Editors Note: This is a new series on spiritual growth designed to help our readers understand how to grow in Christ.
- Dave wrote the first post in this series on the blessing of the spiritual disciplines.
- Joey Cochran wrote the second post in this series on the four functions of prayer.
- Chris Poblete wrote the third post on the practice of private prayer.
- Chris wrote the fourth post on the practice of corporate prayer.
- Today Matthew Fretwell writes on finding the silence of God.
One of the most common dilemmas that evangelicals face is becoming disengaged in the faith. Interestingly enough, while I write this article, I’m leading our church through a series in the book of Hebrews—this exhortation is filled with encouragement, but the truth between the passages of edification is that each one is chock full of warnings.
As an avid baseball fan, an old player, and now high school coach, I can relate to how warnings and encouragement go hand in hand—we cannot have one without the other. It would be similar to me visiting a pitcher on the mound who’s about to face the opposing team’s best fastball hitter and advising him to just throw hard strikes—that wouldn’t work. I would need to warn him that the next batter can hit and will hit his fastball, so he must either be selective in where he throws it, or throw a different pitch—he absolutely cannot throw it over the middle. This is warning, but with encouragement.
And so, today’s post will give you some warning and encouragement in finding the silence of God. In our culture, we are surrounded by so many things which subtract from our ability to hear and listen to God. The unfortunate dilemma is a Christian without the Holy Spirit’s voice is only a nominal believer at best. Jesus informed us that a believer must be able to hear and go wherever the Spirit leads (John 3:8). Once again, unfortunately, God is not going to scream to get your attention—if you’re blatantly disregarding or becoming disobedient to His voice that’s another subject and he may indeed employ things and people to bring you back, but how do we hear Him in silence is our topic? How do we get into the beautiful serene stillness of God? I’d like to propose three ways in which we can find God’s silence.
1. Slow Down
In John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, he advises the reader that the challenges of the world test the depths and elasticity of the soul. Like a computer, if the operating system of life is the soul, then it integrates everything, including the will, body, emotions, and seeks their harmony (38). The mind may crave for peace, but the soul craves for a unified harmony—harmony that can only come by being centered in Christ and living with godly obedience, according to His plan and design. Here’s the problem, we are so busy in life that we do not know how to slow down. Soccer games, baseball games, football games—some parents’ lives are centered around their children’s sporting events. Others are more focused on work, success, or being the new executive that the business of life runs them into spiritual bankruptcy. Teenagers are watching their parents and taking notes—the successful way of life is to succeed for self—that’s the message being sent.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, God was not only placed on the back burner, but was taken off of the stove and put into a Happy Meal® package—a convenient little purchase to pick up between the “real” aspects of life, consuming the desired parts, and conveniently discarding the rest. But God does not fit into the cookie cutter. He is so far beyond any measurability that we may ponder. God yearns for our time with Him, not because He is lonely or in need of a friend, but because He created us, and loves us—unconditionally. But we cannot hear God and know His will while we are trying to build our own kingdoms. As Allen Redpath said, “We cannot say ‘Thy Kingdom come’ until we confess, ‘My kingdom go.’” We must slow down our lives. We must be the keeper of our souls.
2. Fasting…from Electronics
I normally don’t like it when evangelicals redefine ancient Biblical words, so that they “fit” into our cultural understanding. For instance, the word fasting can now be defined as giving up anything that has a foothold in daily life; however, in this instance, I will surrender to it, not only because it fits so well, but because it also applies to how the monastics and aesthetics of our ancient faith came into the silence of God. Our society and culture is starving for the silence of God and yet we are engorging ourselves in noise.
Throughout the Christian liturgical year, Lent is notably a season when believers give up certain aspects of their life that have taken over and become habits. As Thomas ‘a Kempis stated, “Habit overcomes habit.” And so, the early church set aside and sought out a time of reflection—this is wonderful; however, our culture is so consumed with iPhones, Tablets, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Google+ (Ok, not really Google+), that we could never find the silence of God. We have created a habit (a stronghold) in self-centered structure of status checking; if we admit, we must check our pages every thirty seconds. How many likes? How many followers? How many RT’s? We have even re-structured the way we communicate, for the ease of texting. Idk, its 2G2BT, NM F2F O4U (for the texting challenged—I don’t know, it’s too good to be true, never mind a face to face chat, it’s only for you).
But hear me, our communication with God must be found in the silence of God. We cannot short change our time with God. We must be intentional in our time with God; seeking the majestic and holy presence of the Almighty. So, take a break. Turn off the electronics and hear the deafening silence of God. Many Christians are afraid to hear what God would say, but as the book of Hebrews reminds us, God can deal gently with those who wander (Heb. 5:2). As a loving Father, give Him your best and most important part of the day—if you have to, make appointments, but watch as those appointments flourish into habits and those habits develop into the magnetic attraction for your soul—to be found in the silence of God—in all of His wonder, beauty, and awe. Let go of this world and find God.
3. Location, Location, Location…
The Celtic Christians had a name for the location where they would continually offer time with God for devotion—it was called, a thin place. This was a strategic location that was set aside as holy. Don’t be confused, we don’t make the setting holy, God does by His presence. When Jacob slept with his head upon the rock and had the vision of ladders ascending and descending from heaven, he made note that he was in a thin place. “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). A thin place is where heaven and earth collide, a place where you and God meet. Find this place—it may be beside your bed, a chair, an office, a mountain side, a beach, a park, a tree, or wherever. But do not make the place the golf course, your fishing boat, the shopping mall or car. The point is that it must be a place where distractions are removed. An intentional place of solitude. We must seek God’s presence of holiness and righteous—to arrive at the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).
When I think of the silence of God and thin places, I have my own wonderful location, but the best way to describe it is recorded in 1 Kings 19. Elijah is running from Jezebel, he had just slaughtered four hundred of her false prophets of Baal. As Elijah fears for his life, he cries out to God. Most of us are aware of the account of the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but what I reflect upon most was that Elijah went to a cave—a lonely place, and in this lonely and silent place, God gently whispers to him, “Why are you here Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). Elijah wraps his face in his cloak; understanding the holiness of God. Elijah is in the thin place—he’s in the silence of God. And what the Omniscient God wants to know from all of His children is only a confession—why are you afraid—why are you here—how can I gently make you understand that I am in control. It is only in the silence of God that you will hear gentle instruction.
With that said, location is imperative, but it is not the focal point—God is the center. Finding a location will help us in forming a habit of seeking His silence, but in time, just as learning to slow down and fasting from electronics, we will inevitably find the silence of God with us always, and that is when we are led by the Holy Spirit. Amen.