In our last post, we explored the idea of keeping spiritually fit during the coronavirus. There are two core exercises that are key to spiritual fitness: Bible reading and prayer. We dealt with Bible reading in the last post, and so we will be looking at prayer in these next two posts.
Prayer is nothing more than a conversation with God. All conversations, if they are good conversations, involve both listening and speaking. The trouble is that in most of our prayer conversations with God, we do all the talking. We tell God our problems and then tell him how he should solve them. But when was the last time we sat in prayerful silence listening to God?
Up until a few years ago, I had not practiced silence one single time. How was I supposed to hear the voice of God if my prayer life was one running monologue? How could I pray, as the Lord’s Prayer instructs us, “your will be done,” if I never bothered to ask God what he wanted?
So I set out to add silence to my daily routine. I thought I would start out with five minutes of silence. It did not go well. Two minutes in, I thought I was going to lose my mind. My thoughts were consumed by worries, fears, and unfinished tasks. I tried to listen for God’s voice, but I was overwhelmed by the noise inside my head. I don’t think I am alone. Silence is incredibly hard for us modern people to handle. That’s why we call silence “dead air.” But the Scriptures call us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Sixth months later, silence is still not easy, but I am finding peace, sitting silently in the presence of God for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. I practice silence as the first thing I do every morning, before I speak to God, before I study the Bible, before I eat, before I do anything. It reminds me that the world will not fall apart if I am still and that God is working even when I am resting and sleeping. And here’s the thing, sometimes God speaks, sometimes the noise in my head overwhelms me, and sometimes I simply experience fifteen minutes of peaceful stillness, but the point is to put ourselves in a position to hear God when he chooses to speak.
So how do you incorporate silence into your life? Here are some things to keep in mind.
- This is going to be really, really hard. Silence takes practice, so don’t give up if you don’t get anything out of it the first couple of times you try it.
- Keep a notebook handy so you can write down anything that pops into your mind that you fear forgetting. Once it is recorded, you can let it go.
There are also several approaches to silence you can try:
- Sit in a comfortable position and focus on the fact that you are sitting in the presence of God whose essence is love. When my mind wanders, and it will, I recenter myself using Samuel’s prayer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” or simply the word, “Father”, to remind me whose presence I am sitting in.
- Meditate on one of the Gospel stories involving Jesus. Place yourself in the scene and ask: What do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I feel? For example, I meditated on the story of Jesus calming the sea (Mark 4:35-41). I imagined myself as one of the frightened disciples. I look in wonder on Jesus as he sleeps through the storm. I listen, as Jesus rebukes the waves with the words, “peace be still.” I hear the waves crash down into silence. I think about the power of Jesus who commands the wind and the waves. Can Jesus not also calm the storms in our world?
- Find God in the ordinary details of your day. Another approach to silence is to meditate on your day, looking for ways God expressed his love for you in the mundane details of your life in the past twenty-four hours.
Prayer begins with peaceful silence and surrender to the will of God who is love at the center of his being. Make silence a regular part of your prayer life. Begin your conversation with him by listening. Next week we will focus on our half of the prayer conversation.