“The spiritual exercises awaken us to the already present God, and at the same time, invite God to shape our minds and souls and bodies.” – James Bryan Smith, Good & Beautiful God
Spiritual disciplines are a way to make ourselves available to God, not forcing His hand, but becoming ready to receive it. Most of the time we discuss disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, scripture memory, giving, and sometimes even fasting. Those are hugely important, but I’m not going to cover them, because I think you understand them pretty well already. Instead, today we will consider the spiritual discipline of silence.
Imagine yourself in a room full of people. You have a friend across the room who is trying to tell you something, but everyone else in the room is talking to you as well. This is the everyday chaos of our lives. We have so many voices telling us who we are, what we should do, what we should think. We listen to our friends, our family, our pastors, our teachers, tv commercials, magazines, movies. We communicate more in our current culture than in any other before us: talking, calling, texting, tweeting, posting, blogging, updating. We are always accessible, should anyone feel the need to tell us they are at the grocery store. We are rarely if ever quiet, much less unreachable. Our most serene moments can still be breached by a facebook update or a text message. And yet we are still surprised that we have a hard time discerning the will and the voice of God.
“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” – John 10:4
To hear from God, we must know His voice. This is where the discipline of silence comes in. We must spend time with everything else turned off, so that we can get to know the voice of our shepherd. How is He supposed to guide us when we do not recognize His voice amid the cacophony of our lives? Spending time away from everything (music, phones, iPods, friends, family) can allow room in our ears to finally hear clearly from Him. And it’s going to be feel incredibly awkward. I tried to spend a completely quiet day in a hotel room a few months ago. I lasted about an hour, and then turned the TV on to ESPN. I didn’t even mean to. It was just a habit. I naturally fled from the silence. (By the way, I turned it off about 10 seconds later, once I realized what I had done.)
“Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our lives.” – Dallas Willard
Silence is uncomfortable, partially because it is so rare. But I think it’s really important. When I went out on my first date with the amazing woman who is now my wife, I opened her door, let her get in the car, got in myself, and then took out my phone, turned it off, and put it in the glove compartment. I wanted her to see and to know that I was completely focuses on her that evening. I was unavailable to anyone else. I wanted her to know how important whatever she had to say was to me.
And how much more important is whatever God has to say. I don’t want to miss a moment of His communicating with me. I don’t ever want to miss what He has for me. I’m not saying you need to move far out into the country, and have no friends or cell signal. I’ve just found that it’s important to be intentional about taking time to get away from the noise, to turn everything off, to make myself completely available to His voice. I want to know His voice. I want to immediately recognize when He is speaking to me. I want His words to determine who I am and what I do. I want to follow where my Shepherd is leading.
So why don’t you try it? It doesn’t have to be a whole day, like I mentioned earlier. Try 10 minutes. Or 30 minutes. Find somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Turn your phone off. Your iPad. Your laptop. And be quiet. Listen. Maybe you could memorize a scripture earlier, so your mind has something to rest on, to contemplate. Or you could think on an attribute of God, or how He has been working in your life. You could pray Zephaniah 3:17 and ask God to quiet you with His love. Or maybe you just need to listen. Let me know how it goes.