Editor’s note: Each month, In Touch staff members respond to an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s teachings. For this round, Jamie A. Hughes, C. Lawrence, and Joseph E. Miller discuss getting quiet before God.
For many believers, having quiet time with God is easier said than done. We know spending time with Him is the bedrock of our faith, yet few of us have established meaningful ways to do so. What keeps us from slowing down and being quiet with God? How can we begin to change these habits? This month’s excerpt comes from Dr. Stanley’s book Every Day in His Presence:
To have God speak to your heart is an awesome experience—one you may miss if you monopolize the conversation and never pause to listen. But when you remain quiet, the Lord will transform you, changing how you think and conforming you to His ways. How does He do so? He may remind you of an important passage of Scripture, reveal a biblical truth for you to apply, expose unconfessed sin, or bring someone to mind that needs your ministry. In other words, He will direct your path (Prov. 3:6). This is why it is so important for you to sit before Him in silence and allow Him to pour Himself into you. He will reveal His will and bring peace to your inner being.
Jamie A. Hughes: This quote is very true, and quite antithetical to the way most people live these days. Silence is something we try to avoid, to fill, to do away with.
Joseph E. Miller: I don’t like being alone with my thoughts.
C. Lawrence: There’s also sometimes a pressure to consume information—there’s a kind of social currency attached to being informed or aware. And in a lot of ways, people derive a sense of identity from being knowledgeable. Think of all the armchair aficionados. And so we squeeze out silence to make room for filling up our minds.
Jamie: Or maybe it’s that constant pressure to “redeem the time.”
C.: That’s there, too.
Joseph: We were doing it before smartphones and social media. I think most people are uncomfortable with silence. Best case scenario, people want to fill their space. Worst case, people want to run away from their thoughts.
You know, though, the term “quiet time” can sound so cliché,—but there’s a reason it’s called that. We really do need quiet time in God’s presence.
Jamie: Well, I remember when my cousin (who is now 24) was in high school. Every waking moment for him was packed with something. If it wasn’t school, it was hanging out, being busy with friends. Go, go, go …
It makes sense with younger people, but that’s something we should outgrow in time. And yet, we don’t seem to. It’s easier to keep it busy, keep it on the surface level. There’s not a lot of thought and deep reflection to do if you manage your life that way.
“When you remain quiet, the Lord will transform you, changing how you think and conforming you to His ways.”
C.: It’s not all down to smartphones, but we probably should talk about the media we consume via our mobile devices. I mean, maybe people shouldn’t listen to so many podcasts or audiobooks. Maybe I shouldn’t listen to so much music all the time. Because the reality is that there is a lot of “quiet time” in our lives, if we want there to be.
Jamie: We complain about there never being enough time, but I think we would realize just how much time there is if we slowed down and made room for silence. It’s expansive and tends to fill up space—in a good way.
Joseph: I used to “fast” the radio for Lent and it was so hard just driving in silence.
Kayla: Do any of you ever have quiet time in your day? (I mean silence, not reading the Bible.)
Jamie: I love silence—crave it, actually. I try to soak up as much as I can while the kids are out of the house.
Joseph: My parents have the TV on all the time. I grew up like that. When I became a young man, I just hated it. I crave silence so much more now.
Jamie: My folks are the same way, so going home can feel like torture. I’m constantly turning things down or off when I’m there.
The reality is that there is a lot of “quiet time” in our lives, if we want there to be.
Joseph: It’s so awful. And I know why my mom does it—she doesn’t like being alone with her thoughts. She’s had some significant challenges, particularly at the beginning and now toward the end of her life.
C.: I try to keep the house pretty quiet, though there is often music on. I almost never watch TV, as a rule. That stuff isn’t hard to manage. The struggle comes from dealing with internal noise, though external quiet is sort of prerequisite for dealing with it. In fact, it’s almost impossible to really perceive the internal noise (in my own heart and mind) until there’s more external quiet.
Jamie: I agree. It’s one of those problems you can’t identify until you start to examine it.
Joseph: I’ve been thinking about this, as I see my friends become empty nesters. When our kids eventually leave the house, it’s going to be weird.
Kayla: Are there times or places you’re more likely to be quiet?
Joseph: I really think we have to insist on finding those quiet moments. My wife has gotten really good at it, occasionally going on silent retreats. We all know when she “needs” it.
Jamie: It’s a lifestyle, almost a spiritual habit, that we have to cultivate—like prayer and contemplation—until silence comes as naturally as breathing.
I have found that if I get up early and sit in the chair in my library, I realize things. I think God is speaking to me in those moments. They aren’t big revelations, but I do get them. Just me sitting there, staring out the window at the coming dawn. Maybe there’s a cat in my lap.
We complain about there never being enough time, but I think we would realize just how much time there is if we slowed down and made room for silence.
C.: Somewhat ironically, I’ve been finding a greater degree of silence by walking in my noisy neighborhood each day.
Joseph: Cameron, explain your experience if you would.
C.: I’m talking about the difference between internal and external silence again—walking my dog each morning through the bustling neighborhood, car stereos on and walkers on cell phones, my interior silence expands. It has something to do with getting my body involved, seeing the beautiful trees and flowers in yards and in the parks. I find my mind quiets, the stress releases (which brings its own kind of physiological silence, if you will). And from there, my mind feels more open, my heart more contemplative.
I’ve had that experience walking in the neighborhood, on nature trails, and in the heart of Manhattan. Walking is the thing for me. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a place to sit quietly in stillness and pray, read, contemplate. But …
Jamie: That’s why things like prayer labyrinths have been around so long.
It also makes me think of Kathleen Norris’s book The Quotidian Mysteries. She talks about doing routine work—sweeping a floor, for instance. The body is doing something it knows to do, moving through the motions with little input from your brain. Your brain is then freed to think, to pray, to contemplate. Motion is a very good method for silence.
Joseph: I like that idea of incorporating movement into silence.
Kayla: Movement has a way of getting you out of your head and into your body and quieting things.
Joseph: I think Brother Lawrence said the same about washing dishes in a monastery.
It’s almost impossible to really perceive the internal noise (in my own heart and mind) until there’s more external quiet.
Jamie: There’s probably some physiological reason for all that. It’s as if Someone designed our bodies to take care of us and help us grow and connect.
Joseph: Yeah, but how funny is it that people insist on listening to something when they work out! They won’t even let the quiet in when it could be a great opportunity.
C.: So true.
Jamie: I do that to distract myself from suffering, Joseph.
Kayla: It seems that if someone struggles with getting quiet, this could be a good place to start.
C.: I think so.
Jamie: Just walk and take nothing with you. Have no goal in mind. Just go. Walking around a mall ain’t the same as a forest, though. Maybe the space matters, too?
Kayla: I once had someone challenge me to eat dinner in silence (I was alone), not watching anything. It was hard.
C.: Another thing I’ve seen recommended in several places is to set a timer and start with just a few minutes of silence at a time, gradually increasing as you gain more comfort.
Joseph: I do love that God waits patiently for us to wait patiently for Him.
Movement has a way of getting you out of your head and into your body and quieting things.
Jamie: Maybe the best way to start, as we’ve been saying, is to pair silence with action (walk, clean, eat). Then work on stillness and silence.
C.: Or how about when waiting for an appointment, or for a table at a restaurant, or even in a long line at the grocery store—try not looking at your phone. There’s a kind of quiet in that, too. Which makes me think about the link between quiet and presence/being present.
Joseph: Yes, I have to often intentionally not pull out my phone. (Plus, I want to teach my kids those lessons now.)
We have “quiet time” for the kids every weekend day. I want them to learn how to cherish it now, and it’s hard.
Jamie: Good grief, mine are at an age where screens are all they want.
C.: I keep thinking about how “quiet time” is “slower time”—and how badly I usually want things to slow down. And yet, I’m still inclined to fill up every moment with something. Back to that “redeeming the time” idea, I guess.
Jamie: Yes, silence makes space and fills it with itself. It’s beautiful. That’s why I love places like parks, libraries, museums, etc. There can be background noise, but there is an intentional level of quiet that gives me so much life!
Kayla: How do you think our silence ties into humility?
Jamie: You have to recognize that “your” time isn’t really yours at all.
Maybe the best way to start is to pair silence with action. Then work on stillness and silence.
Joseph: I avoid quiet time when I think I don’t need it—which usually means I do.
C.: I think some of it is in recognizing what’s happening as we approach God in silence. There’s a certain element of remembering and being aware that you’re entering in the presence of almighty God—no small thing. It’s far too easy to feel entitled in our relationship with God, simply because He’s promised so much.
Jamie: It’s not a fear-based thing. We can come in joy rather than terror, but there should be a healthy amount of respect and deference. God is God, after all. And I am not.
C.: Right. “Fear of the Lord” doesn’t mean being afraid, but reverent and in awe of who God is, the grandeur of His love.
Remember how Moses took off his sandals at the burning bush as an act of humility? That should give us an idea of what’s really going on when we approach God in quiet time. Really, wherever we walk is holy ground, and the silence helps us remember that.
Jamie: And the preparations involved in entering the inner sanctum. Holy cow. When you have to tie a rope around someone just in case you’ll need to pull his dead body out … Yikes.
I think we’re in the “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly” phase of Christianity. To quote Thomas Paine.
C.: It’s hard because in talking about this, I feel compelled to keep the barrier of entry low for people—and for myself. We need to find ways of making it easier to experience God in quiet, and yet we do need to remember this deeper part of it: We’re encountering the living God, so be mindful of that and let your words be few.
Joseph: Absolutely. Anyone can do it, but again, we don’t seek out silence for no reason. So you have to be willing to take mental inventory as well as make room for God.
Jamie: Silence opens up rooms inside you, and you have to deal with the clutter that’s in there. Most people see that and panic, shut the door, fill the silence, and so on.
There should be a healthy amount of respect and deference. God is God, after all.
Kayla: Which is probably why we keep rushing around with all our noise in the first place. There comes a moment when you have to ask yourself if you want to jump in.
Dr. Stanley's quote talks about being quiet as a way to hear from God—which is definitely true—but I wonder if we also need the quiet to get familiar with ourselves and what state we're in. Almost like repentance?
Joseph: Yes. And there’s a reason we’re called into repentance right before accepting communion.
C.: I heard someone say years ago that “the present moment is God’s home address.” If that’s true, it’s hard to meet Him if we’re constantly distracting ourselves from the present moment.
And if you’re not meeting Him, then you’re less likely to hear Him.
Joseph: Wow, that’s good. I feel as if our bodies are radios that need constant retuning.
C.: Good analogy. The frequency is always there, available, but we’re not dialed in, as it were. Repentance is a way of calibrating the heart and mind to enter into even this kind of silence and communion with God. That requires humility, too. So much of talking about confessing our sins ends up being a shaming, self-punishing exercise. But a healthy view of confession and repentance is more about returning to the freedom Christ offers us. The freedom that’s always ours.
Jamie: That’s the light yoke.