I grew up in a church tradition where the default environment for personal prayer was silence. I certainly can’t remember actually engaging in prayer until a long time after everyone began commending me for being “prayerful”… which almost exclusively meant that I had sat still. I can’t help but wonder whether so many of my school friends aren’t praying today because they never really learned to pray then.
It wasn’t till I was a young teenager that silence started to become meaningful. I’d grown accustomed to spending my personal time bursting my ear-drums with loud, mostly angry, music. Someone must have been praying for me, because just for a moment everything fell silent & I honestly believe it must have been the first time I’d ever seen anything & known that God had created it and that God loved it. I could have been looking at a slug for all the difference it would have made, it would have seemed wonderful to me! When I heard the music again I couldn’t stomach it anymore, it couldn’t compare with the One I’d become aware of in that moment.
There is something fundamentally different between the two experiences of silence that I’ve shared above - the one was something I’d done, the other something God had done. If you search the scriptures, you’ll find that most of the times that we hear “Be still” or “Be silent” it’s either God speaking or someone speaking on his behalf… The invitation or command to be still - as it is spoken from the heavens - is always accompanied with a revelation or a confession of who He is.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t any place for silence as a discipline. God has made man uniquely to stand before Him in prayer unlike anything else that He has made. Only man freely agrees with God’s will, and partners with Him by praying that His will be done. For us, there is always a choice involved: life or death. To constantly confess what we have received by revelation, or to live according to our own occupations and ways of understanding.
Silence can easily become an end in itself. Like the silence I knew as a child, it can become a way to distract ourselves, keep ourselves occupied, day-dreaming or coping with the pressures around us rather than facing up to the difficult realities of our lives. In our age, I think that is why mindfulness seems so attractive. If our discipline of silence becomes a ministry to ourselves in a fiercely idea-driven world, then that is quite emphatically different from the silence that results from encountering God and ministering to Him.
In the Prayer Room we try to facilitate an environment where people can feel free to grow in worship and prayer. Whether we’re singing or being still - whatever we do outwardly - neither is an end in itself. Is there a stronghold in my devotional life that has become more about ministering to me than ministering to God? What might God want to speak into your life to remind you who He is?
Pieter is on staff as an intercessory missionary at Manchester House of Prayer. With a heart to see families grow in prayer together, he is developing our Family Prayerwatch. He also serves in the prayer room as a worship leader, singer and prayer leader.