The Other Side of “Silence and Solitude”

Early last month I wrote a blog post extolling the disciplines of Silence and Solitude to unlock the treasures within our innermost being. Many of you readers responded, telling me how much these disciplines have helped deepen your spiritual lives. The impact of that blog post seemed to be so strong that I now realize I need to present the other side of the coin to bring some healthy balance.

God not only designed us to need time for being quiet and alone, He also designed us to communicate and be in fellowship with other people.

The Biblical Basis for Communication and Fellowship
After each act of creation God pronounced His work as “good.” But after creating Adam, God said, “It is NOT good for man to be alone.” He created Eve, not just for Adam, but to produce the human race, so that human beings could communicate and have fellowship with one another.

Canela Men's Group Breakfast Together

Canela Men’s Group Breakfast Together

David was a great warrior and reigned as a strong king, but he didn’t do this alone. He had his “thirty mighty men” with whom he planned strategies and on whom he depended for victories and safety.

His son Solomon wrote a poem eulogizing the concept of partnership to work effectively, to help each other, to provide mutual comfort and safety. It was written on the flyleaf of my parent’s Bible and read during their wedding eighty years ago, “Two are better than one . . . a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:9-12)

Jesus chose twelve special disciples to be with Him and later sent out seventy followers to do ministry all over Palestine. He sent them in pairs, not alone.

Jesus also promised His followers that whenever two or three gathered together in His name, He would be there with them.

The apostle Barnabas chose Paul, and later Paul chose Silas and eventually Paul was joined by others like Luke and Timothy to travel with him.

North American Cultural Bias to Independence
We North Americans have grown up to value independence and self-sufficiency. We honour the rugged pioneer who, on his own, braved the wilderness, and carved out a homestead for himself and his family. We teach our children to be independent, even our schools focus on training students to work independently. This self-sufficient characteristic leads to shallow relationships, and lack of commitment to others.

Yet, as Christians we need to realize that independence and self-reliance are not biblical values. God designed us to live and work together with others, to be interdependent—each of us depending on others, and others depending on us. God loves to see us, His kids, being honest, open and transparent with each other, working together for the good of the whole group and to meet the needs of others. He values interdependence and practices it Himself. He has chosen to work through us in this needy world. The hands of believers are His hands, our feet are His feet, our mouths are His mouth, through which He speaks and works.

God Speaks to Us Through Other Believers
As we are in fellowship with others, living, learning and working together, God tends to speak to us through the actions and words of other believers. We can all remember times when others held us accountable, encouraged us, or taught us a needed lesson. We have done the same for others, comforting, correcting, and sharing our joys and sorrows. We have been challenged to live better by looking at the lives of other believers. And we go to church, not just to sing some worship songs and listen to a sermon, but to develop relationships with other, likeminded children of the Heavenly Father.

A New Year’s Resolution That God Will Help Us Keep
My prayer is that, in silence and solitude, we will all make a resolution to develop some deep level relationships with others during this new year. Let’s write out the resolution, then find some person we trust, tell them what we have resolved to do, and ask them to hold us accountable.


Donors Beware

The truck ground to a stop in the Brazilian Indian village. A government official climbed down from the cab and told the driver to pull back the tarp part way. Villagers crowded closer to see shovels, axes, hoes, bush knives, rakes, rotary manioc graters, and two-metre-wide shallow pans for roasting manioc.

tarp truck“The government knows you need these tools and equipment,” the official began his speech, pausing frequently so his words could be interpreted into the local language for those who didn’t understand Portuguese.

“We are going to many Indian villages and leaving tools and equipment in each village that needs them.”

“Yes, yes, we need all things in our village!” several voices shouted.

“Especially the roasting pans,” the chief added, “Our old one has holes in it.”

“Before I give you some of these tools, I need to know one thing,” the supervisor said. “Are there any missionaries living here?”

“Yes, there are,” the chief replied, pointing to two women in their thirties standing at the edge of the crowd. “Those two missionaries give us medicine when we are sick. They teach us to read and write in our own language. And they tell us stories about God.”

At that, the supervisor signaled to the driver to cover the load and retie the tarp. As the tools disappeared from their sight, the villagers shouted, “Hey, what about the tools? Aren’t we getting any?”

“You already have missionaries helping you,” the official shouted over the clamour. “You don’t need the government’s help. Just ask the missionaries for the tools you need.”

With that, he climbed into the cab and the truck drove off leaving the villagers bewildered. Their shock soon turned into action. The chief turned to the two women and accused them of being stingy, of not giving them the tools and equipment they needed.

The women were devastated. Their missionary support income was barely enough to cover their most basic personal physical needs and the medicines they gave away. They had absolutely no way of providing the villagers with thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment and, in tears, told them so.

“Well, then, you need to leave,” the chief declared. “The truck has to come back through our village. Maybe they will have a few things left. If we tell the government official we have permanently sent you away, they may leave those things here.”

And that is what happened. It was rumoured that officials with their personal anti-Christian agenda often manipulated the indigenous people into expelling missionaries using the promise of essential agricultural tools as leverage.

I know that Christian relief organizations in North America frequently fund these village level humanitarian projects. When I heard that story during our time of working with the Canela people, I wondered, Do any of the donors know that their gifts are used to expel Christian missionaries from the villages where they minister?

I speak at dozens of events each year to raise funds for a variety of Bible translation projects like the Translation Acceleration Kits. After checking that the project is overseen by honest and reliable people, my wife and I usually help to fund it personally. How can I ask others to give to a project when I don’t give to it myself?

A Latin phrase Caveat emptor means “Let the buyer beware.” The term is often used in real estate transactions, advising the buyer to perform their due diligence before finalizing the purchase. In these days of fund raising scams and manipulation, I wonder what the Latin phrase is for “Let the donor beware?”


Six Things a Man Must Do to Get What Every Man Needs, But Few Get

“I was appointed as my denomination’s pastoral counselor,” the clergy conference speaker said. “My job is to counsel pastors. The job is demanding, filling my schedule several weeks ahead. I have been doing this for over three years and I have yet to counsel a single pastor of my own denomination. They are all from other denominations.”

I looked at the pastors around me. No surprised looks. A few wry grins. Most quietly nodded their heads in silent understanding. The speaker went on to review what his audience already knew: no pastor dares to bare his soul with a representative from his denomination for fear it gets back to the administration.

Lack of Trust

Several pastors commented on my column What Every Man Needs, But Few Get, saying they have made good deep-level friendships with other pastors, though not from their denomination. That’s why some pastors form good friendships with retired non-denominational missionaries.

Lack of trust blocks men from making deep friendships. One non-Wycliffe correspondent put it well, “The competition for promotion, for power, for funding, all work against men forming deep relationships. These traits and behaviors were part of my team experience in every assignment. I found it very unwise to ever let my hair down, to express my deeper thoughts and emotions, because the superficial things I did share I found used against me. I learned to keep quiet.”

He concluded, “Perfect love has yet to be realized in the local church (1 John 4:18), so the fear of what we share with another being used against us remains. Vulnerability is thus sacrificed on the altar of self-preservation, and loneliness becomes our way of life.”

Three Relationship Circles

Every man has three concentric circles of relationships. The large Fellowship circle is made up of the dozens of men he knows. The much smaller Friends circle is comprised of people he knows well, his colleagues, his neighbours, etc. Then there is a very small Freedom circle in which are the trusted men from whom he does not need to hide anything. For most men the Freedom circle is empty.

One friend commented on my admission “I cried my heart out with longing” when I heard about the deep friendships of the Billy Graham team at the Amsterdam conference. He and I were both at that conference and often talked with each other. He wrote, “Jack, the sad irony of your story is that I . . . had no idea of what was going on in your heart. I wonder how often this happens with men?” True, I hurt terribly inside, but didn’t share it with this brother. Loneliness had become my way of life.

Pastors making special friendships with men in their congregation run the risk of being accused of favoritism. Nor can he discuss pastoral issues with a member of the congregation. Missionaries too struggle with conflict of interest issues. They are life-long fundraisers for their ministries, their projects and, in the case of “faith missionaries”, their salaries. I have felt it myself. As I tried to develop a deep level friendship on furlough, I also had the thought, “I wonder if he might like to support us financially?” Maybe the potential friend was thinking something similar, “I wonder if Jack is developing this friendship with the hope of getting me to support him?”

Several leaders wrote to say they felt isolated in their leadership position. Yes! I was the CEO of Wycliffe Canada for six years and of Wycliffe Caribbean for three years. Leadership is a lonely calling. Even my wife, Jo, disliked the role of CEO’s wife. Although she oozes friendliness and is the soul of discretion, she felt that her friends were not as close as they had been before.

(By the way, although my focus is on men, from the growing number of emails from women I gather they too find it hard to develop Freedom circle friendships.) So what’s a man to do?

Friends Out for a Walk

Six Things We Men Must Do

  1. Recognize that God created us and other human beings to be relational. God is relational: He is a Community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God made us “in His image” which includes the need for relating to others on an intimate level.
  2. We need to be absolutely convinced that having an intimate, deep-level Freedom circle friendship with another man is God’s will for us.
  3. Knowing that God wants us to have a close, deep level friend, we set developing one as a top priority in our life, asking for God’s help daily.
  4. We must always stay within our gender. Men develop friendships with men, women with women.
  5. To avoid conflicts of interests, or competition, we may need to make intimate friends with someone outside of our workplace or workgroup. Pastors may need to go outside the church, and leaders outside their organization to find and develop a mutually satisfying friendship.
  6. We must continue the relationship even while we are apart by using the phone, email, Skype, or other technology to keep in touch. This may not grow the friendship, but at least will maintain it.

Those of you who already have trusted Freedom circle friends with whom you are mutually accountable tell me, “It’s worth the time and effort. Just do it!” Please pray for the rest of us so we will persevere in asking, seeking and knocking, trusting that we will receive, find, and see an open door. Luke 11:9.