When Doing Nothing Does Wonders

I was dipping into a book titled “Soul Keeping” that Pastor Thomas gave me. John Ortberg is a gifted writer, and I must add a gifted preacher too for I had heard him live a few times. In the chapter on “The Soul Needs Rest” he writes about entering soul rest and how we can experience four cycles of grace: 1) Acceptance – to know that you are loved apart from deserving or earning it; 2) Sustenance – the need to develop habits and practices that replenish us spiritually, 3)Significance – a cycle where grace we have received flows out from us to others. This is about who we are before it is about what we do. 4) Resting in Achievement – bearing spiritual fruit by God’s grace and then resting in it. Ortberg then talked about the important practices of solitude and “doing nothing”(rest). Here is where it got me into an experiment.

“The capacity of doing nothing is actually evidence of a lot of spiritual growth. The French writer Blaise Pascal wrote centuries ago: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.” In solitude we liberate ourselves from the pressure of the world. You don’t do that by going into solitude with a list of things you want to work on. You don’t even approach solitude with the expectation that you will come away with some deep spiritual insight. It’s not about what you’re going to do; it’s about what you’re not going to do. In solitude you rest” .


“Whether with an entire day, or periods of time set aside every day, your soul needs rest. Not a change of scenery or a spiritual retreat – those are fine and may contribute to rest. But to remain healthy, our souls need solitude with no agenda, no distractions, no noise. If someone asks you what you did in your “time apart’, the correct response should be, “Nothing.” Doing nothing does wonders for the soul.” 


A Little Experiment

I was reflecting on this and asked myself, Can I idle? Do nothing. Not touch the phone. Not reach for a book or a screen. Not do anything productive, useful, helpful, purposeful. Can I let my mind idle; let my hands be free of holding anything? Can I cease fidgeting and be still? Breathe. Do nothing. I actually set a timer to one hour and tried this. I saw an empty space on the wall and almost got up to nail and hang a frame. I saw the dust on the window pane and thought of getting the Windex and a cloth from the yard to clean it. It was too quiet and I wanted to play some instrumental music. I saw my phone and wanted to look through the WhatsApp messages. It was not easy to sit in my chair and look out into the distance at the swathe of green that was once the Jurong Country Club. After a while I got fidgety and looked at the timer. The minutes moved too slowly.

Then I noticed my breathing. I noticed the sound of the KDK wall fan in the room. The wandering of my mind slowed down and I was thinking nothing in particular. Just looking into the distance and doing nothing. At the end of the hour, I realized it was not easy to do nothing and rest the soul. However, when I later read and meditated on Scriptures I found myself more alert and present to the words I read, and to the presence of the Lord. Wonderful.

For more ideas on methods of prayer go to RESOURCES

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A Sensory Stroll

What if you are not the type that can sit still and pray? Are alternatives to silencing the heart and resting the mind available? Yes. One is to go for a sensory stroll. A stroll is a short leisurely, slow walk. Not natural for most Singaporeans. According to surveys, we are some of the fastest walkers among urbanites around the world. So this spiritual exercise takes some learning.

Learning to walk at a leisurely pace is challenging but we also want to add to that a heightening of our physical senses in the stroll. It can be done one by one awareness. For example, we could begin with a focus on what we see. As you stroll observe the buildings, people, park bench, trees, leaves, flowers, cars and pavements. Observe colours, textures, shapes and lines. Pause if anything catches your attention. Next, you concentrate on hearing: the hum of traffic, children playing, birds chirping, rustling of leaves, the MRT train rolling by, the footfall of others and yourself. Then, feel. The mild breeze, the hot humid steam, the mask against your face, perspiration on the forehead, the out-of-breath feeling. Be aware of smell too. Occasionally, you smell jasmine, or worse, traffic smog or delicious food, depending on where you take your stroll. Such a walk can be a relaxing exercise as your mind is temporarily focused on the sensory input, and not on your worries and other mental preoccupations. So this is a good spiritual exercise to ready the mind and heart and body for reflection, prayer and Bible reading.

With Singapore’s hot humid climate, the early morning or late evening seems to be the more suitable times for this exercise. Occasionally a hike in the forest, reservoir or parks can be a great extended leisurely walk with an added play and pray dimension.

Why not give this a try and let readers know what it was like? Put your experience in the comment box.

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Fasting and Prayer

One day my daughter suggested that we fast once a week. Fasting was occasional for me – when there was a pressing need. Fasting as a regular spiritual discipline? I was game to try and so was my wife. 

We decided that our fast would begin after the dinner of the previous night. Then on the next day, the fast continued through the skipped breakfast and lunch, until we broke fast with dinner. 

For me it was not difficult to find the periods of prayer in the morning and afternoon, and a joint prayer with my wife before we broke fast. I have retired. Those who work have to schedule the fast in such a way they have time to pray and reflect.

Some Spiritual Benefits

What I experienced in terms of spiritual benefits are common among those who fast.

  • I was more alert and deliberate when I prayed.
  • I saw my trust in God strengthened and my love broadened. 
  • I felt greater self-control through the Spirit’s help.
  • The Lord broadened my scope of concern beyond myself and family to Singapore and the countries of South East Asia.
  • I saw answers to my prayers. Once we prayed for two Nigerian children and their nanny who were feared to have been kidnapped. This week we received news that all three were found far away from home kidnapped by a syndicate, and the nanny was an accomplice.
  • There was added anointing, conviction and confidence when I preached.
  • A bonus physical benefit was my pants became loose at the waist.

The Spirit Teaches and Guides Us How To Fast

Initially, the Lord taught me to answer this question he once asked a blind man before healing him, “What do you want me to do for you?” I listed what I wanted, and slowly shared with the Lord each situation and my needs and concerns. I took my time to feel, reflect, talk to him and listen and receive assurance that my prayers were heard. I did it on my knees with the written list of prayer needs. Gradually I realized that while fasting, the Lord was also putting on my mind and heart the matters he wanted me to pray about. For Singapore, and for nations that are suffering from the pandemic, like neighbouring countries, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Philippines, and Indonesia. Sometimes I asked him questions, “inquired of the Lord”, to know his mind on what redemptive fruit has come out of the evil of this historic pandemic. Fasting and prayer is not merely about making our requests known to God with earnestness, but also inquiring of the Lord, deepening our communion with God, letting him share his burdens and concerns with us, and humbling and repenting before him.

Different Forms of Fasting

There are of course many different kinds of fast each suited to the lifestyle of the one fasting. It may be different for the mother of three young kids, the working professional, those in National Service or in schools. There are different forms described in the Bible and you can learn more about them by googling the topic.

Pray and launch into the deep by fasting a day and let God teach you more as you move along in faith. Or you could do this gradually – skipping a meal, then two, then three meals. Find some friends to join you in a pact and doing it together gives added strength of purpose.

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Sacred Reading or “Lectio Divina”

The “lectio divina”(Latin) or “sacred reading” is the bread and butter of my time with the Lord. It is the method I use the most. Maybe it is because of its familiarity. Most Christians who are familiar with the Quiet Time would see its resemblance to the four movements of lectio divina. In the past, I have used the Daily Bread notes of Scripture Union with its similar READ, MEDITATE, APPLY, PRAY.

While READ, MEDITATE, and PRAY seems similar, the lectio divina is to be done in a different spirit. Maybe I did my Quiet Time wrongly, but I used to breeze through the suggested scripture readings, read the writer’s commentary, and pray a bit so I could say to myself that I have done my daily Quiet Time. The aim of lectio divina is not to gain Bible knowledge and information, or to consume spiritual growth vitamins, but to personally meet and commune with God and be loved and formed by Him. 

The pace, attention, and intention are different. We read a passage of scripture slowly, unhurriedly, perhaps aloud, with pauses, and repeat the reading if necessary. We give attention to words, phrases, images that strike or impresses us. We attend to our responses to the scripture: the insights, feelings, memories, and strong reactions that arose. We ponder over what the Lord is stirring or inviting us to. We pray about what he is conveying to us. We pray about how to respond to him. It is more experiential than cerebral. It is more a communion with Christ then an analysis of scripture. At the end of it we feel like we have been with the Lord. 

This practice can be seen as four movements or an intentional progressive process. We usually do all four “steps” in one session but we could also return to the same passage and focus on one of the separate “steps”.


We begin with acknowledging our need of God’s presence with us. Then we read the scripture passage slower than usual, like reading a love letter, gently dancing with the words, noticing what resonates with us, holds our attention, or awakens our needs. We read it over and over. We notice the desert bush that burns, inviting us to draw closer.

He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed (Isaiah 50:4b).

For a start, choose one of the gospels to meditate on. Do not bite off more than you can chew. The length should be in proportion to the time we have. In some Bibles, the passages are clearly divided with sub-headings like “The baptism of Jesus” or “The temptation of Jesus”.


We zero in and ruminate over what resonates for us in the passage. We mutter the phrase or words pondering over what they mean for us. What is the Lord teaching or saying? Is he giving us input about what we are facing in life now? We let the Spirit impart his wisdom, love, peace and whatever graces we need. 

We avoid analysing the text. We leave aside puzzling verses and maybe go to them after the meditation. For the purpose of lectio divina, research may lead us away from what we want.

Perhaps we record the verse, insight, direction or comfort we have received. (More about journaling in a future blogpost.)


We converse with the Lord about our response to his word. We share our honest feelings about those matters that arose from our meditation. We wait in silence for his response since prayer is two-way. His response may come through our thoughts, or shifting of our desires and feelings about a matter, or an increase of faith, hope or love.

Sometimes prayer seem so effortless and other times so difficult and dry. We tell God how we feel even if we are feeling empty and faithless. We pray as a friend would converse with a friend.


We rest in the quiet of his presence and let him love us. Like a little child, we simply lean and rest upon his shoulders and let him embrace us in silence.  We soak in the healing love, peace and contentment that his presence brings. 

End the time with a simple sincere prayer of thanks, or pray or sing “The Lord’s Prayer”.

(This method can also be used in a group setting, like my home church does in the Board of Elders meeting or in cell meetings. In these settings, the individuals share about what resonated with each of them, and end with prayer for one another or one person will conclude the session in prayer).

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