OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #252 - A Noisy Place (Silence and Solitude)
Jan and I were out shopping and there were times when I had to tell her I couldn’t hear her, not that there is any problem with my hearing, but because the store was noisy. I’m not even sure we perceived it, or perhaps we were used to it, but there was noise all around us. The freezers hummed, the lobster tank bubbled, the shopping carts clacked and rattled, people chatted. We didn’t realize how loud it was until Jan’s voice disappeared among the noise.
I like a little noise and buzz around me. Most mornings I get up and turn on the radio in the bathroom to catch up on the news while I shave. When we were students Jan knew she could find me in the large cafe area of the student union building. Believe it or not, that’s where I studied my Greek and Hebrew in seminary, in the middle of the crowd, watching people coming and going, and repeating my vocabulary words under my breath.
Noise and hubbub are all around us and sometimes we even enjoy it, not the noise perhaps, but the sense of being in motion, of being around people, not being alone, and getting something done. Maybe that’s why this next spiritual discipline can be a tough one.
Solitude and silence are the practices of getting away from other people and removing spiritual “noise” in order to encounter God. This is different from just getting away. We’ve all had the feeling that we just need some peace and quiet and so we go somewhere, to the park, garage, or for a drive. The purpose then is usually just to go somewhere where no one can find us and we can “turn off.”
The purpose of solitude and silence, however, is not to hide, but to remove noise so we can hear God as he speaks to us. There is a pattern we see in the Bible about this. It was only as Moses turned away from his normal routine to investigate the burning bush that God spoke to him.* God did not speak to Elijah in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to pray in “lonely places.” Peter went up to a rooftop to pray, and Paul and his companions were looking for a place to pray outside of Philippi when they met Lydia.
I know God can speak to us in great, dramatic, noisy ways. Look at Paul on the road to Damascus, for example. But it seems rather that God prefers to get us alone somewhere where he has our attention. I would venture to say that it is much better for us to listen for God’s small voice. If God needs to speak to us in a loud way to get our attention, then we haven’t been listening and there may be big changes coming. Again, look at Paul on the road to Damascus...
In silence and solitude we “get away,” but we take the Bible and perhaps a notebook or journal, and we intentionally meet with God in prayer. One way to do this is simply to turn off the phone, computer, radio, music, and tv. There are lots of times when this is not possible because there are other people around the house. Be creative. I have used a storage closet, a tent in our backyard, the car, my workshop, a corner of the library, a coffee shop in another town, and even a friend’s basement for micro-getaways. For longer periods I have used a friend’s cottage or camp.
I once did a 20 minute exercise in a Sunday school class to show that even a short time of silence and solitude can be very powerful way to draw close to God. I asked people to be quiet. We prayed silently for the first five minutes as a way to settle into the process. Everyone read Matthew 5:1-12 and answered the following questions silently. What verses stand out? In what ways do you feel blessed? In what ways have you experienced the truth of these verses lately? Are there ways in which these verses seem odd to you? Are there ways you sense God is telling you to change? How do you react to this? How do these verses intersect with your life right now?
The questions were really just a process for letting God speak and provided a structure for using the time. Instead of wondering what to do, I provided an outline. As we become more comfortable with being quiet we won’t have to worry about what to do. We’re simply giving God the opportunity to speak to us.
Our world is a noisy one. Lots of people and problems draw our attention. But when we take the opportunity to turn off the noise of the world, even for a short time, we allow ourselves to hear God’s small voice.
I hope this helps. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 11, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com. *Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Moses (Exodus 3:1-3) Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13) Jesus (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 11:1) Peter (Acts 10:9) Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:13)