Together alone: quiet time for extroverts
If there’s such a thing as sexy spirituality, it’s seen in silence. No one thinks of monks, for example, as spiritually immature. Monks spend hours, sometimes years, in solitude reflecting on God and his grace. But solitude is not necessarily a natural state. Some of us approach time alone with dread. What will I do with myself? Can I listen to music? If I make a sound, will God leave me?
Relax, God won’t leave you. And God is not so myopic that he can meet with only one person at a time. In fact, Jesus told us that he is present where two or three gather in his name. God made us for each other as much as for himself, and he will share his time with us gladly, if we will share our time with him.
Let’s face it: though we know devotional time with God is important, sometimes it can be frustrating, and we often think we have nowhere to turn for help in finding our way through such times. Some of us are naturally external processors, and gain a lot of spiritual insight in the company of others. Maybe it’s time we started experimenting with a different way of meeting God: together alone.
Suppose you’re happily praying your way through the Psalms when you come across this verse: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9). Suddenly you’re not so happy; in fact, you’re confused. Can I pray this? How could something this hateful get into the Bible? What had been a normal, everyday quiet time is close to becoming a crisis of faith.
But you are not alone, you are together alone. Your friend is silently reading the same passage and has a similar puzzled look on her face. You look at her; she looks at you. One of you gets the bright idea to look toward Jesus. So you pray together, asking for insight and discovering that emotions authentically presented before God are redeemed by God. Together you consider the context of the verse and why the psalmist might say such a thing. What had been a crisis of faith becomes a moment of instruction from your Savior.
Likewise with prayer, and likewise with worship. We can share our burdens with one another and experience immediate support in prayer. We can share the perfect song to capture the stirring of our spirits taking place. We can consider together what Jesus would have us do with the Scripture we’ve just read or the counsel we’ve just received from the Holy Spirit.
Now, two or three people may gather to encounter Jesus but find that their attention shifts to less divine matters — last night’s very special episode of professional wrestling, the newest menu items at the drive-through, the latest gossip about our small group members. Time together alone too easily becomes time together, and Jesus becomes less the Lord of the Universe and more the cosmic wallflower at the dance of our lives.
That’s our fear, anyway. Jesus is Lord over all of life, our creeds and catechisms assert, and his lordship certainly covers such trivialities as wrestling and food. But Jesus’ Lordship is a fact, not a toast we make before inebriating ourselves on cheap conversation. So when we come together to encounter Christ together, we must commit to come together alone — each of us submitted to the lordship of our Lord, each of us willing to follow where he leads, even if we are led away from the undisciplined silliness of our quiet time partners. Our time with God is meant to knit our lives together with God, and we are as vulnerable to distraction alone as we are together. But if we devote ourselves to our time with God, we may be with him alone or together, and we will be the better for it.
— Dave Zimmerman