I’ve often told the story of my first experience of solitude and silence on January 19, 1990. It was led by one of my mentors, Wayne Anderson, as part of a class I was taking at Fuller Seminary. I tell a little of that story in An Unhurried Life (p. 20f), but I have never shared the full journal entry from that day until now. It is page 1 of my journal that today, 26 years later, runs over 8,700 pages.
That journal has captured my attempt to practice a long obedience in the same direction with unhurried time with God. I hope this journal encourages you in your own following Jesus into lonely places to pray (Lk 5:16). (I’ve used only first names and, in some cases, changed those names if necessary for reasons of privacy).
January 19, 1990. “Yesterday was our Extended personal communion time with the Lord. We met out at a church in Whittier. It was an incredible day. Chris was able to join me for the day. It was good to talk with him on the one-hour drive there and back (more about that later).
We started the day with some instruction from Wayne Anderson out of John 10--the Good Shepherd passage. It was gold! The three main points were 1) that we know Jesus in the same way that Jesus knows the Father, 2) that we listen to Jesus’ voice, and 3) we follow Jesus. It is so simple, and yet so perspective changing.
One of the challenges of the day was to take 75 minutes to "be alone with Jesus." It was not a time for Bible study or intercessory prayer, which are great and necessary, but a time for just being open to Jesus. We were to listen to Him and be open to what He might wish to bring to our hearts and minds.
I started out by just walking for the first 10 or 15 minutes. I didn't have many thoughts in my mind, but I just occasionally said in my heart that I was open to hear what Jesus might want to say. After walking quite a while, I sensed that Jesus was saying to talk with Chris about my past struggles with lust. He wanted me to share according to James 5:16 ("confess," "pray," "be healed"), and He wanted me to start from the beginning and share right up to the present.
At first, the idea of sharing these things with Chris seemed a bit much, and I wrestled with God. I wasn't very willing to do it. I allowed the thought to go away, but it just kept coming back. It seemed that Jesus was intent on my making a confession. He also seemed to say that I need to tell my friend Mike.
Another thought that came to my mind were the words, "Stop running." It seemed to me that this was Jesus trying to show me how I have been trying to run away from Him over the last few months. I felt unwelcome and so I was running away from God. Unhurried time learns to rest in the Presence.
After walking a while, I laid down in some grass that covered the hillside. As I was lying there, a very vivid thought picture came to my mind. It seemed that I heard the sentence, "I come to God with my ears plugged when I pray." As I thought more about it, I could picture myself in the past coming to God with my massive prayer list and rattling it off to Him, as if He didn't already know about these things. I saw that most of my praying recently has been a monologue, not a dialogue.
Finally, one last picture that I saw in my mind was that of a spinning bowl. The thought seemed to be that the bowl was the world, and that the centrifugal force of the spinning bowl was driving me away from Jesus at the center of the bowl. Jesus seemed to be inviting me to the center. As I interpreted this thought throughout the day, it seemed that the walls of the bowl were all of the things that I've been doing to "keep busy for God."
As the day ended, we left the church and headed for home. I was slow to tell Chris about what Jesus asked of me during solitude because of my pride and fear. Finally, after letting Chris share a little about his experience of the day, I finally told him what Jesus had told me. I shared, in detail, my struggle from Junior High to the present day with lust. I wasn't quite sure how he was responding, and I began to feel very nervous.
When I was all done confessing to Chris, he shared how encouraging it was to hear about my struggle. He shared that he felt less alone in some of his own struggles. I felt affirmed in the word that Jesus had spoken to me in that Extended Personal Communion (EPC). We prayed on the freeway and welcomed Jesus's forgiveness. It was great.
That night, we had a "Surprise Event" planned by the college group activities team. It was a time for 4 or 5 students to go to dinner together. There were sharing questions given to each group to allow for some relationship building. I had many opportunities to share with some students what Jesus had given me.
First, Tracie and Juris were at church when I arrived. I began to share with them some of the basic lessons that I had relearned that day. As I shared, I could see their eyes beginning to light up as the truths hit home for them too.
I felt differently as I was with students at the activity. I felt as though there was a spring inside of me that I wanted to share with others. It seemed that I had something to give away. Just one week earlier, I would have avoided people and "done my job." Last night, I wanted to listen and share and minister to students. I felt genuinely refreshed.
Later that night, my group included Kirk and Greg. After going through the sharing questions, the two women with us (Stacey and Kristen) went to the rest room. I shared with Kirk and Greg some of the lessons I had learned, and I could see lights coming on in their eyes. It was making sense to them also.
I was able to share these thoughts with about a dozen students in my home after the event (they stayed until 2:30am). Although the response wasn't as strong as it was with Tracie and Juris, or Kirk and Greg, I could still tell that it was hitting home with some.
The next day, at Dave's party, I got to talking with Sharon, and she shared about how she has had a couple of draining weeks. She has felt empty and in conflict with people. I was again able to share some of Jesus's lessons to me, and I challenged her to set aside 10 minutes a day just to listen to Jesus. I challenged her to write any thoughts that came to her. I asked her to be open to Jesus. She took the challenge. Jesus, teach her to be open to You. Help her to discern Your voice through unhurried time in your presence.
I feel as though the Lord is allowing openings to develop inside the hearts of a lot of Cornerstone students. His timing seems to be perfect. A lot of students are experiencing tiredness, frustration, conflicts and emptiness. We will be looking at prayer from Jesus' perspective over the next three weeks in the Sunday lessons. Instead of a spanking, I intend to share what Jesus gave me on Friday. Jesus, please bring revival to the hearts of these students—my friends. It seems that You are ready to bring refreshment and revival to many hearts.
Jesus, I praise You for how good you have been to me. I don't deserve anything that You have done, but then that is the point of grace. I'm beginning to see that You are a good Lord, and I am simply a servant. You are the potter and I am the clay. Thank You for being so good to me, Lord. I'm grateful for the gift of unhurried time in your presence.”
If you'd like to experiment with an experience of Unhurried Time with God like this, we have a very helpful resource to help you: "An Unhurried Time Guide." Click here to get your copy.