“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.” (Psalm 62:5)
Noise. We usually don’t have to go looking for it. It finds us; constant pervasive sounds which surround our lives. Sometimes it is beyond our control, whether it is at the workplace, at the coffee shop, or the neighbor’s loud party. Other times, it is self-induced. We turn on the television, the radio, the earbuds go in, the music is cranked up.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) stands in stark contrast. A quick concordance count reveals that words like “silent” or “silence” or “quiet” or “still” show up over 200 times in the Bible. In some cases, it is all of creation which stops to listen to the Lord: “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20). In other cases, such as Psalm 46 or Psalm 62:5, it is a direct call to an individual. Surrounded by noise, it is not possible to hear God’s voice in the way we want and need.
And a difficulty arises: I surmise many of us aren’t convinced we want or need silence for our spiritual growth. Or, alternatively, perhaps we may be very uncomfortable with, or scared of, quiet. There is even a term for a fear of silence: “sedatephobia” (I’m serious; look it up!). But the most challenging part is finding a time and place for it to happen, to which I fully relate.
I have, for the past many years, worked hard to find ways to go on extended personal spiritual retreats a couple times a year. I have learned over the years what makes them effective and what works for me. I started slowly, but now have come to value them so much they can be as long as 2-3 nights away from home. But I don’t recommend anyone start with that length of time! I began with an hour, not days. It has taken me many years to get to this point. But those retreats have become times when the Lord meets with me in such profound ways I cannot fully describe, and I cannot imagine not doing them. When I get back home, my wife says there is a palpable sense that something has happened to me.
Let’s look at a couple of biblical examples of retreat.
Jesus and the disciples were often surrounded by throngs of people. And, they were working hard. In Mark 6, we read that Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, giving them power to teach, cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach repentance. Mark reports it this way:
The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. (Mark 6:30-32, NASB)
Do you see it? There was no lack of work that still needed to be done. People were still needing to repent, they required teaching, demons were still harassing people, many were still sick. But the instruction of Jesus was specific. First, come away. Leave your current place, away from the demands and the work. Second, by yourselves. Leave the people, no tag-alongs, no others allowed. Third, to a secluded place. A place of quiet, apart from the normal surroundings, a place where no one can disrupt. Fourth, rest awhile. You are tired physically and spiritually. You need renewal.
Yes, the yard still needs work, the fence still needs to be fixed, the laundry needs to be done, the family has a list of things that need to be taken care of, and the list goes on. I get it; it’s the same for me. But those things will never be totally finished. In the middle of vital work, Jesus told His disciples to stop for a time.
Even more startling to me is the action of Jesus Himself. Notice a profound passage, not to be overlooked:
But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:15-16 (NASB). The ESV translates it: But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. I really like the wording of the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible): However, he made a practice of withdrawing to remote places in order to pray.
Great needs, great opportunities. But His action? “Often slip away to the wilderness”; “withdraw to desolate places”; “made a practice of withdrawing to remote places.” For what reason? To pray. For spiritual refreshment. To spend time with the Father. Alone.
1 Kings 19 recounts the story when the prophet Elijah was fleeing for his life from Jezebel. Elijah found a cave to hide in, and the Lord came to visit. After Elijah is told to go out on the mount before the Lord, we read:
And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12, ESV)
Have you heard the “low whisper” of the Lord lately? Have you quieted your mind to allow God’s Spirit to speak to your heart from his word? Do you want to? Before that can happen, you need to get rid of the noise which drowns it out. In the next article, I’ll give some practical advice to start you on the journey for your own personal retreat.