God’s attributes are on display in the natural world: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Creation is a testament to His attributes, and understanding the world He’s made can help us understand Him. When we are surrounded only by the things that man has made, it is much harder to focus on God, but when we are surrounded by nothing but what God has made, there is little else to focus on but Him. We are not capable of handling the noise of life perpetually. Jesus had to “withdraw,” partially because He was being intentional about spending time with the Father, but also because of the crowds that were increasingly seeking Him out.
…He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.
There are a number of passages that mention Jesus seeking solitude in a “desolate place,” but not just in moments of sorrow or pain. We see a pattern of Jesus routinely looking to get away from the crowds and spend time alone with the Father. As people who bear the name of Christ, it’s worth asking: what does Jesus’ pattern of withdrawing to desolate places mean for us?
What Does It Mean to “Spend Time with God?”
If you’ve been in church more than a few days, then you’re familiar with the terms “quiet time” and “devotions” to mean a specific time set aside each day for reading the Bible and praying. Unfortunately, when “having devotions” is discussed, it’s typically in a negative sense, referring to our lacking and inconsistency. This isn’t necessarily the same across all age levels – some are going to have more time flexibility by default – but in typical conversation, we lament the endless “struggle” of trying to maintain a consistent devotional time.
There’s no direct command in scripture that says, “Have a quiet time every day at 6 AM.” Instead, there are examples and patterns of men of God spending time alone with God, often in wilderness settings.
Here are some biblical examples:
Enoch, who “walked with God, and was not for God took Him.” We can only speculate what his relationship with God looked like, but it resulted in a premature exit from this earth without dying.
Abraham is called the “friend of God” and speaks to God face-to-face in the desolate places of Canaan.
Moses is approached by God in the barren wilderness of Horeb in the form of a burning bush.
Job, it is said, would “rise early” to offer sacrifices specifically for his children.
David spent much time alone tending to his father’s sheep before he was King of Israel. The Psalms that he wrote contain many of the verses that we use to remind ourselves of the importance of spending time with God, alone.
Jesus is often found praying alone in a “desolate place.”
Peter goes up to the rooftop to pray in Acts 10 right before receiving his vision.
Why Seek a Desolate Place?
While trying to maintain a “quiet time” is a crucial spiritual discipline to cultivate, we would do well to set aside time to withdraw to a desolate place – a place where all or most of what can be seen is of God’s, not man’s handiwork. Specifically, places that are devoid of development and people. Desolate sounds like a negative term in English – like a barren wasteland – but it really just means “solitary,” and “lacking in population.” Here are three specific reasons why it’s worth withdrawing specifically to a desolate place to pray, meditate on scripture, and seek God on a regular basis:
We are trying our best to follow Christ’s actions and patterns. We pray as He prayed (“pray in this manner”), we fellowship with others as He did, and most importantly, we strive to model the sacrificial love that He demonstrated for us by dying on the Cross for our sins.