I’ve spent a lot of my Christian life trying to “find” the Holy Spirit. I’ve tried many methods and read several books to help teach me how to “engage with” the Holy Spirit. I now see how foolish that was. I suppose it was more out of longing to be closer to God, but even longings can mislead a person.
In my walk with Christ I am learning something incredible about the Spirit. I hope it will bless you and help you “draw near to God” that “He may draw near to you” (James 4:8). My life overflows with incessant noise. Cell phones, social media notifications, music, white noise, and busyness. Our screens are always on, our volume is always up, and our ears never rest.
Noise has a purpose: to distract. Distract from what? Ourselves. Here’s what I mean: When we find ourselves in a silent place (yes, that can be subjective), we sometimes panic. We get anxious because there’s nothing to distract us. From my experience there is a deeper issue at work. We don’t want to be alone with ourselves! That is why we must recapture the spiritual discipline of silence.
Thomas Merton wrote, “In silence God ceases to be an object and becomes an experience.” What did Merton mean? That when we are silent, we move from knowing about God and into knowing God. We move from classroom instruction and into “hands on” learning. Silence is a place most of us never dare venture. In silence – true silence – we face our own thoughts and the overwhelming Presence of God.
The moment we are alone, with no other people around to chat with, no blogs to read, Netflix to stream, ringing phones, or to-do lists, a wave of anxiety floods over us. This anxiety – perhaps disturbance is a better word – becomes so overwhelming and confusing until we cannot stand it any more. We can’t wait to get back to the noise and busyness. Despite that, we must get back into the consistent, intentional discipline of silence and solitude.
When we enter total silence, we face ourselves. Bad memories, conflicts, anger, impulsive desires, doubts and fears. It is as if silence puts a mirror in front of us that not only shows our physical appearance but also the condition our soul. With that list, it isn’t hard to understand why we fight being alone in silence. It can be painful. But with God, painful introspection can be necessary. James uses the illustration: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:22-24). We are our worst critic, and so we avoid the unpleasantness of our inner-self.
How can I expect the Spirit to speak through me, and in me, if I cannot let Him chisel away at the things that may keep me from hearing Him in the first place? As uncomfortable and gut-wrenching as it might be, it is necessary to hear the Spirit. We often pray and sing in our assemblies the words of David, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). If we seek this relationship, we must take time to be silent. Daily.
Often I’ve tried to find God in the noise. I’ve even gone into a quasi-silent place to sit and say, “Here I am, Lord! I’m ready to listen,” as if God is a cosmic genie. I’m not suggesting God doesn’t speak in those places. I believe God speaks everywhere. I’m suggesting that my intentions aren’t in the right place. I expected God to talk. I was ready to hear, but I wasn’t ready to listen.
God is always speaking. What if by our constant busyness and addiction to noise we miss it? What if we’re looking for God only in the grandiose instead of the ordinary? What if we’re looking for the miracle and missing the miracle of the present? I suggest to you that to find the ever-speaking Spirit, we must learn to be ever-listening and silent. We have to go off the grid every day bringing only ourselves and our thoughts with us. It has been my experience that when I do that; when I bring myself into the silence seeking the ever-elusive Spirit – there I find that He’s always been right there. I wasn’t listening. I was too busy to hear.
The Spirit speaks in silence.. When you are uncomfortable in the silence; when you wrestle with sin and doubt in the quiet, and when you feel God isn’t listening. Those thoughts are being recalled because the Spirit is speaking! He’s bringing things to your mind He sees need addressing in your life! Whether we find it uncomfortable if we want to grow closer to God we must be silent before Him. If we desire our churches to be vibrant faith-filled communities led by the Spirit, we must enter silence together and hear from the Spirit.
In the crushing weight of silence before God, we will understand the place of Elijah’s climb up Mount Carmel in the tapestry of Scripture. He sought God amid chaos, noise, and busyness. Out of arrogance of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, he assumed God would speak in the bedlam of the elements. Instead, we see him finding the voice of God not to be in fire and flames, but in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12b). May we be like Elijah Listen to the silence. The Spirit is speaking. Will we listen?