Practicing Lent: Silence

practicing6

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.

Silence

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. 

practicingPIN 6

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.

Practicing Silence

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.

 

Three Ways to Make Space in Your Life for God

Not long ago I was working in my garden–ruing the fact that in the past I had not left space between my bed of pink yarrow and the green lawn. I got a little lazy and didn’t bother to keep up the edge of the flower bed. Because of that, the lovely pink flowers were intertwined with grass. Plus, the awful weeds from my lawn had crept into the flower foliage choking it to death.

I learned my lesson: I need to keep space between the lawn and the flower bed.

Lately, God has been teaching me that I also need to keep space in my life.

I have been filling it too full with piano teaching, writing projects, speaking engagements. I have overcrowded my calendar. Work has crept into the space for relationships. Commitments have crept into the place for rest. And all of these things are beginning to choke out my joy.

If we're not careful, work and commitments creep into the space for relationships and rest. Click To Tweet

Have you experienced this as well? Our culture has so many wonderful opportunities it is very easy to become over-committed. We say yes to too many things and end up without any space for joy.

I guess this is not a new problem. God told the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is a place of rest;
let the weary rest here.
This is a place of quiet rest.”
But they would not listen.
Isaiah 28:12

God is telling us that we need rest. We need margin. We need boundaries. If we aren’t diligent to keep space in our lives for God, for relationships, for quiet, all the other jangled pieces of our lives will crowd out our joy.

3WaysToMakeSpaceHere are a few simple ways you can add a little space in your life:

Remember to keep the Sabbath. God created a day for rest because He knew we needed it. In the past year this is one practice that I have tried to be consistent with. On Sunday after church, I relax, read a good book, talk with family members on the phone. It’s my day to recharge.
Find small moments of quiet in your day. Set a timer to go off at different times during the day. When the timer beeps, take a moment to stop what you are doing and reconnect with God. Close your eyes and remember His awesome love for you.
For everything you say yes to, say no to another. This is the one I have to work on. I have said yes to too many things and God has shown me that I have to make some difficult choices to prune back my activities. But I need the space.
God is reminding all of us to make the time to rest–to make space in our lives for Him.

Discover three simple ways to make space in your life--for God. Click To Tweet

Next step: Choose one of the three simple ways to create space in your life. Make a plan to implement it this week.

Make Over Your Schedule: 3 Steps to Putting Your Time in God’s Hands

God is ready to craft something beautiful out of my moments. But first I need to put my time in His hands.

Last summer I joined a new study group. During the season we talked about what God was doing in our lives and where He was leading us to do new things for Him.

One night our leader talked about how she truly felt that God had called her to work with the group, but a change in her family situation now had her wondering how she was going to get everything done. She said that she was feeling overwhelmed. But she had come up with a new plan.

She was going to set aside one evening a week to work on details involved with leadership. She would begin with a half hour to pray about the group and ask God for guidance. She would then spend another hour and a half with the planning duties and emails that were necessary. At the end of that hour and a half she would call it a night and trust that whatever didn’t get done could wait or would be done by someone else.

Don’t you love it? What a great plan!

My leader’s plan reminded me of one my favorite Bible verses:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
 My times are in your hand

Psalm 31:14-15a

Most of my scheduling problems–my overcrowded calendar, my panic in wondering how I will ever get everything done–are usually caused because I have taken time in my own hands.

But God keeps reminding me that I can trust Him. He is ready to take my days, my hours, my minutes and craft them into something beautiful. Something valuable. Something extraordinary.

But first I have to give them to Him. I need to put my times into His hands.

So now I am starting my day with my leader’s plan:

  1. Pray. Ask God to give me the wisdom to know what to work on today.
  2. Work. Accomplish the tasks that God has pointed out.
  3. Trust. Believe that what still needs to be done can be worked on tomorrow.

My times are in God’s hands.

Question: How do you start your workday?

Psalm 31-14-15a

Where Do You Find Joy?

???????????????????????????????

Joy can be an elusive commodity. I often wish it were available at my corner convenience store. (In fact I saw a convenience store in China named Easy Joy. You can read about it here.) Because I am searching for joy I have been diving into God’s Word to find out what God had to say on the subject.

One thing I learned is that:

Joy is found in God’s presence.

Psalms 16:11 says:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ( NIV 1986)

God fills me with joy in His presence. There’s no doubt about it. When I am turned toward God, looking at Him, I feel joy. When I am facing my problems, I feel anxiety, disappointment, and doubt.

Where do you feel closest to God?

For me, one of the places I feel closest to my Creator is when I am in nature. Places like the Shawneee National Forest in the picture above make me realize that God is so much bigger, so much more original, so much more amazing than my mind can comprehend. Looking at what He has made helps me to see Him.

But I live in a city and it requires time and effort for me to get out into nature. I admit–I don’t make that effort very often.

God tapped me on the shoulder and asked:

Wouldn’t it make sense to go often where you feel closest to me?

Whether it is in a brick and mortar church or a forest cathedral, shouldn’t we yearn to go where God seems near? Whether it’s sitting in a quiet room listening to music or skiing down a snowy mountain, shouldn’t we make the effort to go where we can almost touch Him?

Even though it’s February, even though it’s cold. I’m going to go outside and worship. I’m going where I sense God is near.

Question: Where do you feel closest to God?

If You’re Struggling with Emptiness, Learn How to Live Filled

Learn why emptiness can be a good thing and how God wants to fill up all the desperate corners of our hearts with himself

There is a story told of a professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him in and offered him a seat.

As soon as the professor sat down, he sat down and began to tell the monk all about his own accomplishments, ideas, and opinions.

The monk quietly listened for awhile and then asked, “Would you like some tea?”

The professor nodded and smiled, but kept right on talking. The monk handed him a tea cup and began pouring from his teapot. The tea filled the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Eventually the professor noticed the tea overflowing onto the saucer and shouted, “What do you think you are doing? Can’t you see the cup is full?”

And the monk replied, “This cup is just like your mind. It can’t take in anything new, because it is already full.”

Sometimes when I come to God, I come full. I am filled to the brim with my own ideas of how my life should go. I am overflowing with opinions of how God should answer my prayers. There simply isn’t room for God to work in me because I am too full of myself.

God wants to fill all the desperate little corners of our souls with Himself. To totally satisfy our hearts by saturating them with His love and peace, but we won’t experience that if our hearts are full of something else. I have found that when my heart is full of my own expectations, saturated with my own desires and demands I have no room for what God wants to pour into my spirit.

I try to avoid emptiness, but every empty spot is a potential vessel for God’s fullness. So the more empty places I give God to fill, the more space I make for Him in my life. God wants to fulfill all our longings and He does that by giving us Himself. Psalm 16:11 says,

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

As we empty our hearts of our own ideas, demands, and expectations, God will fill us with His presence. He will pour in His joy until our hearts are overflowing.

God wants to fill all the desperate little corners of our souls with Himself.

Question: What is your reaction to the idea of living empty?

 

5 Ways to Spend Time Alone with God

You don't have be a super-spiritual type to spend time alone with God. Here are five ways to experience solitude.

Last week I went to a park all by myself with the precise purpose of being alone with God.

Now I wasn’t completely alone. Runners passed by on the gravel path. Bikes whizzed past. Maintenance men mowed the lawn.

There was even one pesky horsefly that kept trying to take up residence in my hair.

But as I sat in the shade under some big, leafy trees there was no one there who expected me to talk to them. There were no phones to answer. It was just me and God.

In my last post, I talked about our need to be alone with God in order to hear the Divine Whisperer. And some of you might have thought that time alone with God seemed like it was only for super-spiritual types. After all, what would you do during this solitary time?

I know some of you were thinking that, because that was my first reaction. Thankfully there are some excellent books written on this subject. I gleaned and adapted five ideas to share with you.

1. Practice “palms down, palms up” prayer. Place your palms down on your lap and spill out all your concerns, worries, doubts, and fears to God. Let them fall out of your hands. Then turn your palms up, waiting to receive from God. Listen for His words of encouragement, love, and grace.

2. Take a walk. Use the time to meditate on Scripture (print up a verse or two to carry with you). Or with each step thank God for His many blessings.

3. View nature. Sit where you have a view of God’s creation. If it’s a nice day, you could go to a park like I did. If the weather doesn’t allow this, sit at a window with a view of nature. Consider the gift of God’s beautiful world. Thank Him for His display of might and creativity.

4. Read and contemplate a psalm. What is God saying to you in the words? Try Psalm 16, 19, or 62.

5. Journal. If you’re like me, writing down your thoughts helps to untangle them. Write down your concerns, asking God to reveal His perspective. Ask yourself questions like: Where have I seen God acting in my life lately? and When have I felt empty? Read a favorite passage of Scripture and write down how the Holy Spirit is making it personal to your life.

Take time to be alone to hear the Divine Whisperer.

Here are some of the helpful books I have read lately:

The Spiritual Discipline Handbook, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival, by Kelli Trujillo

Spiritual Disciplines Companion, by Jan Johnson

Question: Do you have a favorite activity you use to connect with God?

Do You Want to Be Alone? Using Silence to Hear God’s Voice

We all want to hear the Divine Whisperer. Here's one way to hear God more clearly.

When I was a young mom, the thing I craved more than anything was to be alone. An introvert at heart, I draw energy from time by myself with a good book.

But in the days of babies and toddlers time alone was a rarity. Kids were always hanging onto me, sitting on my lap, even insisting on following me into the bathroom.

Lately I’ve been reading about solitude and silence. Richard Foster, the author of The Celebration of Discipline, writes:

Solitude is more a state of mind than it is a place…There is a freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisperer better.

This world has so much noise. Music blaring. Car horns honking. Phones ringing. It is hard to find a place where it is quiet enough to  hear the Divine Whisperer.

The world demands our attention. Work responsibilities summon us. Family members need our time. Even church activities call for a place in our schedule. It is hard to concentrate on the Divine Whisperer.

So sometimes we need to get alone to hear God speaking. Remember the story of Elijah on the mountain? The Lord told Elijah:

“’Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

God told Elijah to go and be alone in the presence of the Lord–alone so He could hear the gentle whisper.

God is, of course, always with us. We are always in His presence. But sometimes we need to find a quiet place in order to sense His nearness.

I encourage you to find sometime today to be alone in God’s presence.

Sit in a quiet place, still your thoughts, and tell God, “I’m here.”

Speak to Him about all that it is in your heart.

Listen for His gentle whispers of love.

Question: What do you do to hear God’s whispers better?

Do You Need a Hug?

psalm 73-3A little girl, not even two, was sitting with her mother in church. It was a new church for them, they had only attended there a couple of times.

The little girl sat patiently through the hymns. She quietly listened to the Bible readings.

But when the congregation stood for the reading of the Gospel and the mother lifted in her arms while they listened, the girl suddenly spotted the carving of Jesus at the front of the church. The resurrected Christ was on the cross holding out His arms to all in blessing.

The little girl couldn’t be quiet any longer. “Hug!” she shouted. “Jesus–hug!”

That little girl was my daughter Anna. And this story happened when we first moved to Illinois.

We all love to tell cute stories about our kids and grandkids, but I think this one has a lesson for us.

Just like that carving of Jesus at the front of our church, Jesus is always holding out His arms to us, ready to embrace us.

He wants to hold us close when we’re afraid to take a scary step of faith. He wants to embrace us when we’re wounded by hurtful words. He wants to enfold us in His arms when circumstances have crumbled our hope.

Psalm 73:3

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.

Today, take time to simply sit in God’s presence. Picture Him holding your hand. Imagine His caring arms holding you.

Question: After you have taken a minute to sit in God’s presence, tell how that changed your perspective today.

 

What Time is It?

If you struggle to use your time wisely check out these strategies.

When my oldest grandson was about a year-and-a-half old, he developed a fascination with clocks. He would look up at the clock and ask, “What time is it?” We would answer with the correct time and go on playing with him or eating our lunch.

Two minutes later he would ask again, “What time is it?” We would tell him the time.

Two minutes later he would ask, “What time is it?”

Two minutes later he would ask, “What time is it?”

You get the idea. Aaron was constantly curious about the time.

This week in my Bible reading, I came to Psalm 39. Verse 4 says:

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.

And I was reminded that I need to be like Aaron and pay attention to what time it is.

Now I could tell you strategies for time management. I could share secrets on how to plan your day wisely. I love that kind of thing. I love planning my day and making a to-do list and checking off the finished tasks.

But this post has only two strategies for making the most of the time you have on earth.

First, I need to remember that my time on earth is short. Psalm 39:6 says:

We are merely moving shadows,
    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
    not knowing who will spend it.

I ask myself, “Am I using my time wisely? Or am I busy rushing here and there–not accomplishing anything important? Am I trying to heap up money in my bank account or accomplishments on my resume–all the while knowing those things are not eternal?

An eternal perspective will make me more aware of how well I use my time.

Secondly, ask God what He wants me to do with my time.

Psalm 39 goes on to say:

And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
    My only hope is in you.
 I am silent before you. (v. 7, 9)

In January I sat down and planned my year. I made some goals. I developed a strategy to keep my life on track.

But while goals and resolutions are important, the most important thing I can do is ask God what He wants me to do.

Psalm 39 reminds me that in addition to making goals I need silence. Silence before God is what it takes to hear Him. Silencing my rushing mind helps me to hear what He wants me to do. Silencing my both my fears and my ambitions help me to step out onto the path He wants for me.

“What time is it?”

It’s time to realize that time itself is a precious commodity. I want to spend it wisely.

Question: How do you find silence to hear God’s voice?

 

 

Are You Still Waiting?

If you are in a season of waiting, learn how to experience waiting in stillness and repose.

Last month I got a little good news. A magazine that I had sent an article to, notified me that they were going to publish it. Woo-hoo!

I was excited and surprised.

Surprised because I had sent the article more than three years ago.

It took three years to get the article published! Truthfully, I had pretty much given up any hope that they would actually use the article.

Shortly after I sent it to the magazine, they sent me a message saying they liked it, but after one year I was still waiting to see it in print. After two years I was still waiting. After three I was still waiting.

Lately, God has been teaching me more about waiting. This time He is using the words of Psalm 62:

My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. Psalm 62:1 NASB

I looked up that little word wait. In Hebrew the word is duwmiyah which means “silence, still, repose, still waiting.” That last phrase got my attention because I’m not very good at waiting. And if I do any waiting at all it’s drumming-my-fingers waiting. It’s tapping-my-toes waiting. It’s sighing-loudly waiting.

But duwmiyah is still waiting. Duwmiyah is waiting in quietness and stillness. This kind of waiting I am totally unacquainted with.

If I have to wait for an answer to prayer, I am restless until the answer comes. I don’t wait in stillness. If something I yearn for is a long time in coming, I tend to complain to God–constantly. I don’t wait in silence.

But God wants me to experience still waiting. He wants me to wait in quietness and repose because He assures me that He is going to come through: “From Him is my salvation.”

So what does still waiting look like? Believe me, I’m no expert, but I think:

Still waiting means trusting God to give me what I need when I need it.

Still waiting means picturing all of God’s goodness stored up for me for exactly the right time.

Still waiting means resting in God’s love.

Are you still waiting?

 Question: What do you tend to do when you are waiting for something?