Part 2: Pray
READ 1 Kings 19:1-18
SILENCE AND SOLITUDE.
The thought of engaging in these two activities often bring a sense of uneasiness to Christians, even those that have been walking with Jesus for most of their lives. We know we should do them, but we are not sure how (or maybe even why). As mentioned in the last devotional, these disciplines play a vital role in listening prayer. Dallas Willard has called silence and solitude two of the disciplines of abstinence, which are disciplines designed to put your desires in proper perspective. It is important to note, however, that there is nothing inherently “holy” about keeping our mouths shut or being alone. These acts, in and of themselves, do not bring us any closer to God. Rather, these activities help us to create space in our lives so that we may begin to hear God’s voice. When we engage in silence and solitude, we are willingly giving up time with the people and noise in our lives in order to focus on God.
In I Kings 19, we ﬁnd the prophet Elijah in an interesting predicament. He has just experienced a tremendous success by defeating the prophets of the false god Baal and ending a drought. He should have been on top of the world, and yet we ﬁnd him afraid and depressed, begging for God to kill him (v. 4). We will always experience spiritual lows this side of heaven. These lows can often occur after a spiritual “high”, as it did for Elijah. This is a great reminder that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to prayer, even when we are having great success. The times when it seems like we have everything handled perfectly by ourselves are the times when we most need to be aware of our dependence on God, whether that is ﬁnancially, relationally, or in any other area of life. We must constantly be in prayer, during both good times and bad.
In the midst of Elijah’s depression, God tells Elijah to go stand on a mountain and He will appear to him. When Elijah gets to the top of the mountain, a great wind blows by. But God isn’t in the wind. Then there is an earthquake, and God isn’t in the earthquake, either. Then there is a ﬁre. Surely God will be in the ﬁre. After all, isn’t that how He appeared to Moses? But not this time. After all that noise, Elijah ﬁnally hears from God in the form of a whisper. Some translations of this passage say, “God was in the silence.” In that silence, God reveals to Elijah what his next right steps are.
Why does the idea of silence and solitude scare us? Partly because the concept is so foreign to us. We are inundated with noise all day. We work in oﬀices ﬁlled with chatter. If we have a moment alone, we can quickly ﬁll it with music or TV. If we are feeling lonely, we can text our friend the latest joke we heard or see what’s happening on Facebook. Think about it – when was the last time you turned oﬀ (not just silenced) your phone, TV, radio, and computer and sat in silence? It gets uncomfortable after the ﬁrst 20 seconds. And yet, it is in the silence that God has promised to speak to us:
Then Moses and the priests, who are Levites, said to all Israel, “Be silent, O Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the LORD your God.” – Deuteronomy 27:9
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. – Psalm 4:4
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. – Habakkuk 2:20
So how can we begin to practice solitude and silence? It begins with intentionality. Elijah had to travel for forty days and nights to get to the mountain that God spoke to him on. Why did he have to travel so far? Maybe that was how he got away from the noise of life. We may not have to travel 40 days to get away from the noise in our lives, but we do have to put aside time in our busy schedules to be still and listen to God.
Start small. Block oﬀ ten or ﬁfteen minutes each day and sit with God in silence. You may feel guilty at ﬁrst for doing nothing when there is so much work to be done. But the truth is, you are doing far more than “nothing”. You are communing with your Creator. It is the most signiﬁcant thing you will do all day. If you do not know what to do during this time or ﬁnd your mind wandering, try focusing on one of the above verses.
As you spend time in solitude with God, don’t be discouraged if you do not feel like He is saying anything. Allow God to talk to you on His terms, not on yours. Remember, it wasn’t in a loud earthquake that God spoke to Elijah. It was in a quiet whisper. As mentioned in the previous devotional, it might be helpful to keep a journal with you so you can write down any thoughts you have during your prayer time. As you practice the discipline of silence and solitude on a regular basis, try to gradually increase the amount of time you spend in it.
Another way to focus our attention on God is to fast. Fasting is a way to intensify periods of silence and solitude. Food is a lot like noise; it is always around. Our lives are centered around meals, and much of our day is spent planning, cooking, or consuming meals. It is easy to come to the conclusion that food is what sustains us, when in reality it is God who sustains us.
As with silence and solitude, it is best to start small. God is primarily concerned with your heart. Try skipping lunch one day. Again, the point isn’t just to avoid eating. We can use the time we would be eating – maybe on our lunch hour at work – to focus on God and listen to His whisper. There is no “correct” formula for silence, solitude, and fasting, and it is not necessary to do all three at once. In our 1 Kings 19 example, Elijah didn’t fast. God actually provided him with food to strengthen him.
The important thing to keep in mind in all of this is that our relationship with God is just that: a relationship. We all spend time with the people we love. But what happens during that time looks diﬀerent for everyone. As you pray through Second Stories, give God – the One who loves you perfectly – space to speak. Listen more than you talk. His answer may be as clear as an audible voice. Or it may be a soft nudge in a particular direction. But you can be conﬁdent that He will speak if you’re willing to listen.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
1) Does the idea of silence and solitude make you uneasy? Why?
2) Do you expect God to speak to you in a certain way? Are you open to hearing Him speak to you in a way you may not expect?
3) When was the last time you found yourself alone (even if it wasn’t on purpose)? What was the experience like?
4) How can you intentionally create space in your life over the coming weeks?
If you are interested in learning more about the disciplines of abstinence, we recommend Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of The Disciplines (speciﬁcally pages 158 – 175).
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