First, we’re looking at the concept of silence. It seems strange to talk about silence in the context of Christian community. Is not silence the opposite of good communication? Let’s examine silence in the context of using it as a spiritual discipline, but first let’s stop and see where we’re at in culture.
In our world we’re constantly surrounded by noise and distraction. If we have a quiet moment, we pull out our phones, turn on the tv, call someone, or make plans to go for coffee. On the other side of distraction is the desire to make ourselves heard. In almost every way our culture tells us to make ourselves heard, to express ourselves, to create, to put ourselves out there. Silence is portrayed to be risky, passive, unproductive. In many ways as a culture we’re profoundly uncomfortable with silence.
In our world of distraction, words and connectedness, choosing intentional silence is counter intuitive. If we are always talking, distracted, in motion, surrounded by noise, we rarely stop to listen deeply. Is it any wonder that we might struggle to hear from God? Or even to hear ourselves think? Here like in many ways, God is counter cultural. Counter intuitive. God says “…in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isa 30:15) This is not what we are used to hearing. Yet, “Only silence will allow us life-transforming concentration upon God.”
Author Mark Buchanan speaks of his own process of learning to be silent. “There is a deeper lesson here. God is teaching me quietness of heart. I didn’t realize, until I started experiencing this, how clamorous and anxious my heart generally is. Inside, I’m a schemer. A constant chattering goes on in my head. I mutter to myself like Gollum. But as I quiet down, my heart does as well. Quietness allows room for God to speak or be silent. Both are gifts. Quietness stops crowding the Holy Spirit, elbowing aside God’s gentle presence. The end of striving makes room for dwelling.”
Ultimately, silence is about trust and listening. If we trust God, we can be comfortable with silence. We can be with people who speak or don’t. We can rest in God’s presence whether he speaks or not.
Our second word for this morning, solitude, is closely related to silence. Like silence, solitude seems counter intuitive. Is not solitude the opposite of community? While being deliberately isolated without returning to community is dangerous, intentional solitude for periods of time is healthy. Jesus certainly practiced periods of solitude and silence amidst his hectic ministry schedule. Jesus’ begins his ministry with a period 40 days of solitude in the desert (Mark 1:12-14). This period grounded him and prepared him for the intensity of the coming three years of ministry. Even as Jesus launched into ministry, we might expect that he would go hard 24/7, knowing he had only 3 years to complete his task on earth. Yet, this is not the model he practiced. He continued to withdraw from the crowds to be alone and to pray. “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16).
Sometimes he was alone and sometimes he was with the disciples, but they continued to withdraw. “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32). Indeed, the gospel of Mark reports 9 times that Jesus withdrew either alone or with his disciples to be with God. His effectiveness with people was grounded in these periods of silence and solitude with his Father. The key is that Jesus’ relationship with his Father was his most important priority, not his ministry to others.
This all may seem a little backwards. How do you hear from God? Two of the best ways are silence and solitude. The point of these practices is to focus on God and recharge our connection with Him. If we are empty ourselves, we have little to offer other people. If we are constantly distracted, we can become blind to the realities of our culture that draw us away from God. If we are constantly speaking, we can miss what God and others are saying. Silence and solitude with God re-center us and correct our priorities. Again, we follow the model that Jesus himself lived. It is often in silence and solitude that we are best able to hear from God.
Is this practical in our world? It is difficult, but I think it is possible. More than possible it might just be essential. Here are a few practices and suggestions for silence and solitude:
- Refrain from any form of human communication for a period of time and instead of focussing on people, focus on God
- Intentionally step away from the noise, turn off the electronics, even for an hour, in order to focus on God
- Quiet your voice and your mind so that you can hear the still small voice of God speaking
- Go for a walk by yourself to pray or sit in a quiet area alone to pray
- Take time and simply rest in God’s presence and love with no agenda or timeline
Just as Jesus found his strength for ministry in silence, solitude and prayer before the father, so we must find ourselves in God’s presence. Place yourself in an atmosphere to hear from God and you most likely will.
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pg 164
 Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, pg 154