This week Graham continued the preaching series on the book Surprise the World by Michael Frost. We learned that the first L of the acronym B.E.L.L.S is Listen. The challenge for this week is to seek solitude and rest in God’s presence so that we can listen to his voice.
You can listen again to the sermon here:
Listen, the first L of B.E.L.L.S.
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
1 Samuel 3:9
Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. [ESV]
So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. [NIV]
For listening prayer it is helpful if we avoid prayer lists. Lists get us into a torrent of speaking which can hinder listening and give space for listening.
How often are you in silence? For centuries, for millenia, people walked everywhere. They often walked alone. What do you think they did with that time? And they did not have earphones, nor did they stumble along bumping into people and objects while looking into their smartphones.
How to be silent
The silence of a Jesus person is not mindfulness. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is the practice of being in the moment. I think it can have some value. But it departs from Christianity quickly. It is about putting the past behind you with its pain or regret. But it is not facing the past with trust in God. Mindfulness means no reflection, no building on experience, no acknowledgement of mistakes, no repentance, no apologies. In comparison, Christian stillness and listening can result in a call to action that may include some of those mentioned.
Silence is not required in order to listen but it can be very helpful. We may be used to music, or other sounds of worship, but there is a time for silence. Think of the implications of the instruction of Jesus to go into your room and shut the door.
Some Christians down the centuries have used the ancient prayer-word “Maranatha” which means “O Lord Come” or “Our Lord has come”. Another is from Luke 18:13 “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”. One word prayers used are; amen, Jesus, love, peace, stillness, grace, etc.
Michael Frost points out that these words are not a mantra. A mantra is chanted in the pursuit of emptying one’s mind which can result in feelings of euphoria. Centring prayers are used to open to the Creator God who we know as the one revealed in scripture and through Jesus.
A person not familiar with scripture is vulnerable to not being to measure what they hear with the yardstick of scripture. The Holy Spirit who inspired the holy scriptures will not contradict himself.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Centring prayer has a long tradition. It is a tried and tested method. Pentecostalism in its early days threw off many traditional practices of spirituality as they focused on what was new to them. Pentecostalism has grown up now and we should be open to learning more of what God has for us. We are all familiar with the old saying, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
You may think that solitude is simply being alone. It can be. But it can also be an inner Solitude when we are not alone. Years ago a friend pulled a small sandwich bag out of his pocket to show me. It contained two earplugs. He lived in London and he explained that he used them when he wanted Solitude, even though he may be surrounded by people, and by noise.
Some people fear being alone. A pastor spends a great deal of time alone in the presence of God. This may be in the study of scriptures, or in prayer, or in silent reflection. This has been my practice over the decades. Sometimes I take myself off to be alone, to go deeper into God. During my sabbatical a few years ago I ran from St Bees to Grasmere. I was alone. I carried scriptures to meditate on as I ran. I had prepared them before starting.
All of us can be surprised by hearing something from God, but that is not the same as deliberately setting time aside for listening.
If we want to be a person who hears, we will have to include the practice of being in a quiet place.
Jesus spent 40 days alone in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Before choosing the twelve he spent the night alone in prayer (Luke 6:12). After feeding the 5000 he went to be alone (Matthew 14:23). And see also the following references: Mark 1:35; Mark 6:31; Luke 5:16; Matthew 17:1-9; Matthew 26:36-46. And there are more examples in the Old Testament too.
3 Solitude and silence for busy people
Solitude can also be practiced when we are not alone. It is the ability to cut out sensory input and be in stillness inwardly. You may think this is some rare skill but it is like someone is watching TV and is not hearing what anyone else is saying to them.
No disciple who seeks to go deeper into the things of God can do so without listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit. And listening will often require silence. And such silence requires solitude.
You who feel you are so busy and have no time, those chasing after small children, what can I say to you? Don’t feel guilty. Parenting is your first priority and is a season of life that is a gift to you. Someday the children will grow up and new opportunities will be offered to you for the new season you will find yourself in then.
Choose a moment
It may come unexpectedly, but choose to make it a moment of Solitude and silence. Be intentional. Seize these gaps in your day.
Know how long you have. Set the timer on your phone so you will not stop short of your intended time.
Pen and paper
Have something with you to write with. This is because you will find things for your to-do list coming to mind. So when they come to distract you, write them down, then turn away from them. Use pen and paper for this. If you use an app on your phone you will end up checking social media or browsing for kitten videos.
To have lots of time for solitude and silence is a luxury many busy people do not have. So whether it is short or long, plan the time. Five minutes early in the day really is better than nothing at all.
Find a place
You could arrive at work 10 minutes early and go to that place. I heard of someone who would go to the nearby graveyard. Graveyards are good places for this sort of thing. Or perhaps a walk is possible. A church building may be open. You could sit in a busy coffee shop (with book open and earphones on silent so that you don’t attract stares) and be in solitude.