Have you ever tried being quiet? How about this: Have you ever tried creating quiet around you? In our busy, noisy world, that can be a pretty tall order. Not only is our world filled with noise almost constantly, but we like the noise. We’re not comfortable in the quiet. And yet, when our world gets noisy, it becomes hard to hear the quiet voice of our God. The next spiritual discipline worth our time and attention is the discipline of silence. And for this one I’m adding something just a bit different than the norm. This message included both taped and live components and really only makes sense if you can experience both of them. With that in mind, I’m including the video of the sermon in addition to the audio. Enjoy.
Pausing to Take It All In
It’s time for the sermon…but you probably guessed that since I walked up to the stand.
Hey! Did you know this thing is technically just a music or book stand and not actually a pulpit? We often call it a pulpit, but originally the word “pulpit” referred to a whole raised platform from which the preacher delivered his sermon. The pulpit often included a book stand like this, but it was the whole shebang. What most preachers use today are just book stands, but the terminology stuck.
Stop it, Jonathan.
If you’re going to let them in your head this morning, you can’t go full geek on them. It’ll scare them right out of the room, and they might not come back next week.
Besides, you’re supposed to be preaching.
It sure is quiet in here, though. It’s kind of nice. I can be low or high in here and nobody can hear me.
You do realize this is all playing through the sound system, right? Besides, everybody’s starting to stare at you awkwardly since it’s kind of weird for a preacher to be standing in front of a room silently while he has a conversation with himself in his head.
Well, maybe I could bring them in on the conversation.
You don’t think that would be kind of weird? After all, it is nice and quiet in here.
Not since you’ve decided to be such a chatterbox. I might as well let everyone else in if you’re going to insist on talking so much.
You know, people are really going to start wondering about your sanity after all of this.
Well, we’re already in this deep, so we might as well keep going.
We live in a noisy world, don’t we? Just listen to it for a minute. Everywhere you go there’s noise. Sometimes it’s loud. Sometimes it’s soft. But it’s always there.
It’s hard to find places that are truly quiet. Even if you go out to the middle of nowhere, there’s still noise. Much of that noise is natural, but not all of it is. It’s amazing just how far away you can hear a car engine—or a jet engine—when it’s quiet outside. If you really want a space that’s quiet, you need to go check out Microsoft’s anechoic chamber at their campus in Redmond, Washington, outside of Seattle. It’s actually ranked by Guinness World Record folks as the quietest place in the world. That’s quite a distinction. How quiet is it? The background noise level in that room is just three decibels above the sound of air molecules bumping into one another as they float around us. You can hear your heart thumping like a jackhammer. You can hear the bones in your neck grinding when you turn your head. It’s really quiet.
There are other kinds of noises as well. These take the form of the busyness of life, digital distractions, and the cacophony ringing in between our ears.
I still feel like maybe you’re talking about me.
Can we stay focused on the task at hand here?
Do you know what’s hard to hear when you’re surrounded by a lot of noise—whether on the outside or the inside? A soft voice. Do you know who often speaks in a soft voice? God. If we want to be able to hear God’s voice better than perhaps we are right now, one of the first and best things we need to do is to turn down the volume on our life. One of the best ways to do this is with the spiritual discipline of silence.
So, how does that work?
Well, kind of like this.
Are you getting nervous yet?
I’m kidding…sort of.
I can do better than just staring at you awkwardly. Find a nearby copy of the Scriptures and come with me back to a passage we looked at a couple of weeks ago. In Mark 1, we find Jesus living in a world of noise. This wasn’t the same kind of noise we have today, but like I said, busyness can be just as noisy as physical noise. And, like we said a couple of weeks ago, Jesus was busy. And when Jesus was so busy, do you remember what He did? The answer was in Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying.”
Now, we already talked about Jesus’ praying. In spite of being the Son of God, Jesus actively sought out His heavenly Father in prayer. If He needed that, so do we. This morning, though, focus in on what Jesus did just before He prayed. Where did He go to pray? Mark describes it as a “deserted” place. So, where was that? We don’t know and it really doesn’t matter exactly. What matters here is the fact that it was deserted. When Jesus wanted to seek His heavenly Father, He found a place where people—and their noise—were not.
You see, Jesus knew that if He didn’t silence the noise in His life, He’d never be able to hear what His Father had to say. Friends, the same is true for us. God doesn’t often shout. He isn’t One to raise His voice. He’s like one of those teachers who make students listen by speaking quietly. If we want to hear Him and what He’s got to say, we’ve got to listen in closely. Of course, this isn’t easy—there’s a reason this is called a spiritual discipline—but it is necessary. If Jesus needed silence, so do you.
Fine, but what does pursuing the discipline of silence look like?
Like this, remember?
I’m still kidding…sort of.
Practicing the spiritual discipline of silence can be scary. It can be scary because we’re so not used to it. Most of us are surrounded by noise all the time. Whether we want it or not, everywhere we go there is noise. Noise, noise, and more noise. And we get used to the noise. Remember that anechoic room? Most people don’t last more than a few minutes in it. The total lack of sound is disconcerting. The ability to almost hear the thoughts forming in our brains…we don’t know what to do with that. We don’t like quiet. That’s why you turn on the radio every time you get in the car by yourself. When you’re home alone, you keep the TV on all the time just so there’s some sound in the background. That may be why this is the most uncomfortable sermon you’ve ever heard. Don’t worry: I’ll wrap this up in a second to end the misery.
I know it is scary and uncomfortable, but if you want to practice the discipline of silence, you need to start by turning down the noise in your life. This, more than anything, will be about changing your habits. If you go for a walk or a jog, don’t take along anything to listen to as you go. Just be silent and prayerfully listen. When you’re at home, don’t turn the TV as background noise. Turn it on to watch a show, and then turn it off when that show ends. Start taking some intentional breaks from your phone and other electronic devices. Put them down and don’t pick them back up. See if you can manage to not pick it up for an hour. When you’re in the car, don’t turn on the radio. Now, no, you shouldn’t give up on listening to the radio ever again. That’s not the goal here. Rather, the goal is finding a balance, but a balance that involves having less ambient noise in your environment as far as you can control it. Because: the more noise you have, the harder it is to hear the voice of your heavenly Father. You’re not a better listener than Jesus. If Jesus needed silence, so do you.
When you start to get some of those things down, try and take a few more steps forward. Consider taking a day or even just part of a day and intentionally don’t talk. Even to yourself. Out loud, that is. It’s hard to quiet your thoughts…as I think I’ve amply demonstrated this morning. But, on that note, the space between your ears is another place to introduce some of the discipline of silence. Find some ways to quiet your mind. Meditation is probably not the best option here. At least, Eastern meditation practices aren’t. The worldview assumptions behind those practices don’t gel well with the Christian worldview. But, meditating on Scripture or practicing centering prayer in which you silently reflect on a word or phrase that connects you to God and gently allow the focus you give that word or phrase to overwhelm all other thoughts, can be a great place to start. Remember? All these disciplines work together and build on each other.
Look to find some ways you can spend more time by yourself…with Jesus. Remember that shower retreat we talked about a couple of weeks ago? Maybe don’t drain your hot water heater dry, but when you’re in the shower, don’t sing, be silent. Seek the Lord. Practicing waiting on the Lord. When you go to pray, don’t say anything. Don’t think anything—as far as you can help it—and instead just be silent and wait on what He has to say. You may not hear anything at first. The noise in our hearts and minds can drown Him out even when we don’t think they’re very loud. Don’t forget this is a discipline. It takes practice and training for this to become something truly impactful. That to say: Don’t worry if you don’t get it right at first. Stick with it, though, because you need this. If Jesus needed silence, so do you.
One last thought: When you start to experience some of the fruits of the efforts you put into this, celebrate them wildly. Share what the Spirit speaks to your heart with anyone who will listen. Write it down to keep a record of it. Express your gratitude to your heavenly Father. Go and do what He tells you to do. By doing that, you’ll be creating an environment in which you’re primed to seek after it even more. Our world is noisy. But our God is speaking. It’s time for us to take a page out of our Savior’s playbook and stop to listen carefully. If Jesus needed silence, so do you.