If you come from a modern Evangelical church expression, it’s likely that there’s a facet of life in Christ that has been significantly under-represented to you. That is the practice/discipline of quietness: contemplation and meditation.
Martin Luther taught that for “teaching” to be effective it required three elements (in Latin): oratio, meditatio, and tentation—prayer/meditation, study/concentration, and testing or trial (what we have “learned” is put to the test.) “Truth” requires all three, not just mental apprehension of Biblical facts. Thomas Aquinas said: “It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation.” C. S. Lewis said: “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” Philip Henry said: “It is easier to go six miles to hear a sermon, than to spend one quarter of an hour meditating on it when I come home.” That’s the problem!
Today we teach, teach, teach, teach, teach, teach, teach, study, study, study, study, study and acquire more and more and more information, in a very misguided attempt to “honor scripture,” and we think we have eternal life. We do not. We have lost our way, even from our own heritage! We have become information factories rather than the incarnate pillar and ground of all truth, full of the life of Christ.
We don’t know how to corporately practice quietness. Token prayer and prayer meetings are not the remedy. There is a quietness of soul and being that we have lost. We don’t know how to be quiet on the “inside” and our outward practices merely testify to what is absent in us.
Modern humanity cannot stand to be alone with their thoughts. In our culture, naked bodies don’t bother us much, but we are terrified by naked thoughts. We are afraid of Whom we might hear. We are bombarded in our culture by incessant noise.
In a restaurant the music is always playing, often so loud you cannot have a conversation. Sometimes, such as in a sports bar, the music and the televisions are both blaring! Go shopping, or to a doctor’s office, and there is music playing or a television on. Can you think of any public place (other than a library) that is truly quiet? It’s rare.
The aversion to quietness infects our churches also. Think about a typical church service. Other than very token, and often painfully anemic efforts associated with “prayer requests,” how much of a typical evangelical church service could you consider as meditative or contemplative? How many of our churches have “background” music playing all the time? Even as people are gathering for the service or “pre-service.” God forbid that there should be quiet!
In our “services” the sermon is the centerpiece: it is all talk, and one-way at that. The so-called “worship service” is music and speech, with perhaps a few token minutes of “waiting” on the Lord thrown in. Then there are the announcements–more talk, then off to the “fellowship hall” for . . . more talk. We do not even allow people time to process and apply what they have just heard, before we are “on to the next lesson in the series,” or “next week’s sermon.” We think people can process more “food” when they haven’t even digested and turned into flesh and energy the last spiritual meal they have eaten! It is no wonder we are spiritually sick and ineffective.
When I used to pastor in a traditional setting, I would sometimes ask the congregation to be still and quiet for three minutes. You could feel the anxiety and uncomfortableness fill the room: just three minutes. If we are not hearing someone, or doing some thing, we have no capacity for God.
We could all probably quote the story of how God’s voice was heard by Elijah in the stillness and quietness of the cave. We are all likewise well aware that Isaiah said that in quietness and confidence our strength would be found. Yet, it seems we are hell-bent every time we gather together to do everything within our power to make sure that we never hear from Father. This is not a slam at preaching or dynamic praise and worship. I love both! This is about developing a full spectrum of complimentary graces as the people of God. A canoe that is paddled only on one side will go in circles.
If our Lord could only do the things that He heard/saw His Father doing, why do we think we can accomplish more by doing less of what He did? To illustrate the importance of quietness and listening, I will close this blog with three, unexaggerated, true stories from my experience. They demonstrate both the potency of hearing His voice and obeying, as well as the risk of not doing so. We will never accomplish with sermons and a song service, for what is absent in hearing and obeying His voice. Let’s listen and live . . .
Listen and Live – 1
Many years ago a very close friend of mine in his mid-twenties began to develop some neuro-muscular problems. He at first tried to ignore it, but it got progressively worse. So he went to the doctor. The doctor’s were not sure of his diagnosis. They thought he had something like early-onset adult multiple sclerosis or some similar adult neurological disorder. It was their “best guess.” Over time, he grew progressively worse to the point he could barely walk without a walker. It was heart breaking to watch him deteriorate rapidly, like he was turning into an old man before our eyes.
As a church, we did everything “Christians” are supposed to do. We fasted, prayed, anointed with oil, and laid hands on him. We investigated soul-body-spirit connections. We bound, loosed, decreed, and did every spiritual exercise known to humanity under the sun. Not only were these exercises not effective, he got progressively worse.
One day, he felt a strange impulse, an “inner voice” say to him: “Get rid of your woodstove.” As most of us would have done, he ignored it. He couldn’t see how that would relate to anything. Over a period of time, he thought he heard the same quiet prompting: “Get rid of your woodstove.” Eventually, after a few of these, he felt he had nothing to lose, and got rid of his woodstove.
In a very short time, he noticed something. His symptoms started to abate. More time passed, and he continued to improve. Eventually, he recovered fully to such a degree that you would never have known he had been ill.
He subsequently went to the doctor’s and they ran some alternate tests on him. It turned out he was extremely sensitive to creosote (the after-product of wood combustion) and had what is known as “Chimney Sweep’s Disease.” It was common 150 years ago when most people heated with wood, but the medical professionals never thought to look for it.
The moral of the story is: He heard the quiet and still, Voice, obeyed, and was healed, and lived.
Listen and Live – 2
I was once in a counseling session with a middle-aged woman. We had a pretty good, high-trust, relationship. In the middle of one of our sessions, I felt strangely impressed to ask her a question and a favor that seemed unrelated to anything we were discussing. I asked her if she would be willing to get a complete physical, and to meet again. She agreed to.
In the process of getting the routine physical, it was discovered that she had a previously undiagnosed encapsulated cancerous tumor, a bit smaller than a baseball, in the region of her feminine organs. She was immediately admitted and the tumor completely and successfully removed. The doctor told her if she had waited one or two more weeks, that the tumor would have ruptured and spread cancer cells throughout her body, virtually assuring her death.
The moral of the story is: Hear the still, small voice, obey it, and live.
Listen and Live – 3
I was once in a marriage counseling situation. In the middle of the session, totally unrelated to anything we were talking about, I “heard” a woman’s first name in my spirit. It was not the man’s wife’s name! I stopped and asked the couple if the name________ meant anything to either of them. The color drained out of the man’s face. It was the name of the woman with whom he had been having a secret affair! It was an Ananias and Sapphira moment for him. He repented, the marriage was restored, and they are together to this day. He later told me that at the moment he thought he was about to be struck dead. There were three greatnesses upon the first century church: great grace, great power, and great fear. Modern Evangelicalism only wants two of the three. Well, we get the fruit of our desires: spiritual impotence.
The moral of the story is: Hear the still small voice, obey it, and live. One word from heaven is better than scores of hours of “counseling.”
Seeing then that such kingdom power is readily and easily available to us, without any charismatic calisthenics, it should be no surprise that the powers of the air would like to see to it that we are never quiet enough to hear Him. I would say, that overall, the powers of the air have been successful in assuring our spiritual deafness.
I am a life-long charismatic. I have seen every shade of nonsense, hype, mania, and excesses. However, I know that there is real treasure in the pile of manure. I propose that many of our exercises are not only ineffective, but they actually hinder the manifestation of kingdom power that so many long for. Our charismatic gymnastics could be replaced with quiet listening, hearing our Father, and obeying, and we would have a lot less nonsense and fakery, and see more genuine kingdom results. We have unnecessarily complicated the simple life of Father-son relationship and obedience with innumerable “spiritual mechanics,” and we are kidding ourselves.
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