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Shhhh! Silent Prayer in Church

The prophet urges us, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 1:13).  The Psalmist invites us to “Be still and know” the Lord, to worship the holy God with him (Psalm 46:10). The Lord showed Elijah and us that to sense his presence and hear his message we need to be quiet and listen for the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 19:12).

Why don’t we use silence in more of our church services to help us worship God, listen to him, and open our hearts to him? When was the last time that you were in a church meeting or other Christian community gathering that provided even one minute for quiet reflection and prayer? It’s a rare experience. Even the use of soft instrumental music for wordless worship is uncommon.

Many times I’ve listened to a message from a pastor or a short meditation from a worship leader and then the speaker concludes by asking us a question to reflect on or pray about. This is so helpful! But then immediately he or she does all the praying for the audience or someone sings a song — there is no quiet space! No time to listen to God. No time for personal reflection and prayer. No time to even have your own thoughts unless you can tune out the speaker or singer!

We’re Restless and Afraid of Silence

Obviously, we who are pastors and teachers don’t trust that people in our groups can keep their attention on God unless we do it for them. And we don’t know how to teach them to attend to God in silence. We’re afraid of the quiet because we know that people will get restless and their thoughts will go away from God to things like:

• What are we going to have for lunch?

• What time does the game come on?

• I have to go to the bathroom

• This afternoon I need to do _________.

Truth be told, many of us who are Christian leaders have the same problem! We ourselves don’t know how to deal with the inevitable distracting thoughts that come in quiet prayer.

Quiet Times

Many of us call our times of Bible reading and devotions “quiet times.” How about practicing being quiet in your mind? You could pause on a verse — just stop reading to quietly absorb. Take a “Selah” as the Psalmist invites us to do repeatedly, often in the middle of a verse! “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:15).

Be still and slow down your thoughts…

Savor a word or phrase or analogy from Scripture…

Reflect and ruminate on God’s words to you…

Linger and listen to the Lord…

Simply rest in the loving arms of Christ!

Silence in Church Worship and Meetings

It is a good thing for you as a pastor to teach your church community how to use silence as part of the worship service. Or if you’re a small group leader or teach a Bible study you too can lead people in a brief time of silent reflection and prayer. It’s not enough for us as leaders to suggest people try the discipline of silent prayer on their own (they probably won’t do it) — we need to show them how by guiding them in experiences in God’s presence.

The first step for us as ministry leaders is to practice the discipline of silence in our own personal devotions to learn by experience how to deal with the distractions and inner distress that may surface and bring ourselves to God. Silent prayer is also something we can do for others, quietly “abiding in prayer” for them. This helps us to offer the gift of spiritual hospitality in our meeting.

When we introduce silent prayer to our community it’s good to briefly explain what we’re doing and why. We can help them understand that it may feel awkward for them and they may feel restless or have wandering thoughts. This is normal. We’re training our minds and bodies to be fully present to the Lord who is fully present to us.

You’ll be amazed at the positive effects of attending to God in community silence!

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