How to Pray: Praying When God is Silent
This blog is written by Jarrett Stevens, author of Praying Through: Overcoming the Obstacles That Keep Us from God.
Jesus knew the value of silence. He did not run from it; he ran after it. The Gospel writers make sure that we get that silence was a part of how Jesus prayed through his journey to the cross. Luke 5:16 says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Lonely places. Quiet places. Places away from the noise of the world around him. Places away from the demands of the crowds. We do not know how or what Jesus prayed during these times. But we do know that he sought them out. He made time and space for quiet, for silence. And in so doing, Jesus teaches us yet again, how we can pray. What if the silence of God is not something to simply endure but rather, something to embrace? What if, instead of running from silence or being frustrated by it, you were able to seek it out, to claim it as a way that you pray? Can you learn to not only get comfortable with silence but also incorporate it into your everyday life? Can you— like Jesus—move from resisting silence to resting in it?
Praying through silence can be challenging, but the more you practice it, the better you get at it. The less you fight it, the less you resist it, the easier it comes to you. You may not be able to start with a day or an hour, but you can start with five minutes. You can intentionally carve out time in the morning before everyone else is up. Or at the end of the day, after everything is done and the house is quiet. You can take your first five minutes at work, before you open your in-box. Or go for a walk during lunch. You can learn to make silence your friend, so that when God is silent, you’ll be speaking the same language. You can resist the urge to thrash about and allow yourself to rest, submerged and surrounded by God’s loving presence. Allow every one of your fears, cares, concerns, and complaints to be exhaled and float away.
When you think about it, praying through silence is perhaps one of the simplest and easiest ways for you to pray. After all, you don’t have to worry about how to pray or what to say. In fact, the whole point of silence is for you to do and say nothing. Your job is just to show up. To make space. To make time. Silent prayer is not something you stumble into. It takes initiative and intentionality. Like Jesus, it requires you setting aside a time and a place away from the distractions and demands of the day. Like Hannah, it requires a commitment from you to keep showing up.
The Sacred Chair
For me, praying through silence happens best in the morning, before the kids are up or shortly after we’ve dropped them off at school. It happens in our old, gray chair (the first piece of “real” furniture Jeanne and I ever bought). It’s usually five minutes. Sometimes it’s ten. It consists of me setting a timer on my watch or phone—and then setting it aside, closing my eyes, breathing deeply, and sitting still. It usually takes the first couple minutes for me to name each of my distractions and preoccupations and release them like little air bubbles. It helps me to be as specific as possible with each of these and release them with an exhale. Then I just . . . sit. It’s a conscious choice to rest in God’s presence. As I find myself getting distracted and pulled back to the surface by this thought or that, I name it and release it. Sometimes I’m reminded of a verse or a truth of God. Other times, it’s just silence. I would love to tell you that it’s every day. It is not. But it’s a practice important enough to me that I have a weekly call with a friend who encourages me to seek it out. I have yet to regret making time for silence, but I can tell when I do not. I imagine those around me can, as well. The more I practice it, the more comfortable I become with it, and the more I desire it. And the closer I feel to God—even when he chooses to be silent.
Looking to just get started with prayer? See this helpful blog: How to Pray, What to Pray and Getting Results.
The Other Side of Silence
There is far more than you can possibly imagine on the other side of silence. Even though it may seem like God’s silence is all you know in this season, it is not all that there is. I do not know why God chooses to be silent in certain seasons, but I do know that it does not last forever. Like all seasons, it gives way to another season. You may not always hear or have the answers that you seek from God, but if you are willing to stay with God through this season, you will have far more than you began with. You will no longer settle for a fair-weather faith. You will have a greater desire for the deeper things of God. You will have a peace that passes understanding. A newfound fluency in the language of silence. And a camaraderie with the community of saints that have gone before you. You will know how to pray in a whole new way—on the other side of silence.
This week, can you set aside three intentional times for silence? Pick a time and place where you will be the least distracted. Start with five minutes. Take the first couple of minutes to exhale every distraction and preoccupation. (This is easier said than done. You will find that there is far more floating around in your soul than you imagine. That’s normal.)
Take the time to name each one specifically. Trust that God will know what to do with them all. Then, use the time left to rest in the reality of God’s presence. That’s it.
Don’t worry about doing anything “right” or “wrong.” Don’t expect a divine revelation. Just keep showing up. Keep practicing. See if God doesn’t grow your heart to be more and more like Jesus, seeking him out in the still, quiet, and even lonely places.
Blog excerpted from Praying Through: Overcoming the Obstacles That Keep Us from God, by Jarrett Stevens.
Jarrett Stevens is a pastor, writer and speaker. He is a lead pastor, with his wife Jeanne, at Soul City Church in Chicago.27