I’ve just come to the end of one of the busiest months of my life (I won’t bore you with the details), and thankfully, I now have a full week of rest with the family to help recover (and to remind them what I look like). I’m a big extrovert, so of course I love the rush and panic of big events, tight deadlines, and lots of pressure. But in those times what I’m terrible at doing is finding moments of silence.
When Jesus was at his busiest, we read that he ‘often withdrew to lonely places, and prayed’ (Luke 5 v 16). Those words appear in the context of Jesus performing a major miracle – the healing of a man with leprosy. This is the point where Jesus’ ‘celebrity’ was about to really take off – yet far from seeking fame or adoration, he retreats; spends time with the father. Those ‘lonely places’ would have lent themselves to prolonged periods of silence; those prayer times would have been as much about Jesus listening and receiving as anything else.
So I confess, I find that difficult. When I’m in the eye of the storm, my prayer times are fast, frantic, and I’m ashamed to say, mostly one-way. But afterwards, in times like this, I find my extroversion mellows, and I find space to be more reflective. Over the past few years, I have discovered the importance of ancient spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, and meditation. For hundreds – even thousands of years, God’s people have known the value of being still, of taking time to reflect; of listening for that still small voice. In the modern world, where everything happens at once (and at double-speed), these ideas are significantly counter-cultural. Yet if we neglect them, we seriously limit our ability to hear from God. Sometimes when ‘God is on mute’, could it be that the screeching volume of the rest of our lives is simply drowning His voice out?
Already this week, I’ve been able to take some time to listen; more than that, I believe I’ve processed, understood and even heard some things. I’m no Benedictine monk, but I’ve realised that carving out times of silence and reflection is not only vital to my own health, but also allows me to receive vision and direction for everything I do.
Whether you find yourself in the midst of a crisis, or in a moment of breathing space, may I encourage you to carve out a little time to do nothing. Force some silence into the madness of your day; meditate on a Psalm, or on the words of Jesus; add some time after you pray to see if anything might come back the other way. As I’m learning (slowly), the best way forward is to retreat.
THE BEAUTIFUL DISCIPLINES: I am passionately convinced that we need to rediscover the Spiritual Disciplines in youth ministry. I wrote a book about exactly this subject last year, which includes an eleven-week curriculum taking teenagers through the disciplines. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.