Practicing Lent: Silence

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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. 

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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.

 

Practicing Lent: Examen

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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.

Another busy day. Teaching music at the Lutheran school in the morning. Piano lessons in the afternoon. Dinner with my sweet hubby. Bible study with my small group in the evening.

I fall into bed exhausted. But before I step into dreamland, I take time to practice Examen. I close my eyes and watch a “video” replay of my day.

I thank God for the good things: a big hug from a preschooler at school, time with my husband, laughter with my awesome Bible study gals.

I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where I messed up that day–yep, I lost my patience with those antsy third-graders–forgive me. Lord.

I look for God’s presence in the ordinary moments of my day and I see Him in the unexpected warm weather in the middle of winter, in the faces of the children as they sing of God’s love, and in the words of hope in God’s Word.

I go to sleep forgiven and grateful.

The Spiritual Discipline of Examen

The practice of Examen is one of my favorite Spiritual Disciplines.

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I know intellectually that God is always with me. I grab onto God’s promise:

I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)

But sometimes I forget. I get caught up in my to-do list, in the hectic activities of each day. I forget that God is always with me to love me, guide me, and cheer me on. Examen helps me be more aware of Christ in the mundane moments of every day.

You too?

To practice the Spiritual Discipline of Examen, start by finding a quiet place and asking the Spirit to guide your time of reflection. Close your eyes and review the last 24 hours. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What inspired gratitude today?
  • What happened that was painful, sad, or disappointing?
  • What moment do I now regret and need to confess?
  • What moments of my day were life-giving?
  • What moments of my day were life-draining?
  • When did I sense God’s nearness?
  • When did my hectic pace of life crowd out a sense of God’s nearness?
  • When did I give and receive love?
  • When did I feel an absence of love?
  • What did God teach me today?

Spend some time thanking God for His presence throughout the day and thank Him for the things that brought joy. Confess the sins the Spirit brought to mind and receive forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Visual Examen

Recently, I discovered a more hands-on way to practice Examen in a book titled Praying in Color:  I have adapted this method for our Practicing Lent journey.

For this practice,

  1. Start by downloading and printing a sheet with a geometric pattern that will guide your experience.
  2. In the center of the pattern, write the words of Joshua 1:5: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
  3. Then, in the spaces closest to the center, write down things for which you are grateful. Did you get a hug from a preschooler? Did you see a spectacular sunset? Write down anything from the last 24 hours that brought you joy.
  4. Next, ask yourself a few questions about your day. In the outer ring of the pattern, write a word or two that recalls these moments:
  • When did I feel closest to God?
  • When did I feel distant?
  • When did I mess up and sin? Where do I need to confess and receive forgiveness?

End with a time of confession and thanksgiving. If you like, color the spaces of the design while you pray. Many people find the act of coloring focuses their thoughts. (I suggest that you at least darken the spaces listing your sins so the words are no longer visible–symbolizing God’s cleansing mercy.)

God is with us. But sometimes we forget. Examen helps us appreciate the Lord’s presence in the ordinary and mundane. During this holy season of Lent, appreciate anew Christ’s nearness.

Examen helps us appreciate the Lord's presence in the ordinary and mundane. Click To Tweet

Next step: Download and print the Examen pattern. For a summary of the Visual Examen practice and a list of Scirptures that will guide your practice–Click here. 

 

Practicing Lent: Prayer Journaling

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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.

Every morning I grab a cup of tea and sit in the comfy chair in my office. I settle in with my Bible for a quiet time with the Lord. I may spend the time working through a book of the Bible or completing the homework for my small group study. I have a small stack of memory verse cards that I review and a prayer list to guide my prayer time.

I love this time with the Lord, but can I be honest here? The thing I most struggle with is prayer. I’m so grateful that God hears my cries to Him. I feel so blessed that through Christ we have the privilege of approaching God in prayer.

But too often, I’m in the middle of interceding for a friend and a stray thought enters my brain asking, “What will you make for dinner tonight?” I berate myself for my lack of concentration and turn back to the prayer at hand, but the next minute my thoughts wander to the heaps of laundry that must be done or the long list of errands for the day.

Because I struggle with attention in prayer, I have found prayer journaling helpful. Putting pen to paper keeps my mind on talking to God instead of my grocery list. The physical act of writing focuses my thoughts.

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Ways to Use a Prayer Journal

There are many ways to use a prayer journal. Here are a few ways that have been helpful for me:

  • Recording an account of your prayer requests and God’s answers. Write down your request and the date you first prayed for that person or concern. When the prayer is answered, write down the date and a prayer of thanksgiving.
  • Pouring out your heart to God. When I’ve been in a particularly difficult season, I have used the pages in my journal to ask God questions, to empty out my anger, or to vent my frustration. King David’s example in the Psalms shows me that God does not seem to mind this. He listens to His children and knows that after I have poured out my problems, I am more ready to receive His peace.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal. For a season, I daily wrote down three things for which I was thankful. By intentionally seeing all that God had already given me, my whiny, discontented attitude was changed.
My Favorite Way to Journal My Prayers

But this is my favorite way to use my prayer journal:

  • Respond to Scripture. By turning what I read in God’s Word into a prayer, my mind is focused and I am able to apply what I have read.

For instance, one day I read Matthew 22 and these words from the Parable of the Wedding Feast struck me:

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business. Matthew 22:4-5

And I wrote this prayer:

Lord, forgive me when I have ignored Your invitation to spend time with You. When I have gone off to my business–not giving You the time You deserve. Thank You for providing a feast for those You love. You give us all Your richest blessings–too often I ignore them. Thank You for Your love and forgiveness.

You don’t need a formula for your prayers. Just let the Holy Spirit guide you.

But if you would like a starting point, here are some questions to direct your prayers:

  • What in this passage inspires me to praise God?
  • What does this passage prompt me to confess?
  • How does the passage inspire me to pray for myself?
  • How does it inspire me to pray for others?
  • How does this passage spark thanksgiving?
  • What does this passage teach me about God?
  • How does this passage prompt me to pray over my everyday life and decisions?
Through Christ, we have the blessing and privilege of approaching God in prayer. Click To Tweet

Grab a journal or a spiral notebook. Or start a new file on your computer. Open up God’s Word and write out your prayers.

Next step: Find a place to journal your prayers: fancy journal, half-used spiral notebook, computer file. For the next 5 days journal your prayers. Click here to find inspiring Scriptures and prayer prompts.  

Is Meditation Dangerous?

This post is part of the Soul Spa blog tour. My new book is taking a tour around the Internet. You can catch the rest of this post at Natalie Eastman’s website.

Christian meditation focuses on filling

I remember clearly when a friend mentioned he was seeing a counselor who recommended meditation.

“Clear your mind,” the counselor instructed. “Try to empty it completely.”

Red flags immediately shot up in my own mind. “Empty your mind” did not sound like good advice in light of Jesus’ warning that an empty mind may be an invitation for evil to take up residence (Luke 11:24-26). So I warned my friend that this kind of meditation could be dangerous.

But not all meditation is alarming and unsafe. Christian meditation doesn’t aim to empty the mind. Instead, Christian meditation focuses on…

Click here to read more at Natalie Eastman’s site.

IS MEDITATIONDANGEROUS-