Practicing Silence as a Spiritual Discipline

be-still“Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10.) This is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I love it’s simplicity, but recognize it’s complexity. (That is so like God, isn’t it?) It is a simple statement — be still. It is also a very difficult thing to do because God is not referring to just our physical stillness: it’s our minds He’s admonishing us to quiet down. ‘Stilling the mind’ has been one of the more difficult disciplines I’ve practiced in my faith walk, but it’s also one of the most satisfying. It is in stillness and silence when I can discern God whispering to my soul.‘Stilling the mind’ has been one of the more difficult disciplines I’ve practiced in my faith walk, but it’s also one of the most satisfying. Click To Tweet

Why does stillness help us know God? In peaceful moments, you can focus on God—His holiness, His majesty, His mystery, His love. As you contemplate these things about God, you begin to calm down. You start to relax. Your mind clears. In that moment, a thought may come to your mind “out of the blue,” and yet be profound. At first you may question the thought… “Is that just me?” But then allow the quiet to resume by returning your focus on God. See if the thought comes back, and stays with you as an impression you can’t seem to shake. That could be God’s way of ‘downloading’ a thought to you which He wants you to understand.

Focusing on God without getting distracted is not easy, especially in today’s world of multi-tasking. Since the advent of social media, I find myself wanting quick solutions to things, and short answers. We’ve become a tweeter-world of 140 characters or less! So, focusing your mind on God long enough to clear your thoughts and allow His thoughts to invade takes practice and patience. Be patient with the process, and give yourself time to learn this new discipline.

First just clear your mind for one minute while focusing on God. Try looking out a window at the natural world, or up at the sky towards the sun and clouds. Look at the beauty and pray to God to help clear your mind of the clutter while you focus on His beauty. You can also try closing your eyes, and take some deep breaths. Breath in thinking about the breath of life God gives you, and breath out, releasing the tensions of your life. Do this several times to melt off stress. Then just sit there in silence. One minute today, an extra minute tomorrow, a few more the next day… Pretty soon you may find yourself sitting in silence, listening for God for many moments without being distracted!

If this doesn’t work for you, you can begin by listening to soft worship music. This can help your ability to focus on God. Pick songs that sing of God’s holiness, not your needs. One of my favorites is an old hymn called “How Great Thou Art,” because it talks about God’s power and holiness.

After listening to a few songs, you might find your mind is now steadied on God and you can turn the music off, and practice listening to silence. You might not ‘physically hear’ anything at all; God’s voice has never been ‘audible’ in my experience. But you may begin to get impressions, thoughts and scriptures that pop into your mind. Pay attention, and write those down. Soon you will begin to recognize that some of those impressions are not yours — they are from God’s Holy Spirit. From my personal times, the Holy Spirit usually doesn’t say a lot; one or two sentences is all I seem to be impressed with, but they are usually profound. For example, years ago I cried out to God about why people in hell have to stay there forever. I didn’t like that idea (and I can’t say I am liking it anymore today, but God in His wisdom knows best). During a moment of silence, this thought popped into my head: “…because they will never change.” Wow, I thought, that is too profound for my little brain to have thought up. I think that might be God.

When those kinds of thought pop into your head, check it with scripture to see if it lines up. If it’s not clear, then ask a trusted church leader to help you determine if that might have been God’s voice that gave you those thoughts. If it seems so, then it’s probably a God-moment! The more you have those, the more you will begin to recognize His voice.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” John 10:27 (NIV). Spend time in the quiet, listening silently for your Shepherd’s voice, reading His word, and stilling your mind. You might be surprised how much you can hear in silence.