My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.—Psalm 62:1
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.—Isaiah 30:15
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen…”—Matthew 6:6
You may not have heard the term “spiritual disciplines,” but you’re probably familiar with the concept. Spiritual disciplines are things we do to help ourselves grow spiritually. Just as piano players practice their scales, or athletes run the same drills over and over, people who love God have learned that there are certain things we can do to help ourselves get closer to Him. Sometimes, of course, God simply zaps us with the Holy Spirit and we experience dramatic leaps forward in our spiritual lives. He is God, and He is free to do that any time He wants. Most of the time, though, spiritual growth functions like everything else in life, and we get better with practice.
The spiritual disciplines most Christians are familiar with today are prayer and Bible reading. Most of us know that setting aside time to read the Bible and pray does for our souls what regular exercise does for our bodies. But for many Christians today, that’s where it stops. Most believers don’t know that previous generations had a much longer list of things they knew would benefit them spiritually. Other things on the list included fasting, solitude, silence, study, and confession. Each of these things involves denying ourselves something our flesh wants and replacing it with something we know is good for us. Every time we discipline ourselves to do this, we get better at it, and we create an opportunity for God to do something in our hearts that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
This past week, I got to spend a couple of days experiencing the blessings of two of these disciplines: solitude and silence. I spent about 36 hours in the mountains, away from the noise of my everyday life, and with no company other than Jesus. Of course, I saw other people on the trails and we exchanged friendly greetings, but other than that I was intentionally alone, and intentionally quiet. I hiked a couple of peaks and told God how beautiful His creation is. I took a long nap in a hammock by a lake, waking up now and then to pray about my family, my ministry, and the future of both. I did some Bible reading too, and even some confessing. (I also practice fasting at times, but I save that for days when I’m not hiking all over the countryside).
As I get older (I turned 48 this week), I value solitude and silence more and more. With 3 kids, Carey and I live in a house that is full of love, full of activity, and full of noise. And with a big staff and a busy church, I work in an office that is full of love, full of activity, and full of noise. I’m grateful for all of the good things going on in my home and my church, but if I’m not careful, all that activity and noise can drown out the voice of God in my life. And even though I’m privileged to have a life full of important things, the most important thing I do as a husband and father is represent God to my family. And the most important thing I do as a pastor is (gulp!) speak for God to my congregation. Above all else, I had better be sure I’m in touch with Him.
So I go away to quiet places. I’m a naturally verbal person, and in my position I do a lot of talking. In most of the rooms I walk into, I’m expected to speak and lead and teach. It’s important to get away from all that and put myself in environments where I shut my mouth and listen, so God gets to speak. It’s important to let Him lead so I can follow. It’s important to get away from people telling me who I am so I can let Jesus tell me.
I don’t think all of that is unique to being a pastor. All of us are surrounded by people who are constantly telling us who we are. All of us live in the same noisy world full of distractions. We’re constantly being entertained, threatened, lied to, and tempted by the media in its various forms. We have a hundred important things to do. The world is never going to stop spinning and offer us a moment to be still and reflect.
And the truth is, often we don’t want to. Our busy, distracted society is producing more and more people who don’t know how to be alone and who are afraid of silence. A few years ago, we had too many people who woke up in the morning and turned on the TV; now we just pick up our phones. I camped next to people this past week who had to have their music blasting around the campfire because they didn’t know how to function without distractions. But if we can’t be alone, if we won’t be still, there is a whole world we are missing out on.
If we won’t be still, we will never hear the still small voice of God.
If we can’t be alone, we will never learn to experience, and be content with, the presence of God.
If we won’t be still, we will never be in touch with what is really going on in our hearts, and our prayers will always be shallow.
If we can’t be alone, we will approach our relationships with other people for what they can do for us, not for what we can offer them.
If we won’t be still, we won’t receive the Word of God, and so we won’t be able to share it with others. We will only be able to share with them the little that we have to offer, instead of the abundance God has to offer.
If we can’t be alone, we will always be letting other people tell us who we are, rather than receiving our identity from God.
If we won’t be still, we might fill our lives with activity for God, but we’ll never learn to receive the unconditional love of God.
This week, do you have any opportunities to be alone, to be quiet, and to intentionally spend that time in God’s presence? I pray you find ways to meet with Him, listen to Him, and receive from Him. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”—Psalm 46:10