In a recent sermon, Pastor Chris talked about God’s first command to Saul after his conversion: to stop and be still. You could say that Saul likely spent most of his life in a nonstop frenzy, and God had to go to an extreme measure to stop him in his tracks. Saul was challenged to stop his activity and simply be. As the story unfolds in Acts 9, Saul spends three days in a state of blindness as he waited for the Lord to show him the next step. In the same way, God calls us to be still.
We live in a culture of busy. Often we don’t realize how busy we are because it feels so normal. We wake up and race from appointment to appointment, grabbing some food along the way, then make it through to the evening. Go to sleep, wake up, and repeat. Wendell Berry once described hell as a place where “every one was hurrying. Nobody was sitting down…All were rushing around so uniformly in every direction, so uniformly frantic…It was a place deeply disturbed.”1 God’s call to “be still” goes against the grain of our culture, but also against the grain of our comforts. If we are in constant motion, we don’t have to stop and contemplate that which is under the surface. Brokenness. Pain. Worry. Sins we try to hide. If we keep busy and keep the noise level high enough, maybe we can avoid thinking about such things. As soon as we slow down and listen, we are faced to deal with the matters of the heart. As Saul experienced, it can be terrifying.
It’s important to acknowledge that activity is not the enemy, but rather the lack of margin for what is most important. Having a full schedule can be a great thing, but being blind to the spiritual potency of a moment can be a serious detriment to our relationship with the Lord. So here we find the tension: How can we embrace stillness when we have to be on the move? I believe the answer comes from discovering avenues to be intentionally quiet before the Lord and to embrace different postures of the heart as we move throughout the day. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are three thoughts as you journey toward engaging with the Lord in stillness:
Embrace the struggle.
Slowing down to be still is a discipline. The spiritual practices of silence, solitude, and stillness can help us on this journey but these are not easy. You’ll find that when you try to quiet your mind, your thoughts are racing concerning all the things you need to be doing, the grocery list that needs to be written down, and that random text you need to respond to. And that’s perfectly normal. If we want to be still before the Lord, we have to exercise the muscles of our hearts. Like anything else, this takes time and we will fail miserably and often. But keep showing up and embracing stillness. If spending one minute in silence before the Lord feels painful, just admit it and keep showing up. The Lord will honor the effort!
Slow down at fixed points.
God’s presence is a promise and gift to us. We don’t have to go to a special place to meet him. He is always near and always ready to meet with us. We simply have to find the time to slow down to meet with Him and cultivate an ongoing conversation. You could put an alert on your phone several times a day reminding you to take 3-5 minutes to pray or listen the Lord. Even if it just a few moments throughout the day, it can help us posture towards the Lord and like anything, it becomes more natural the more you do it. If we don’t intentionally slow down, we never will.
Learn to listen.
Listening is hard work. As long as we are the ones speaking, we don’t have to hear the answers or listen to the responses. Practicing and incorporating silence in our prayer lives allows us the margin and space to listen to what the Lord is saying to us. Just as Saul was forced into a place of stillness, we must posture our lives toward listening more and speaking less to discover what God has to say. For more, check out Dallas Willard’s book Hearing God.
I pray you lean in and embrace a listening life because the Church needs to be a listening body. The more we embrace the call to slow down and enjoy the presence of the Lord, we grow not only in our relationship with the Living God but in the way we love. When we slow down to hear God speak, he sends us out to bring gospel renewal to our city and world.