A Guide To Solitude Introduction: Part 2

How to use the weekly guide

This guide for solitude is built around what are called the four offices: Morning (Prime), Noon (Sext), Evening (Vespers) and Night (Compline). To be certain, this is not typical for those in the restoration heritage! But it is an ancient tradition that enables people to develop the practice of what Paul calls prayer without ceasing. I figure that before you can enter into such continuous prayer, you need to first of all pray—and more than just once a day.

The Devotional Outline

The devotional outline is divided into four segments: preparation, presence, prayers and practicing the presence. I am assuming that at least once per day the reader of this book will devote an extended time to solitude say, between fifteen to thirty minutes. Those who are particularly experienced may wish to spend more time.

It is during this extended time (whether it is in the early morning, noon or night) that the primary devotional outline is to be followed. It is to be followed all at one fifteen-to-thirty minute period of time and progress from preparation to presence and conclude with prayers.


The first order of business is to get your heart, soul and body in position to enter into solitude. This is what I call the preparation time. Choose the most effective time of the day for you and select one particular place where you are least likely to be disturbed.[1]

I highly recommend that you memorize Psalms 130 and 131. The latter psalm is quite easy to memorize since it consists of only three verses. Psalm 131 is very effective in centering one’s mind and quieting the heart. I sing Psalm 130 as a chant and then quietly recite 131 several times, letting the Psalmist’s words become my own. Psalm 130 is a prayer of confession and cry for God’s presence. Psalm 130 is especially appropriate for a morning devotion time. If your primary devotional time is in the evening you might want to substitute Psalm 130 for Psalm 141:1-5.

Following the recitations, I spend at least sixty seconds in silence. The entire preparation exercise takes no more than three to five minutes.

Presence through the word [2]

This segment of solitude is treated as prayerful meditation. As such we begin with another Psalm. If my primary solitude time is in the morning (between 8 and 10) I would pray the Psalm designated as the morning psalm. If my primary time for solitude is at bed time, I would utilize the psalm that is identified as the “night” psalm. Supper time or anytime between 5 and 8 would be “vespers” and lunch time would utilize the psalm indicated by “noon.”

The psalm is not studied as a text—it is prayed as a prayer or perhaps sung or chanted.

You may notice that all four psalms are prayed every day for a week (as opposed to a different psalm each day). This will help you to internalize these prayers as your own. Furthermore, this will enable you to pray through the entire book of Psalms in a year’s time.

Following the psalm is the daily scripture reading. Rarely will you find a one or two verse passage. Most of these passages are placed in their immediate context. Some weeks you will find yourself reading through a short book or an extended section for the entire week. This is by design. While each week focuses upon a topic, I much prefer to capture as much context as possible.

It won’t take you very long to discover that this is not a “read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year” schedule. I have often questioned the efficacy of such speed reading. I think you will discover that the readings represent a major portion of the Bible that covers a wide and diverse span of texts.

Much care has been exercised to avoid repetition. There are very few texts that are repeated in the course of the year.


The primary solitude time closes with specific prayers of petition, praise and thanksgiving. It is during this time you are encouraged to make your spontaneous prayers to God. I recommend having a church directory at hand and a prayer list for those who have asked you to pray for them.

Many people find keeping a journal is quite helpful. For several years I have actually written out my prayers in letter fashion and kept them in bound prayer journals. You may wish to do this, or you may just want to record reflections or insights you may have received during solitude.

And yes, I pray the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13. I do not quote it as a memory verse or mindlessly recite it. I pray it. It is certainly an appropriate prayer and, notwithstanding the evangelical aversion to any prayers other than spontaneous ones, very helpful for growth in the discipline.

Many people prefer to recite the King James Version of the prayer (since many of us learned it as children from that version). While there certainly is no problem with such a recitation, I would recommend either memorizing from the New International Version or from the following paraphrase below:

My father who lives in heaven,

make your name holy.

Your kingdom come:

your will be done on earth

as it is done in heaven.

Give me today exactly what I need.

Forgive me of my sins

as I forgive those who sin against me.

Lead me not into the test

but deliver me from the evil one.

(For yours is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.)[3]

Practicing the presence

Engaging the text means to be engaged by the text. Just reading and studying biblical text can turn into nothing more than an intellectual exercise, legalistic check list, or an exercise in emotional gratification. We want to be challenged and changed by the text.

Practicing the presence is a brief suggestion of how to attempt to live out what you have been reading about, praying about, and meditation upon. The suggestion is something to try throughout the week. The suggestion itself is not a command directly from God, it is something I thought would fit with the theme of the week. If God challenges you through his word to try something different, then by all means, do so! Be certain to write the challenge down in your journal: how you reacted and what happened as a result.

Part three

[1] In one congregation I was most fortunate that our church had created a space for this purpose called a “prayer room.” Since I was on staff I was able to take thirty minutes to an hour and spend in this room with my Bible and guide to solitude. Those who do not have such an opportunity will have a greater challenge—but trust me, it’s possible. For many years my special place was in the den of our house at a small table early before anyone else had gotten up. For my wife it is the local McDonald’s restaurant!

[2] I designate the segment in this way to identify that God is speaking through his word.

[3] My own paraphrase of the text found in Matthew 6:9-13 with the variant reading.


About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 36 years. His current work takes him to Ukraine several times a year. He has fallen in love with the country and the people. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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4 Responses to A Guide To Solitude Introduction: Part 2

  1. Paul Smith says:

    Darryl, I am looking forward to the rest of your series here. I like what you are teaching here – this type of Bible reading/devotions/meditations has a long and vigorous history. However, in defense of the “read through the Bible in a year” process, we must never forget that the Bible itself is a vast story, and we need to keep it “together” as much as possible. The value of what I hear you suggest is that passages are taken “in context” which is frequently NOT done in atomistic type Bible/devotional reading guides. The program I have been using for the past few years actually has me read the Bible through twice (2x) in a year – which, because of my position, is not a strain at all. I read an OT passage, a NT passage, and a Psalm daily. And I find that regularly there is a passage, or perhaps just a verse, that “speaks” to me in a new and meaningful way. What I like about your process is that you stress that it takes some time to complete your devotions. I hate, despise, abhor, earnestly reject, and otherwise have negative feelings for all of those “read a verse and go on your way” type of “devotional study helps” that treat the Bible like some vitamin bottle.



    • Thank you for your comment, Paul! The “read the Bible in a year” program is something I forgot to mention as something offered in Churches of Christ when I was growing up. That is one approach which has been strongly emphasized in churches I attended as a child and throughout my adult ministry years. Some find it quite meaningful. A friend of mine had an outline that enabled someone to read the Bible through in about three years–but involved reading several books through more than once during that time frame.

      Personally, I feel the best way to read the Bible is like you would normally read any piece of literature. Take a book, say the gospel of John, sit down and read it through. Now that might take one, two, or three readings to go all the way through it. I would suggest taking a book like Matthew, Mark, John, Luke-Acts or a smaller letter of the New Testament and spending a full week with it. If that means you read it through several times, great! For me the issue is not whether I’ve read the entire Bible through in a year–but have I really spent serious time in contemplative reading. That is my preferred method of Bible reading.

      Again, thanks for your comment!

  2. Paul Smith says:

    Darryl, are you familiar with the Moravian Brethren and their “Daily Reading” schedule? They have been preparing this program for several hundred years now. In their plan you read a short passage from the OT, a short passage from the NT and either a Psalm or section of a psalm every day. (Sundays follow the common lectionary reading).Following this schedule you complete the entire Bible in three years. That is a nice compromise in sequential reading as well as shorter “devotional” type readings. I think I am going to follow their schedule the next time they start with Gen. 1, Psalm 1 and Matt. 1. I discovered them through reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He used their schedule, even while in prison, as a way to stay connected with all of his seminarians and church members. Just another “method” to stay in the book. I might also add a nod to your mention of lectionary reading – not something we are accustomed to doing.

  3. Pingback: A Plan for Spending Time in Solitude: A 52 Week Guide to Solitude for 2013 | Coffee Cup Theology

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