The Sound of Silence
As many of us enter into 21 days of prayer and fasting, this article by ARC’s very own Marc Cleary couldn’t be more timely. In it, he talks about the four things he has discovered about being intentional in his time with God. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. In fact, everything he shares is very straightforward and practical. If you apply these four principles, you will begin to understand that the sound of silence is actually one of the most amazing things you could ever hear.
The older you get in life, the more you realize how absolutely crazy living the life we have been given can become. When you leave home for college, life goes up a notch on the crazy scale… another notch once you enter the “real world” of working, one more notch when you get married, and finally… countless notches when you decide to have kids! Now, when you decide that your profession is ministry, then the craziness of life can reach such deafening sounds that your sanity suffers a slow, agonizing death! Ministry, as Pastor Ed Young once described it, can be “brutiful”, meaning both brutal and beautiful – all at the same time. As you know, with life in ministry, not only are you juggling the craziness that your own family brings to the table, but the craziness of your staff, your church members, and your community as well! The longer you are in the journey of ministry, the more you feel the sound of the craziness coming at you in all shapes and sizes. How you handle the craziness is massively important, and as a veteran with almost 20 years of ministry, I believe there is one key to moving beyond just surviving in ministry, but thriving in it. That key is… solitude.
I have four kids, so the noise of life is amplified every single day from early in the morning to late at night. Between my three boys arguing, beating each other up, making fun of one another, competing in sports and arguing even more, there is never a quiet moment in our house. Even with our little girl, the princess of the Cleary Kingdom, noise is constant between dress-up, cartoons, which bow to put on with which outfit with which shoes, etc., solitude just does not exist much. But it must exist – for my sanity, my personal relationship with God, my wife, my family – and for the ministry to which God has called me to as a profession. Solitude is defined by dictionary as the state of being alone. The Bible gives tremendous value to the practice of solitude from the Old Testament (Genesis 32:24-32; Lamentations 3:25-28) to Jesus Himself practicing it in the New Testament (Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35). I define solitude as simply experiencing peace and I cannot operate without it in my life.
Here are four tips on how to experience the peace that only solitude can offer your crazy loud life:
- Be intentional.
- My life changed years ago after I decided to be intentional with my time alone with God. My wife and I just celebrated our little girl being born and, as our fourth kid came along with me being closer to 40 years of age than 30 years of age, the sound of life was louder than it ever had been. I was slipping in my spiritual disciplines, my physical disciplines and with each passing day my joy was disappearing more and more. Spending time with God and in the gym was easy when I first got married, only had a couple kids, was young in ministry, etc. But the more life went on, the less time I was spending with God, and I was not taking care of myself physically, either by exercising or dieting properly. I was not waking up every day choosing outright to ignore God and my body, but I was getting caught in the current of life that swept me away more and more from those important disciplines. I woke up one day just mad at myself, disappointed in where I was in life, and I knew I needed a change if I was going to live the life God intended me to live. So, I became intentional in spending time with God and on myself physically. It sounds simple enough, but it was and still is, a maddening challenge at times. In order to help me create the environment of solitude I needed, I changed my sleeping patterns to where I would wake up earlier than everyone else, decided that I would read the Bible through in a year and lastly, make exercise a part of my spiritual morning routine. Four years later, I now enjoy waking up in the morning while my house is still sleeping, I very seldom miss a day of reading the Word and exercising… and the best part, I crave the silence that has been created more and more. It is MY time to sit in silence before God Almighty, my Heavenly Father and bask in His love and affection. It is unbelievable what happens when you embrace solitude with God, so get a plan together that works for you and be intentional!
- Be consistent.
- In the beginning, most habits are hard to form – unless it involves chocolate. The same is true with solitude. It is awkward at first, weird at times and just plain hard to enjoy. That is because you are going through the detox of a crazy loud life and are so used to talking, performing for people, making decision after decision, etc. It takes time before you establish the breakthrough that solitude offers you that you desperately need. You must determine in your heart, soul, and mind that you will spend time alone with God in silence. Take practical steps too, like combining a hobby on the backend of your time of solitude. As I mentioned already, my hobby is exercising. On days I do not “feel” like being in solitude with God, I force myself because I want to exercise, and vice versa. Keep plugging away and you will experience a real and lasting change in your life that will sustain you when the noise begins to drive you crazy.
- Be vulnerable.
- Solitude with God must be a vulnerable experience. In a world where the ones you trust are few, your time of solitude with God should be the most open, honest, and vulnerable environment, time and relationship of all. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and meditate on the goodness of God in your life. Do not spend your thoughts on a sermon title, or your next staff meeting, or that top-donor that just left your church because you did not play their favorite song in worship enough. Talk to God both internally and externally, read some scripture and most importantly, listen for the faint whisper of God’s promises for your life. God is talking, there is no doubt about that. But are you listening? When you become vulnerable with God you unclog the ears of your life and will be able to hear God’s voice clearly.
- Psalm 46:10 tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” A good friend of mine once taught me to work that verse backwards. In other words, start at the end, reflect on the last word and then remove one main word at a time. Then repeat that same practice until you get to where all that is left is the word “be”. It is still the best practice I use in my time of solitude with God. It helps align my inner-most being with the peace that only silence can bring. You start my meditating on God, and end by just being yourself. I encourage you to try it, after all God made you, fashioned you, and called you… to BE you.
Solitude is peace, and we all need more peace in our life. I cannot encourage you enough to make solitude a daily practice. Jesus did it, and so must we. Enjoy the sound that only silence can bring!