Note: All unquoted biblical references will be displayed on the bottom of the page.
Spending alone time with God is something I discovered just a couple years ago, and since then it has been one of the prime causes of my spiritual growth throughout my teenage years. Since I've noticed a declining tendency for people to take a pause in their busy lives to set aside some time for simple things such as prayer and worship, I thought I would lay out a basic outline of what your private time with God might entail. This isn't supposed to be a list of rigid requirements that you absolutely must obey, but simply me laying out what I've found to work for me over the years, in the hope that it might work for you as well.
Before I get into all the reasons why you should do this and not do other things, I feel like I should explain exactly what it is I’m talking about. It probably seems self-explanatory, but perhaps not. So, explaining time.
In my opinion, spending alone time with God is different from simply “me time”. We know that God is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), so technically even during our “me time”, God is there with us. However, if you’re the average human in this generation, “me time” is your moment to be selfish and do whatever you want on your own. If you’re the average teenager, focusing on yourself is different from honoring God. (Jesus would be the one notable exception to that rule.) So, my goal is to change your “me time” into “me and God— but mostly God—time.”
Your alone time with God is a time to be focused wholly on him. This can happen in many different ways; in fact, I hope you end up doing more than one of these. To help you understand this, I’ve divided what I personally do during my alone time into four categories: praying, meditating, worshipping, and listening. Being young, I am extremely prone to disorganization, so to help make it as clear as possible I will go in order.
1) Praying. I think praying is relatively self-explanatory, but I will define it just in case. Praying can be so many different things, depending on who you are and where your heart is. The most basic definition is communicating with God, but that opens the doors to so many different areas that I can’t even begin to touch on. When you’re alone with God, you can almost pray however you want. The Bible gives no commands on the proper posture to pray in; actually, almost everyone in the Bible prays differently! Some do it on their knees, standing, sitting, flat on their faces, and some more that I can’t think of right now. We don’t need to worry about using fancy words (Matt. 6:7), our focus should simply be to speak with God and grow in our relationship with him (John 15:7).
I have found that praying completely alone is one of the best times to pray. There is certainly nothing wrong with praying in a group, though. Jesus himself said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) However, when you are by yourself, I find that there is less distraction, as well as a sense of freedom to pray things you might not want to pray while with someone else.
We as Christians should feel free to pray about anything in front of other brothers and sisters in Christ, but let’s be honest: that’s not the case. When we are praying with other people, particularly when it’s aloud, we automatically go into censorship mode. For example, I have this medical problem with my body that I have never shared with anyone in much detail. Many of my friends know the broad idea of what it is, and they can often see when something’s wrong with me that weird way that best friends always can, but they never see how deep the pain goes and just how much it hurts me all the time. I just won’t let them. Even my own parents don’t know how bad it often gets. I’m not sure if it’s my pride, guilt, or the fact that I don’t want them feeling sorry for me all the time, but for whatever reason I keep that out of my prayers when in a group.
I also—and this is what more likely applies to you—leave out many things I would like to pray for in a group because of time and respect I have for the people I’m praying with. I don’t want to spend an hour boring them with every tiny issue in my life (that’s what Facebook is for, folks! Just kidding…), so I rarely even offer up a prayer request, and if I do then it’s only for a major problem in my life or something I would like to ask God to help someone else with.
Praying alone eliminates both of those problems. When you’re all by yourself, just you and God, you don’t feel those social pressures to pray in a certain way and about certain things. You can tell God every tiny, insignificant detail of your entire life, and I promise you: he will listen to you with rapt attention. There’s nothing to limit what you can thank him for, ask about, tell him, or apologize about. No peer pressure, no judgment or condemnation, no embarrassment or shame, just good-ol’-fashioned love.
2) Meditating. Okay, I know that when most of you read this you thought of Buddhist-monk-type meditating: crossing your legs in a really uncomfortable way that I’m not flexible enough to pull off in the first place and saying “ohm” for four days straight, forgoing food and/or water in the process. As you can probably guess, that’s not what I’m talking about. So, cue the biblical definition.
The word meditate is used many times in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Psalms, where David often talks about “meditating on God’s law.” The Greek word for meditate is often translated “think about” in the New Testament, which is basically the definition. Emphasis on “basically”.
When David spoke of meditating on God’s law, he didn’t mean to stop at random points in the day and think about it. He didn’t expect us to pause in the middle of our daily routine to go through our history of Mosaic Law and think about it. No, he wanted something deeper than that, something that would create an intimate connection between ourselves and God.
In my opinion based on the context of its use in Scripture, meditating isn’t merely “thinking about” something. It is thinking hard about a topic that you may not have fully explored before, particularly focusing on its relation to God. You’ve probably heard Philippians 4:8 before: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Again, when Paul wrote this he didn’t mean for us to occasionally touch on these topics in our minds and simply “think about” them. He wanted us reach deep into our philosophy and think about what it means to be “true” or “noble” or any of these other things. Then, once we have established what it means to possess any of those qualities, he intended for us to strive to achieve them. The Bible constantly encourages us to be Christ-like, because Christ is the physical manifestation of all of these qualities. Jesus is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. So by attempting to manifest these characteristics in ourselves through mediation and application of Scripture, we are at the same time imitating the Savior of the Universe, Jesus Christ.
3) Worshipping. This one for me is the hardest to define. It can include almost everything that we do. In fact, the other two I’ve already talked about could easily be considered and sub-category of worship. Worship is basically honoring God in our thoughts and actions. This can be done in so many different ways it’s amazing. As I’ve mentioned, worship can come in the form of prayer or meditation, but it could also be art, music, sports, academics, things like that. Anything where you acknowledge God for who he is and give him the glory for everything that is good on this earth is a form of worship. Personally, when I’m by myself, I express my praise in the form of music. I’m a terrible singer so I tend to shy away from doing it in public, but when I’m alone I will bust out every hymn, psalm, or gospel song I know and just sit there singing the words and knowing that they’re true. You can express your praise for God in any way that you feel is right for you, and God will accept it. He won’t turn a cold shoulder to your worship, in fact he commands us to do it many times in the Bible. Since there are so many directions I could go with this—I could probably write a thousand page book on it—I’ll just end by saying that the “right” way to worship is open for interpretation, so as long as you’re adhering to God’s word I’m sure you’re doing a bang up job of it.
4) Listening. From personal experience, as well as what I’ve heard from other people, listening to God is the hardest thing to do of all these. Since most people don’t hear him very clearly as a physical voice, it’s often hard to interpret his will for our lives. I’ve found that being alone with God is the best time to simply listen to what he wants to say to me. Now I’ve never seen a bright light with angels shouting down the answers to life’s biggest questions, but after waiting for an answer from God, I’ll often come out of my alone time feeling confident in a decision I had been less-than-enthusiastic about before.
Even when you’re actively trying to listen to God, you may not know when he’s speaking, yet you’ll be receiving his words in your heart as if you read them in a book. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us in groanings that words cannot express.” Because of this verse I often have my time of listening follow directly after my time of prayer. If I ask for something in a prayer, whether it be the answer to some theological problem or a request for relief from something that’s been weighing me down, it only makes sense to pause to try and listen to God’s answer.
Listening doesn’t always have to be trying to hear his answers to short-term things either. You can use this time to try and find God’s deeper purpose for your life, what he’s calling you to do. The problem with this is that it tends to have a greater impact on your life if you get a clearer answer than you were expecting, and us as fallen humans might be inclined to ignore it. Just think: What if you were dead-set on becoming a professional sports player as an adult, and then you hear God tell you that he wants you to be a missionary? You, being the selfish human that you are (by using the second person I’m not trying to imply that I’m different, by the way), might then decide, “Why would the Lord want me to dry out in some godforsaken African desert spreading the gospel to some tiny, insignificant tribe when I could actually make millions of dollars to give to charity?” Then you end up ignoring what he told you and doing the complete opposite, which defeats the purpose of trying to listen in the first place. So, a caution sign for listening to God: You might not always like what he tells you. That being said, it will always benefit you in the long run. Always.
Now that I’ve made it though the list, you’re probably thinking, “Yes, she’s finally done!” Heh, WRONG!
I’d like to give you a crash course on how to chose your ATWG (Alone Time With God, clever huh?) spot. This isn’t required biblically or otherwise, but these are some good suggestions that will most likely give you the most intimate connection with God.
•Pick someplace where you won’t be interrupted. It’s really annoying to be in the middle of a deeply personal prayer and have someone walk in on you or start shouting at you to go eat your dinner.
•Pick someplace where you can feel God’s presence. Again, we all know that he is everywhere, but you’ve likely felt a special spot where you can just feel him permeating the air.
•Related to the first two, I recommend a spot in nature where you can get away from civilization. If you live in a densely populated area, this may not be possible and you might as well skip this point. Choosing a spot in nature brings you into harmony with God’s original creation, untainted by the sins of mankind. You’re not likely to be bothered there, and the beauty surrounding you all over the place is likely to help you with the meditation part.
• Pick someplace you’re comfortable. If you decide that you want your ATWG spot to be on a pointy rock (who would do that, anyway?), chances are you’ll spend more time worrying about the pain in your butt rather than on God. Pick someplace comfortable and you can probably stay in the exact same position the entire time.
•Pick someplace that suits you and how you operate. If you can only focus on God when you’re in motion, then by all means pick a sidewalk or something where you can walk and spend time with God at the same time. If you’re more of the sitting type, pick somewhere where it’s easy to find someplace to sit.
•Make sure you have a Bible handy wherever your spot is. You may need it.
•Be consistent. If possible, use the same spot every time. You’re less likely to be distracted by your surroundings if you’re familiar with them already.
Now, some people might be doubtful that it’s necessary to go so far out of your way to be alone with God. Can’t you just do the same thing in your bed at night? Well, yes, but in my opinion it isn’t the same thing. Apparently a bunch of Bible dudes agree with me, too, so I’ll just show you what they have to say.
You all have probably heard the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal, right? If not, here’s the crash course: Elijah challenged the priests to a contest to see whose god was the true god. The priests of Baal would make sacrifices to Baal and try and get him to set their altar on fire, while Elijah would try and get YHWH to set his altar on fire. The priests all make their sacrifices, pray, cut themselves, and shout up to their god, but he doesn’t answer. Elijah dumps water on the altar so that it’s even harder to set it on fire, prays to God, and immediately the whole thing bursts into flames. He then kills all of the priests of Baal for their paganism.
Fast forward to a couple weeks later (I’m guessing, I have no idea what the exact timeline was. I’m in 1 Kings 19 now if you want to follow along with the story) and the rulers of Israel aren’t happy with what happened. Jezebel in particular, the king’s wife, was upset, and ordered that Elijah be put to death. He ran away in fear to Mt. Horeb to seek out God’s advice on what to do. Now, Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, was the Israelites’ default ATWG spot (see the whole Torah). That’s where they had direct communication with God through the chosen prophets among their people. When Elijah arrived, the Bible describes what happened as this: “The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire—”And here’s where you pay attention now, folks—“came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13) Elijah left his servant in the city so that he could go out into the wilderness alone, just so he could be closer to God, all the while people are out there trying to kill him. While his actions are very admirable (remember: meditate on these things ;)) I was trying to pull your focus to the fact that Elijah took the time to wait for God to appear to help him in his time of need. God definitely took his time while Elijah waited through a bunch of natural disasters, but he ultimately found what he was looking for.
You may have already thought of this one if you are abnormally astute—and I mean abnormal in the nicest way possible—but another example is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night of Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ subsequent arrest. In Matthew 26:38 Jesus says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” The story then continues, “Going a little farther, he fell with is face to the ground and prayed […]” Later in the chapter he and his disciples all go to the Mount of Olives and again it says in verse 41, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed.” Even when he’s with his disciples and they are just a few meters away, he still prefers praying alone rather than with them next to him. Also notice that Jesus also prefers being among the beauty of nature for his prayer; he starts at a garden and moves to a mountain. Hint, hint. ;) Okay, now I’m just pushing my own hippy agenda. Ignore that last comment.
In summary, even when you think you’re alone, God is always there with you. So instead of using that alone time to do things for yourself, why not spend it in open communication with the Creator of the Universe? He loves you more than anything else and was even willing to send his son to die for you, so seriously people, the least you can do is give a little of that love and attention back to him every once in a while. Really.
Unquoted biblical references. All references made in NIV unless stated otherwise:
Psalm 139:7-12—“Where can I go from your Sprit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light as you.”
Matthew 6:7—“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
John 15:7—“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”