So far we have discussed some of the reasons why seeking solitude with God is important. We have said that it helps us find rest for the body and soul, that it helps us find God and learn His voice, also that it helps us love God and man. We have also discussed how to find both the actual places of solitude (which we have called outer solitude), as well as the solitude of the heart (inner solitude). Now the question is, after we have found a place of solitude, what should we do? What activity should we engage in to help us find inner peace and to learn God’s voice? Well, you can do whatever you want, however you feel God is leading you. You can go for a walk and pray, or you can sit by a quiet stream and meditate on a verse. This time of solitude can be part of your regular quiet time in the morning, or it can be an extension of your quiet time in the morning. It can be a time in the afternoon or evening, or it can be a time in the middle of the night. Whatever you do, that is up to you, but I would like to make some suggestions. Here are five things you can do.
1. Meditate and pray over the scriptures. This I believe should be the very first and the main activity in solitude. Without this step of opening our Bible and digging out the truths God wants us to know, our time in solitude would be misdirected and highly unproductive. As we open our Bible, let us be mindful of the whole reason why we should desire solitude with God and why we are beginning the time by studying the Word. It is not so much just to gain knowledge or for any personal gain or experience; rather, the time of study and prayer, and our whole time of solitude, must be for His will and pleasure, and a time to conform our will to His will, so that in the end we will be found as having pleased Him.
Here are six steps to help guide you in this first activity of meditation and prayer:
(1) Read and study a passage of scripture. Before coming to this place of solitude you should have prayerfully selected a passage of scripture to study. Now is the time to focus your attention on what God wants to show you through this passage. The object of this first step is to come to understand what God, through the writer, was saying to the original recipients of the passage, hence, to understand the central teaching of the passage. Accordingly, in the process, we will also come to understand other things such as the context of the passage, and the purpose of the writing. I will not take the time here to explain how you should study the Bible, but I always find it helpful to study key words and phrases, and to cross-reference certain verses with other verses. The reason why this first step is so important is because, in most cases, God will speak to us within the framework of how He spoke to the original recipients of the passage. Thus, we must study to understand what He said to the original recipients in order to gain a correct understanding of how He will speak to us through that passage.
(2) focus on the parts of the passage that are the most meaningful to you. It is in my experience that when God wants to tell you something, He will speak to you through certain verses—verses that He has chosen for you, which He will give you a great desire for and which will become especially meaningful and encouraging to your spirit. You may want to underline or highlight those verses. Try to bring your thoughts and ideas together in order to discern what God is saying to you. But don’t make any conclusions yet. Move on to step three.
(3) make sure you know the correct meaning of the verses that are meaningful to you. After you have focused on just a few verses, or just one verse, ask yourself, what is the meaning here? Or what is the teaching of the verse(s)? Make sure the meaning of the verse(s) that stand out to you fits with the central teaching of the passage. You may want to restudy it if you have any problems with it. It may also be helpful to look at a few different translations of the verse(s).
(4) Personalize the passage and those most meaningful verses. After you know what the passage and those favorite verses mean, now focus on what you think God is saying to you. Ask yourself, “What is God saying to me?” If you have trouble with this step you may want to try personalizing the passage or your favorite verse(s). The way you can do this is by substituting certain words with your name, or I, or me. Let’s try John 3:16 as an example: “For God so loved the world [including me] that He gave His only begotten Son, that [if I] believe in Him [I] should not perish but have everlasting life.” You can also try visualizing the passage, placing yourself in the picture. Let’s take Psalms 23 as an example. As you read over the passage picture yourself with the Lord in a pasture. Now picture Him in your mind as your shepherd; and picture yourself as having no concerns. He takes care of you, guides you and feeds you. He makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you beside the still waters. He restores your soul, etc. Now do that several times until you are convicted by the Holy Spirit that the passage is for you. His Word is alive and powerful (Heb. 4:12). And it actually is the very Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying that God gives a special or different message to each of us individually. He has given special messages to those who have gone before us, such as to Abraham and Moses, but now in these last days God has chosen to speak to us (the whole church together) by His Son, in the words of scripture (Heb. 1:1-3). So yes, He does speak to us personally, but the Bible gives that same message to all of us who are believers. So what I am saying is that God speaks to the whole church through the Bible, but He also, at the same time, speaks to each of us personally that same message. This is one of the great wonders of God, that He takes the all-encompassing message of the church, and by His Holy Spirit (through His omnipresence) brings that message to each of us in a very personal way.
(5) Pray the passage or verse(s) back to God. There are two ways you can pray over the passage. First, just prayerfully reading the passage, and maybe change a few words to make a prayer out of it. What you are doing is presenting the passage back to God as your prayer. Some passages of scripture are difficult to do this with, but some, like many of the Psalms will be easy because most of them are already in prayer form. Let’s take the first part of Psalms 23 (in the NIV) and make a prayer out of it.
LORD, You are my shepherd, I shall not be in want. You make me lie down in green pastures, You lead me beside quiet waters, You restore my soul.
I think you could also pray it this way:
LORD, since You are my shepherd I am counting on You to feed me and supply me with all my needs. Please make me lie down in green pastures, lead me beside the quiet waters, and restore my soul.
A second thing you can do is to reflect on the passage and use the passage to stimulate prayer applications. Therefore, if God has shown you something about Himself, praise Him and adore Him for those qualities. If He has given you a command to obey, ask Him to help you obey it. If He has revealed a sin to you, take time immediately to confess it before Him. Whatever He speaks to you about in the passage you are reading, talk to Him about it and determine to obey Him.
(6) Remain focus on the passage or verse(s) in prayer. I would suggest memorizing the key thought or key verse of the passage. Write it down on a card and take it with you so you can look at it all during the day. Pray that thought or verse several times a day. Let God’s words to you become a part of your life so that you are actually living His Word.