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Ministry must be done in a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal. Wise followers of Christ have always understood solitude to be the foundational practice. Jesus engaged in it frequently. But what makes it so important? Solitude is the one place where we gain freedom from the forces of society that otherwise relentlessly mold us. It is (in one old phrase) the "furnace of transformation."

Dallas Willard noted an experiment done with mice a few years ago. A researcher found that when amphetamines are given to a mouse in solitude, it takes a high dosage to kill it. Give it to a group of mice, and they start hopping around and hyping each other up so much that a fraction of the dosage will be lethal—so great is the effect of "the world" on mice. In fact, a mouse given no amphetamines at all, placed in a group on the drug, will get so hyper that in 10 minutes or so it will be dead. "In groups," Willard noted, "they go off like popcorn."

You'd think only mice would be so foolish as to hang ...

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