Silence is one of the most difficult practices to describe mainly because it is a practice that does not depend on our own efforts. Silence is a gift rather than an achievement. It is a grace and not an accomplishment. In truth, we never truly practice silence, we can only place ourselves in a posture to receive silence in God.
In a variety of places in Scripture, we catch sideways glimpses of silence. Elijah encounters God in “the sound of sheer silence” (1Kings 19:11-13). The Psalmist entreats us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Paul describes a “Peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Often we long to encounter this type of silence, stillness, and peace but do not know how.
I find Psalm 62 to be a practical guide and description of the invitation to rest in silence. The Psalm begins, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” This tells us right away that silence is a practice not of the mind or of the emotions but rather of the soul. I know about thinking and feeling, but it is hard for me to wrap my understanding around “souling.” Our understanding of the soul comes from the very beginning of Scripture as God breathes life into the Man and the Man becomes a living soul (Gen 2:7). The soul is the very essence of our being. As we enter into silence, we wait in our being rather than in our doing.
The Psalm also describes the experience of silent prayer. We begin with the intention to wait in silence (v. 1-2) and are immediately confronted with the distractions of our circumstances and relationships (v. 3-4). We gently return to our intention (v. 5-6). We might meet distraction again or we might start to think about God rather than simply be in the presence of God (v. 7-8). Again, when we notice our thinking instead of our being, we return to our intention, “For God alone, my soul in silence waits.”
The fruit of the practice of silence is also difficult to grasp for it is a fruit of the soul rather than the heart or the mind. It takes time to recognize the transformation of the soul in the presence of God, but ultimately, we come away with a different perspective (v. 9-12). We begin to see the smallness of our own strivings in comparison to the mighty working of God. We begin to see our existence through the power of God and his loving kindness. We begin to see the reward of our soul in God and not in our status among people. Most often, I recognize the importance of silence in my prayer life in its absence. When I allow the busy-ness of life to prevent me from the practice of silence, I notice the increase of noise, unease, and anxiety. When I return to the practice of silence, I can notice the gradual increase of quiet, stillness, and peace once more.
While there are a number of ways to listen and wait for God in silence, I invite you to explore the following practice this week. First, find a time and a place in which you can be free of distraction for 15-20 minutes. Silence your phone, set a timer, and find a comfortable position. Now, invite yourself to notice God’s presence with the prayer, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Then wait. As you notice thoughts and feelings come up in you, simply thank God for these noticings and offer the thought or feeling to God. Return to waiting again with the prayer, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Repeat as often as necessary. When the timer goes off, simply thank God for the work He has done in this time of silence. Trust that God has been at work in this time, even if you are unaware of exactly what happened.
1 For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
from him comes my salvation.
2 He truly is my strength and my salvation; *
he is my defense, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will you assail a man to crush him, all of you together, *
as if you were a tottering wall or a broken fence?
4 Their plan is only to bring down the one whom God has exalted; *
their delight is in lies; they bless with their mouth, but curse with their heart.
5 Nevertheless, for God alone my soul in silence waits, *
for my hope is in him.
6 He truly is my strength and my salvation; *
he is my defense, so that I shall not fall.
7 In God is my help and my glory; *
he is the rock of my might, and in him is my trust.
8 O put your trust in him always, you people; *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our hope.
9 As for the children of men, they are but a breath; *
the children of men are deceitful; upon the scales, they are altogether lighter than a breath.
10 O trust not in oppression; put not vain hopes in robbery; *
if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
11 One thing has God spoken; indeed, two things have I heard him say: *
that power belongs to our God;
12 And that you, O Lord, are merciful, *
for you reward everyone according to his work.