This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.
My mother-in-law Shirley is known as a woman with the gift of gab. One thing I have always liked about her is that chats with her never have any of those awkward silences.
Once when I was with her, we went to visit an old friend of hers. The mother of the friend was with her and this mother also possessed the ability to make continual conversation. In this woman, Shirley had met her match.
When the visit ended and we got back in the car, Shirley expressed her frustration, “Oh, that woman!” I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!”
I wonder if that is how God feels sometimes. When we come to Him, we often come with our long lists of complaints, our litanies of needs. Our time with Him is often a one-sided conversation.
And when we’re not talking to Him, we fill our ears with music on the radio, chats on the phone, and movies on the big-screen TV.
Maybe God feels like He can’t get a word in edgewise.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 says:
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
In order to hear God speaking to our hearts, we sometimes need to practice the Spiritual Discipline of silence. We live in a noisy world. It can be hard to hear God’s voice above the din. God may be speaking, but we may not be listening.
In my job as a music teacher at a Lutheran school, I have one rule for my students: When I am talking, they are to be quiet. This rule is necessary for them to hear the instructions for the next activity. When they are talking, they are not listening. If the class follows the rule reasonably well, I give the class a sticker on a chart. Ten stickers equal a reward of a movie day. But somehow, this simple rule is extraordinarily difficult for the students. We are already 24 weeks into the school year and one of the classes has only earned 3 stickers. Go figure.
I guess we all like to talk more than to be still. But that’s the beauty of the discipline of silence.
Silence enables us to listen.
King David wrote in Psalm 62:1
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
I cannot hear God’s words of grace if I’m always talking. I can’t listen to His gentle words of salvation if I’m not waiting in silence.
Sometimes I need to wait for some time before I hear God’s voice. Even if I’m in His Word, the noise in my head may drown out His voice. The conversation between me and my distracted self doesn’t allow me to listen.
So how can we practice silence? How can we hear God’s more clearly? Here are some ways that work for me.
Practice silence before reading God’s Word. Before jumping into your Bible study time, take a few minutes of silence to quiet your mind. Turn David’s words in Psalm 62:1 into a prayer: “God, my soul is waiting in silence for You alone. Enable me to hear Your words of grace and salvation in Scripture. Help me hear Your message to me in Your Holy Word.
Write down the noise in your head. Perhaps you have noticed that when you sit in silence, your thoughts are definitely not quiet. The voices of Doubt and Defeat speak up. Worry and Anxiety seem intent on not letting God get a word in edgewise. You feel like a failure before you even begin.
But you can use these noisy thoughts to your advantage. Sit quietly and pray David’s words, “I wait for God in silence.” As you quiet your mind, have a pen and paper ready. When distracting thoughts pop up, don’t berate yourself. Instead, write down a word or phrase that describes that thought. Quiet your mind again and repeat the process. After ten minutes, look at your list of distracting thoughts. What do they tell you about your life? What do they tell you about your relationship with God? Then take the whole list to God in prayer.
Schedule a personal retreat. This is one of my favorite things to do–but I’ll admit I don’t do it enough. Block out a day–or a morning–for a silent retreat. When I have a personal retreat, I love to go to a park if the weather is nice. But you could look for a retreat center in your area, book a hotel room, or simply find a quiet corner in the library. Bring only your Bible, journal, and willingness to wait in silence. Read a portion of Scripture and then wait for God’s words to you. Journal what you sense God is speaking to you in His Word. You could also use the disciplines of Palms Down, Palms Up Prayer; SACRED Reading; and Examen during this time. An extended time of silence like this refreshes my soul. (For more ideas for a personal spiritual retreat, read here or sign up for my Soul Spa Kit at the top of this blog.)
Wait in silence. Let God get a word in edgewise. He is longing to comfort your heart and care for your soul. He will faithfully speak words of love and forgiveness as you come to Him. Quiet your heart and hear His words of grace.
Next step: Click here to access a resource for the discipline of silence. Try the activities and read the Scriptures listed. For the next five days, schedule some time for Silence.