Why is Silence Essential in Prayer

Treasuring silence is one of hardest and oddest thing to do in modern urban society. But it is absolutely necessary if we care about our spirituality and growth in maturity. The spiritual discipline of silence is essential material for our formation into godly persons. In this discipline we shut our souls up from all kinds of sounds: whether they be noise, music, or conversation; and from the inner chatter that never ceases in our minds. We seek this stillness and quiet with the aim of giving our full attention to God. The practice of silence is a tough act but there are good reasons why it is golden for spiritual growth.

Why Silence Is Essential

First, silence helps us cultivate a disposition of openness to God – a disposition of listening. “So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” (1Sam3:9). A rested body and soul seemed to be of help in receiving God’s communications, but more importantly, having a disposition that is ready to listen to God, open to whatever he shared. And if we are constantly talking TO God, we cannot be listening to him at the same time. We need to make a shift and listen more and talk less. The challenge to listening to God is that we often shelter too much inner noises of anxiety and turbulence and preferences that block us from noticing God’s notifications and invitations to us. 

Second, silence demonstrates a disciple’s trust and dependence on God. Rather than leaning on his own understanding to analyze and solve problems, or make a choice or plan, the disciple prefers to lean on and patiently wait for God’s wisdom and power to be shared. Rather than figuring a way out without any reference to God, the disciple discusses, listens and collaborates with the Lord in “osmotic prayer” – a process similar to osmosis where the Lord weaves in his wisdom and will into the disciple’s consciousness as a matter is discussed with God. “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (Psalms 62:1,5).

Third, it reflects a beautiful posture of worship and reverence. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). When a great and holy personage walks onto the stage, the only appropriate action is to stop whatever you have been doing, shut your mouth and open your eyes to see, and ears to listen attentively. Such a respectful response of silent attention to God is appropriate whenever we begin prayer too. Be silent before him.

Fourth, as our friendship with God grows more intimate it naturally gravitates towards more silence. Great intimates and lovers are known to communicate in silence. They understand the sounds of silence: expressions of love in the eyes or gentle touch, that look, the smile, the twinkle in the eye, the knowing nod, the kiss, the silent gaze. Someone described this form of prayer as: “I look at Him, and He looks at me”. Gazing at each other with love and in silence.

Fifth, when silence is coupled with solitude over a few days, it often yields the fruit of quiet reflection and meditation: a God given “know thyself” and the surfacing of past memories and emotions that had been repressed during your hurried and harried life. The Holy Spirit wants to help with the processing of these raw and painful materials so that the sting of these can be discerned and extricated, and forgiveness received and released, and the wounds healed and sealed. It was in “a sound of sheer silence”(1 Kings 19:12), not the earthquake, storm or fire, that the Lord revealed himself, surfacing his repressed indignation, disappointment with God, and fear. Having helped Elijah processed his repressed pain, God restored Elijah, and re-commissioned him.

Suggested Exercises for Silence

Set a timer to five minutes and gradually increase it to twenty minutes of silence. Sit comfortably in a relaxed posture. Breath in and out slowly and deeply and focus on our breath. This focus on our breath will help draw our attention away from outer and inner noise. It will help us be quiet before God.

Once you have done the above exercise, add this exercise to it. Imagine God the Father or the Son in front of you. Be conscious of his loving presence. He looks at you without condemnation, but with loving kindness and warm affection. No words: just gazing at each other with love.

Mother Teresa was once interviewed and what a memorable interview it was!

Interviewer: When you pray what do you say to God?

Teresa: I don’t talk, I simply listen.

Interviewer: Ah then, what is it that God says to you when you pray?

Teresa: He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.

Interviewer: (Long puzzled silence)

Teresa: “If you cannot understand the meaning of what I just said, I am sorry but there is no way I can explain it any better.”

Last exercise: Imagine you have an audience with God Almighty our heavenly Father, so take time to quietly reflect and note down what you are going to say to God, what petition you plan to present to God. Prepare yourself. When ready to meet with God, kneel before him, with your notes, and begin to reverently present your petitions to God carefully and reverently. “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. 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” (Eccl 5:1,2).

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  • Appreciate your reflections & insights on a much-needed, much-neglected aspect of spiritual disciplines.

    Not that it is an excuse, but increasingly it is more & more challenging to actually find or have a “quiet” time or silence before the Lord in busy Singapore, be it never-ending constructions, renovations, street/traffic noise, as well as the continual reminders, notifications, pop-ups on our smart devices, in an ever-increasingly audio-visual, digitech generation.

    2 passages came to mind as I reflected on your article. The psalmist writes in Ps 46.10, “Cease striving (be still) & know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Also, David’s posture in Ps. 27.4, “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple.”

    From your sharing, I resonate with osmotic prayer & Mother Theresa’s quote on mutual listening. May God through His Spirit grant & bless you with deep & fruitful times with the Lord.

    • Hi Tim,
      You have diagnose our society eloquently and accurately. I love the verses you added. They were so pertinent to the subject. Thanks for the blessing.

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