rest, while working every day to the glory of the Lord? 

The good news is that Jesus gives us tools. Or as F. Dale Bruner put it in that quote I shared last week, Jesus gives us ‘equipment.’ Jesus teaches us “a balance and a way of carrying life that will give us more rest than the way we have been living.” 

There’s a book that is brilliant on this topic. John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry is all about the author’s own journey from hurry to rest and balance.

Comer is the pastor of a large church in Portland, with small kids, and he realized that in the busyness of life, he had stalled out on his growth as a Christian. Something about the pace of his life meant that his vital relationship with Christ was being squeezed out between everything he had on his plate.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers in case you read the book. But as is the case in Jesus’ teaching, sometimes we need major surgery to repair the issues of our hearts.

Anyway, this book is great, and he also did a podcast with Jeff Bethke who has written a similar book. (Podcast is called Fight Hurry, End Hustle)

If you’re not a reader, the podcast is really easy to listen to. We listened to it with our kids on a road-trip and it generated a really healthy discussion about discipleship and priorities for us as a family.

So a great resource.

I am going to borrow unapologetically from John Mark Comer’s work on this – what he calls his Four Spiritual Rules, or four spiritual practices that we can identify in Jesus’ life: 
1.    Silence and Solitude
2.    Sabbath
3.    Simplicity
4.    Slowing Down

Today we’re just going to talk about Silence and Solitude. We’ll get to the others in the next few weeks.

1.    Noise and Silence

Have you ever noticed how much ‘noise’ we encounter every day? 

There’s the physical noise of modern life. 

We wake up to an alarm. We get into our noisy cars. We go to work where there are noisy people, noisy tools, noisy phones ringing. We might go to a park or a coffee shop to get away from the noise, but in the background there are always planes and sirens and car stereos. Modern life is just noisy in a physical sense!

But then there’s the digital noise, what some people call information overload.

Every day we are bombarded by little packets of information, thousands of them. Each one designed to grab your attention, even if just for a moment. Billboards. Advertising. News headlines. Even the brands on our cars and clothes are designed to grab our attention. 

Then there is the internet, email, instant messaging. The newspaper on your iPad. Wordle. The NYT crossword.

Then there’s the cell phone… with its Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, whatever the latest app is that your kids don’t want you to join. Calling us to stop and scroll a minute. Calling out to us, like a siren song luring us onto the rocks of digital distraction… 

You know what I’m talking about, right? That lure to get out your phone every time you have a moment to spare. In the line at the coffee shop, when you’re stopped at the traffic lights, even when you’re in the bathroom. The ‘noise’ is constantly there, calling out to you at a subconscious level.

It's so pervasive that we never notice it until we try to find a moment of silence, like when we stop to pray… 

Have you ever felt that inability to silence the noise in your head? 

When the kids were little, we loved to vacation at this beach town in Australia called Surfer’s Paradise. There were theme parks and beaches and it was one of those family vacations that became a bit of a tradition in the family. 

One of our traditions was going into a video game arcade called TimeZone. And you could pay like $30 to play unlimited games for an hour. And so we would play airhockey, and the video games, and pinball. And the whole time there are lights flashing and noises playing and there are neon lights and the hour just flashes by in a moment.

And then you walk outside and that ‘noise’ is still going on inside your head. That overstimulation and that sensory overload takes a few hours to come down from. 

That’s our brains everyday. We’re constantly overstimulated. And you only notice it when you step outside and try to find a moment of silence. The brain struggles to stand still.

I notice it when I stop to pray.

And that’s where we need to look to Jesus’ first spiritual practice. Silence and solitude.

Think about Jesus, who was surrounded everyday by crowds clamoring for his attention. Pushing up against him, wanting to be healed, or fed, or taught. 

That’s exactly what was happening in Mark chapter 1.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

And this is just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. By the next chapter of Mark’s gospel, the crowds had gathered in such large numbers that people couldn’t even get close to the door of the room where Jesus was. Remember those four men who dug their way through the roof to bring their paralysed friend to Jesus.  

By chapter 3 Jesus and his disciples can’t even eat, the crowds are so large.  Luke tells us that Jesus had to get a boat so that he could preach to the crowds.  Jesus was in demand at ever moment. Reminds me of when the kids were very little. They demand your attention every waking moment. 

That was Jesus’ public life for 3 years.

But Jesus balanced those public demands with a very deliberate practice in private.

Look at Mark 1:35. From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, this is how he found balance.

35 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. 

Luke 5:16 says “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

For Jesus, it was important to find time away from the ‘noise’ to pray. To be with his father. To switch off the other stimuli, and to devote his attention to his relationship with God. He nourished his own faith, so that he could nourish others. 

A bit like the oxygen mask on a plane. Parents are meant to put on their own mask first, because you can’t help somebody else if you’re suffocating.

And so Jesus took time regularly to breathe, and to replenish his spiritual life in private.

And there are three principles we learn from this practice of Jesus (all start with W to help us remember).

1.    Withdrawing. It is very hard to find silence when we are in the middle of the noise. We need to create some kind of separation in order to carve out space for contemplative time with God. For Jesus, this meant deliberately withdrawing, stepping out, creating space between himself and his every day routine. 

2.    Second, Wilderness. Jesus chose to go to desolate places. Another way to translate the original word is to say he went out to the wilderness, or to the desert. Jesus deliberately chose places where there was nobody else, so that he could find solitude  and alone time with God. 

3.    Third, Worship. This withdrawing to the wilderness was not just about finding ‘me-time’. Jesus wasn’t taking a day off to recover, although that’s not a bad thing. This was a deliberate withdrawal in order to replenish his soul by spending life-giving time in prayer. In conversation with God. Listening for God’s voice in the quietness of his heart.

2.    Withdrawing, Wilderness and Worship.

So for us, how do we put those principles into practice?

I think the simplest way is by having a ‘quiet time’ with the Lord on a regular basis. From the time I became a Christian at age 16, I was taught about this idea of having a ‘quiet time’ with the Lord every day. Time to read the Bible, and to pray in response. Largely that’s something I’ve done every day for the last 15 years, and it is a habit that I’ve built into my day. I read the Bible as the first thing I do every day (right after I make coffee). 

And the reason I do it first thing is partly out of convenience. I don’t have to think, I don’t have to schedule it in, I don’t have to interrupt appointments to make it happen. I just get my coffee and read my Bible. And it becomes muscle memory, or routine. It’s like showering – I shower every day. It would be strange not to shower. And it would be strange not to read God’s word. It’s how I start the day.

But there’s another reason I do my quiet time first thing in the morning. If I pick up God’s word as the first thing I do everyday, then his is the first voice I hear. God’s word and his wisdom speak to my heart before the ‘noise’ of the day starts. Before I think about the concerns of work, or my schedule, I let God shape my plans and my priorities as he speaks to me through the Bible. As his Spirit teaches and rebukes and corrects and trains me in righteousness. 

I need that before the voices of the world clamor for my attention.

Because as soon as you let them, they will call you onto the rocks…

I have to be careful of that, because I use my phone for my quiet times. There are some fantastic devotional resources, and tools that help me to be accountable to my daily habit of reading. (Bible in One Year with Nicky Gumbel – highly recommend!)

I also use a Prayer app which helps me pray through a set of topics that I’ve committed to pray about. I’ve set it up so that it’s slightly different everyday. That means for me that it doesn’t feel mechanical. But actually as I come back to the same prayers each week, there is a beautiful familiarity and a development in the way I pray the same prayers. It prompts me to remember how God is answering my prayers. It prompts me to pray deeper into each topic. It actually helps to keep me focused. 

But then there is a danger in doing your quiet time on the phone. There’s always the lure of digital distraction. I have to commit to mentally focusing on God’s word, and deliberately waiting until later to check my email and read the paper. 

If that doesn’t work, then another strategy is to deliberately switch your phone off during your quiet time, or put it in another room. Turn off the television, turn off the radio, turn off the music or the podcast and create a real space for silence.

I think that’s part of why Jesus went to wilderness places. It creates a physical separation from the everyday. And even though there’s no such thing as true silence, it gave Jesus space from the other voices clamoring for his attention. 

And so perhaps we should think about the wilderness places in our life. What might it look like to go somewhere different, somewhere outside of your regular environment, to devote time to the Lord? Perhaps it means taking your Bible up to Lake Hennessy, or to a park bench overlooking the vineyards. 

Or perhaps you don’t need to go that far. Perhaps there’s a place at home, or in your garden that can become your wilderness place.

In my office, I have an armchair where I go to do my reading. I do that because it creates a distinct physical, separate place away from my desk and computer. And that physical separation helps me create a mental separation between the spaces.

My computer is where emails come, and the phone rings, where a thousand tasks await. But three feet away in my reading chair, no technology is allowed, just books and my Bible. It’s become a little wilderness place for me, even in the midst of the busyness. 

And the more I’ve used the reading chair like that, the more I’ve been able to mentally transition to a place of silence when I sit down there. It has this calming effect on me, where the noises of the world fade in readiness for God to speak.

It’s also a place where I find prayer comes easily. I actually kneel to pray, not because it’s more holy, but because the physical posture helps me transition my mind from busy work to the work of prayer. 

It’s a little bit like the practice of mindfulness, which teaches you to transition your racing mind to a place of calm. The practice of withdrawing and communing with God teaches your heart and mind to trust in him. And it gets better the more you do it.

F Dale Bruner said that Jesus gives us equipment, “a balance and a way of carrying life that will give us more rest than the way we have been living.”

Silence and solitude is one of those pieces of equipment. Withdrawing from the everyday, finding silence and solitude with God in the wilderness places of your life, and worshiping. 

How will you find silence and solitude this week?