Silence, Solitude and Spiritual Formation

I’ve never thought too much about the importance of silence and solitude as necessary elements in spiritual formation.  I come from a tradition and culture that places a huge value on being busy and doing things for God, so much so, that taking time to sit quietly and enjoy the presence of God is often neglected.

Recently however, my heart has been reshaped and renewed through the practice of solitude and silence.  I must admit, it isn’t an easy discipline for me.  Until I began to practice silence and solitude, I never realized how noisy our world is, and how accustomed we’ve become to being surrounded by noise and activity.  I’ve also discovered how difficult it is to find a place where this noise truly does not penetrate.

I realize silence makes some people feel uncomfortable, even anxious.  I know people who must have some kind of noise in the room at all times.  Others, on the other hand, enjoy being alone and having time to think and reflect without the distraction of conversation or noise.

The discipline of silence and solitude, however, is more than just the absence of noise, or conversations with others.  Even when I find a quiet place, my solitude can be invaded by the tendency of my mind to race toward my “to-do-list” for the day, or to fret over the “should-have-done-list” from yesterday. 

Sometimes, it’s the noise in my heart that robs me of the precious quietness and solitude my spirit so desperately needs. 

Silence is a quality of the heart!  Abba Poemen, a Fifth Century Desert Father said, “A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly.  But there may be another who talks from morning till night, and yet he is truly silent.”  Silence is not the goal, rather the means to the end – to become truly Christ-like in our hearts.

Noise, whether it comes from the outside world, or from within our heart, can rob us of one of the most precious and powerful experiences of our lives – enjoying communion with the Father.  Noise also keeps us from reflecting honestly on who we are, and where we are in relation to God and others. Sometimes, noise gives us a false sense security, because if we’re active, achieving something, moving forward, and getting things done, we must be okay.

The heart of the discipline of silence and solitude is found in these words from Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”  You don’t have to spend the day in silence in order to “be still and know.”  Yet, how often is there enough silence in our lives to really hear God?  When do we take time to be still?  You can only hear God when you are listening and still. In fact, the peace that passes all understanding most often comes when we are willing to block out all the noise of the world, and really hear God.

Jesus set the example for us.  Often, in the Scriptures we find Him leaving His disciples and His followers to be alone with His Father.  (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:18; John 6:15)  If it was important for Jesus, don’t you think it is important for us? Yet, how many of us really practice silence and solitude? How many of us know what it means to be unhurried, quiet, and to truly rest in His presence? 

I encourage you to take the time to be quiet, and listen for that “still small voice” coming from the One who loves you, cares for you, and wants more than anything else to draw close to you – the Holy One – the “Comforter” – the one Jesus promised to send to all those who follow Him.

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About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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