Silence is hard to find. Can you remember the last time you were around complete silence?
My first experience of noise-canceling headphones a few years ago was a rare experience. I was in Best Buy and grabbed a pair of Beats by Dre noise-canceling headphones. Sounds of shopping carts, chatting customers, checkout counters, radios, and the hum of electricity surrounded me. Putting on those headphones made it all disappear. It was the quietest I ever heard.
In the company of so much noise, a quiet moment is almost impossible to find. Even while writing about silence, I am surrounded by noise. I have music in the background; I can hear bags crinkling, the fridge opening and closing as my wife puts the groceries away, and our boys are playing downstairs with all the normal noise of a two-year-old and a five-year-old. In a world with this much noise and many obstacles, is it worth pursuing time in silence?
Biblical characters like Moses, Joshua, and Elijah show the gain of escaping the noise and being still before God. Moses went up the mountain to hear from God and returned with the Law, blessing all of Israel with God’s will in writing (Exodus 24). Joshua returned from his time alone with God’s marching orders to defeat mighty Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15). Elijah, the most influential prophet in Israel at the time, retreated while depressed and ready to quit. He returned refreshed and hopeful because he heard the “low whisper” of God’s voice, which he could not hear on a noisy street (1 Kings 19:8-19). These men illustrate what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.” This is the joy and goal of pursuing silence: retreating from the noise to be with God and receive his word, returning to bless others. We hear the voice of wisdom when we retreat from the noise of folly (Pro 1:20-21 & 9:13).
Silence is a habit that cuts across the grain of cultural expectations. It shows the gain of disconnecting from technology to connect with God. We practice silence to pursue God as Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Our phone habits, for example, can feed an unhealthy fear of disconnecting. Fear that we will miss life’s most important post by tuning out for a day or even an hour. When keeping up on Instagram causes us to miss out on communion with God, we gain nothing. Silence subverts this expectation by prizing time in silence before God over the noise of Twitter. Planning time in silence when you are most likely to be on social media intentionally subverts these expectations. Choosing silence with God over scrolling on Instagram when you wake up is a choice to be formed by Scripture and not by cultural narratives.
Silence is something we learn to do. You may only get two minutes the first time you try, but that is okay. Every habit requires patience. Training programs start small and build up gradually, and training for godliness is the same. Stay patient. A good place to start is with Psalm 23. Set a time for quiet reflection over verse one (The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want) this week. Quietly repeat it over and over, asking God to show you how he Shepherds you, prayerfully laying all your wants at his feet. Then, do the same thing with verse two next week.
I once attended a pastor’s retreat where the speaker started his talk with this reminder; we retreat to refuel and return to battle. Silence is a way of being equipped for the fight of the Christian life. It is a way to turn off the noise and listen to the voice of wisdom (Pro 8:1), returning with a blessing from God for others. Chase down the time to be still in silence before God so you might spread a blessing to others for God.