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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Speaking in Tongues and Contemplative Prayer

The gift of tongues is one of the spiritual gifts that I appreciate greatly because it is a great aid to prayer. The apostles and the women who followed Jesus, and the mother of Jesus, all spoke in other tongues on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came upon them in power (Acts 1, 2). This gift is very much available for today’s believers as are all the other spiritual gifts (1Cor 12,14). I find praying in tongues a spiritually edifying exercise and devotional practice.

The Apostle Paul spoke in tongues

The apostle Paul himself had this gift of tongues and he readily and frequently used it in his communion with the Lord. He described the gift of tongues as speaking “not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (1Cor 14:2). In Paul’s understanding, while the speaker of tongues does not understand what is being said, mysteriously he “builds himself” (1 Cor 14:4) spiritually in faith, hope and love.

Speaking in tongues seems to facilitate a prayer of surrender, of letting go of having to understand everything that is happening, of having control over all of our life situations. We are saying, “I surrender, Lord. You take over. I will trust You even though I do not understand.” Paul himself used this devotional gift frequently and extensively, and could say to the Corinthian believers who were over-enthusiastic about tongues: “I (Paul) speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Cor 14:18). 

Paul uses this gift as a language of praise (Acts 2:11, 10:46) In one instance he mentioned tongues as “giving thanks with your spirit” (1 Cor 14:16) and in another he testified of his experience of tongues as “I will sing with my spirit” (1 Cor 14:15) which means to sing in tongues – a beautiful, melodic expression in tongues of a song of praise to God. I can relate to Paul here for I often fall short of expressing the fullness or depth of gratitude or praise to God because of my lack of vocabulary. Tongues certainly bridges this gap.

The gift of tongues, according to Paul, also came to his aid when he engaged in prayer. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (1 Cor 14:14, 15). The mind is unfruitful, meaning as you listen to yourself praying there is no idea, no conceptual understanding of what you are praying. After praying a while in this manner our mind comes to a place of quiet and a disposition of listening. It is a form of contemplative prayer, you might say. From my experience, when I felt weighed down or was wrestling in confusion or sensed a spiritual attack from the enemy, very often it was praying in tongues that assisted me to reach a place of peace, even without full understanding or resolution of the matter.

If you have the gift of tongues here are a few spiritual exercises you can try:

  1. Read the Psalms until some verses about who God is, and what he has done, strikes you or catches your attention. Stay there with those thoughts about God, and lift up your heart and voice to him in praise in your own language. When you run out of words continue with speaking or singing in tongues with a melody in your heart. 
  2. List down some blessings, big or small, that you can thank God for and then praise him in your known language, before moving into thanking God in spirit.
  3. When you feel down for no reason, or confused about something, or feel you are being tempted with disordered desires or thoughts, pray: “Lord, I am struggling about what is happening or what I am feeling or these strong temptations. Please help me as I pray in tongues…..” Pray in spirit and understanding with patience till the peace of Christ prevails. Sometimes like Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, you will need to persevere thrice before peace takes over (Matt 26:44).
  4. Engage in a dialogue with Christ in tongues. Speak in tongues to the Lord for a while. Then wait in quiet as if to listen to his reply. Note the thoughts or desires or emotions or images or verses that comes to your consciousness. If any do rise, do not judge them yet (this is to be done later), but note any down with a pen. Do these two steps over again and for as long as you want to. When the exercise is over, evaluate what you have noted, to see if they are in accord with the teachings of our Lord. See if there are themes in what God is seeking to convey to you or what divine invitations were revealed. Meditate and pray about how you want to respond to these.
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Checking In With Our Feelings In Prayer

Checking in with our feelings at the beginning is another tool or aid to prayer. To be aware of our emotions is a good prelude to authentic prayer. We are praying as a whole person. We do not come to God only with our minds and reason. We come to him with body, mind, and emotions. Authentic prayer has to include how we feel.

The psalms give us ample examples of David’s authentic cries and range of emotional expressions. He is called a man after God’s heart and while in essence it meant he is one who seeks to do God’s will, authenticity about how he felt at different points in his life situations, and the ability to express that in prayer is certainly part of the spirituality in David that God loves.

What father among us would be satisfied with perfunctory, utilitarian, pragmatic prayers where children only ask for what they want and need. What father wouldn’t be delighted to hear his child share the emotions and deep feelings of his or her heart in the midst of happy or difficult life situations. It adds a deeper dimension to their relationship for sure. This is what God wants from us too. But too often we bury or repress or bypass our emotions and go straight into “business” or “the task at hand” – a transactional attitude towards God where an exchange takes place as though God is a Supernatural Vending Machine, not a father who loves and wants a closeness with us.

So a great aid to prayer is to sit still and reflect on what is the dominant feeling or emotion of the day or days or week. Is it confusion, pain, frustration, depression, sadness, joy, or excitement? Is it a blah blah boredom or a great sense of self-condemnation? A prolonged and deepening state of loneliness and isolation? No analysis is needed. No judgment of right or wrong is desirable. All that is needed is a gentle awareness of where we are emotionally, to feel it again and to express that to God. “Lord, I am feeling…….” If you have trouble identifying what you are feeling ask the Lord for help and look up Google for a chart of emotions that describe a wide range to help you label what you feel.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise?” (James 5:13 ESV) We bring our suffering or cheerfulness or whatever emotions to the Lord and express it appropriately to Him. God loves such prayer and draws near to us who draw near to him as we are, sharing our deepest secrets and hidden emotions. Such prayer will find peace, wisdom, strength and new perspectives delivered to them.

Jesus at the garden of Gethsemane was keenly aware of how he felt and he expressed that to God and found the help he needed. Matthew records in 26:38, “Then he (Jesus) said to them (Peter, James and John), My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…” Then he went on to express that anguish to Abba Father. God delivered to him peace and supernatural strength and divine perspective.

Try this this weekend, and see how it helps you add depth to your relationship with the Lord.

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Child’s Play

This picture caught my attention more than others I took that day. Sometimes I intuitively sense that the photo has more than lines, light and shadows. It is more than just an interesting composition. It is worth going back to it, gaze at it in stillness and silence, and let the Spirit blow as he wills. 

I find myself going back to my childhood. I do not remember either of my parents playing with me. I remember playing with my younger sister but not my older brothers. I felt forlorn. Maybe they did play with me but I could not remember. How could I not remember when I remember playing with my sister? Were they too busy? – he with work and her with raising five children. I wonder if this left an unfilled hole in my soul. 


I suddenly realise Christ, the Eternal One, was present to me in my childhood. He loved me even though I did not know him. I find myself comforted, like he was saying to me, “I was there with you, playing, accompanying you, when you were a child. I delighted in you.” The thought of this was so delicious, I felt comforted and blessed, and welcomed his love, there and then in front of the photo on my iPad. “Lord, thank you for being with me all along. I do not need to feel deprived of parental love. You loved me. Thank you, Lord, for this sense of peace and comfort.”

I thank God that by his grace when I became a parent I played with my kids – enjoying their company, the smiles, the cycling, card games, street soccer in void decks and basketball. Now that I think of it, I left them pleasant memories of play. Lord, thank you .

Too many parents have lost the joy of play. They love challenging their children to do better at school and fill their schedules with tuition and enrichment classes. Why not play with your children? Besides sports and outdoor stuff, there are lots of board games. Play is play when there is no utilitarian purpose achieved, besides fun and enjoyment. If there are benefits, they are a bonus. If none at all, play anyway.


A child jumps around the hall and makes monkey noises. There is no purpose at all besides sheer fun. No noble end achieved. It is pure play. We adults have lost that and need to rediscover it with our kids. And for ourselves too. Many people have observed that the pandemic has prodded, even driven adults to rediscover and reclaim play. From gardening to board-games, from cycling to cooking, from hiking to painting and drawing, adults are returning to reclaiming the art of play.

Play is becoming endemic during the pandemic.

Some good is coming out of bad. I am glad this is happening. Satan is not. God is.

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Breathe slow, breathe deep

One of the things I learned from being in prayer retreats is the importance of a rested body to prayer. I would be encouraged by the spiritual director to settle in and relax, take walks and sleep as much as I needed. He knew from experience that many Singaporeans who came for retreats were usually tense, wound up, and drained. To start praying with such a state of mind and body would be counter-productive. A day or two would be needed to unwind, sleep well, and eat well and be in a better state to be alert and to pray.

Like it or not we are not mere spirit beings. We have a body as well, and it affects our emotions, mental concentration and spiritual alertness. I learned that I prayed better when I was better rested. I attended better to the Scriptures, meditation, and prayer. 

When this learning is applied to my regular prayer and meditation it meant that I usually gave some time for slowing down, quieting myself, and to let myself dial down physically by taking slow and deep breaths for several minutes, typically ten minutes, sometimes for double that. I would consciously slow down my breathing and would seek to be more conscious of God’s presence with me before I start my reading or meditation of scriptures or other spiritual exercise. 

When I first started out on this practice I would set my timer to ten minutes of silence and deep breathing. I did this because my temptation would be to quickly get productive and efficient and finish my “quiet time” or “lectio divina”. The timer held me back from diving straight in before I was in a better place to be receptive to God. 

Moses was 40 days in the mountain before God revealed Himself and gave him the ten commandments. Couldn’t God do it more quickly? Wouldn’t three days be sufficient? I do not have a definitive answer. Perhaps God was ready to give Moses the ten commandments but Moses was not ready to receive the revelation. Just a thought.

Try this out. It is an aid to prayer. Unwind. Relax. Breathe slowly and deeply for ten minutes or more if needed. Before you read, meditate, reflect or pray. 

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