“Silence is deep as Eternity, speech is shallow as Time.” -Thomas Carlyle
Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence. -Richard J. Foster
In our continuing quest to see what it means to follow Jesus, we will look at the other side of conversation–silence. If you’ve ever been in a room where everyone is trying to talk over each other all at once, you’ll immediately understand the value of silence in conversation. There is a natural ebb and flow in dialogue where one person listens as the other speaks, roles switch, and the dance that is a conversation continues in that manner. But if both people in the room are trying to make their point at the same time, no one is *really* listening to the other and both points get lost. I’ve come to realize (thanks in large part to a silent retreat I did last weekend) that the concept applies to prayer too. I think we sometimes get so caught up in getting through our list of requests of God that we forget to just sit in his presence and LISTEN to what He has to say. And I am convinced that if we were to take the time to slow down, let go of any and all distractions (Facebook/social media, “worship” music, constant playing of sermons from great preachers, etc.) that it would revolutionize our Christian walk. Don’t get me wrong, there’s not anything inherently wrong with any of that. But I believe that it drowns out the very thing we are desperately hoping to hear as we consume it–the voice of God.
I know…that statement goes against pretty much everything we do in a church culture that’s based on the latest hot “worship” music (yes, it’s in quotes for a reason…but that’s a whole other conversation), the latest program, being busy, etc. But let’s look at this through the lens of the Bible for a minute. Consider 1 Kings 19:11,12 for a moment. Elijah witnesses an awesome display of power in several ways. Wind that breaks rocks? I’ve never seen wind even move any rock larger than a grain of sand. An earthquake? FIRE? Sure God caused all of it, but it was only in the stillness of a whisper that Elijah heard God. If God speaks in whispers, constant music, talking, and business will drown Him out. I think that is part of why Jesus warns against piling up empty phrases as you pray in Matthew 6:7. If you’re busy babbling, you AREN’T listening. Sure, Jesus goes on to provide a model for prayer in the immediately following verses, but that prayer is short–and very powerful when you move through it in a way that is methodical, meditative, and allows space for God to respond to each thought. The key is that we need to pause, and LISTEN for God. Not that He is always heard audibly. He often guides our thoughts as we sit and listen. Sometimes He does not speak at all. But He will not usually force His voice to be heard over the things we are filling our lives with in front of Him.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time on silence–and the quote from Foster above outlines why. But solitude is just as important for those following Jesus. Passages like Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12, and many others show that Jesus often removed himself from people in order to seek His Father. Sometimes Jesus would be completely alone, while others He would bring the 12 with Him. The point is that Jesus would purposefully separate Himself from the hustle and bustle of His ministry to be alone with God. And we, as His followers, need to do the same thing. Is it intimidating? Yes, a little. Is it hard in our culture? Absolutely. But when you do it, you will find that it is in those times that God nourishes your soul and provides the rest in Him that is exactly what you need to keep moving forward as a follower of Jesus.
What does this look like in a practical sense? That’s up to you. Sometimes it might involve simply sitting in your favorite chair for a while and meditating on a single Bible verse until your mind goes quiet. Others it might involve being in the woods and just quietly enjoying the presence of God. Sometimes it might even involve being quiet in church as the band is playing and people are singing. The possibilities are endless–and it is rewarding to explore how you can find that silent solitude where it is just you and God–and you truly hear what He has to say to you.