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Silence and Prayer

Silence is hard to find. Quiet, no matter how you define it, is elusive. Concentration seems to be an endangered skill, threatened by the chaotic speed of the moment we inhabit. There are so many notifications to attend to, so many people counting on us. And then there are our own restless minds that hover over the headlines in our news feeds for split seconds, long enough to have gut reactions but not long enough to understand or wisely respond.

We’re learning more and more the damage this pace—and this lack of reflective space—is doing to us. Our attention spans are short but our anxieties and feelings of loneliness are always growing. We’re constantly jumping from one thing to another, and fewer and fewer things in our life feel stable. Being alone, without distractions and without our devices, is for many people a terrifying idea. But at the same time, the distractions and devices are leading us deeper into a state of crisis.

The long Christian practice (with roots deep within Old Testament Israel) of regular prayer is a kind of resistance. In a non-stop world, praying points to another way. It’s not that prayer gives you peace of mind, as if it were a strategy for achieving balance in life. It’s that the reason we respond to the call to pray regularly is that we believe that the God who made us is the God who has met us in Jesus Christ and who remains present to us in the Holy Spirit. In a world of instability and uncertainty, prayer is a witness to the givenness of God. He precedes us. He outlasts us. He is above us, but he is also beside us.

So we find Jesus himself “in the days of his flesh” (Hebrews 5:7) offering up prayer to his Father regularly. He prayed in his most painful moment before the cross (Mark 14:35), but he also practiced regular prayer, retreating to quiet places to commune with his Father (Mark 1:35, 6:46, etc.) and joining together in gatherings of the faithful (Luke 3:21, Luke 4). And on the cross, while he was bearing our sins away in the great act of atonement and victory over sin, death, and the devil, we find him praying still. Whether we attend to that great moment of desolation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) or that final affirmation of confident purpose (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”), Jesus points us to the solid unshakable reality of the One who is his Father and ours.

In the book of Acts we find the early church taking time apart to pray (Acts 2:42, 4:24-30). And the New Testament letters remind us of the importance of praying at all times (1 Thess. 5:17, Phil. 4:6). And the witness of the church for nearly two thousand years has been that we need to keep on returning to “the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).

For Christians, praying is not just a call for help in desperate times, nor is it a strategy for coping with stress (even if it includes both of these on occasion). Prayer is our recognition that God is in charge and we are not, that God is wise and we are not, that God knows what’s best and we do not. He has graciously invited us into conversation with him, to bring our whole life before him. This is why prayer and Scripture reading go hand-in-hand: God desires for us to be silent long enough and often enough to listen to what he has to say to us. Life’s other voices get enough air time already.

In our exercise of prayer, the Psalms are often our best guides. Psalm 46:10 catches much of what prayer is about and what our praying posture ought to be: “Be still and know that I am God;/I will be exalted among the nations,/I will be exalted in the earth.”

As life becomes noisier and silence harder to find, it may feel like praying is a challenge or something that can barely be squeezed in between sessions of scrolling on our phones. But deliberate time apart to present ourselves before our Lord and listen to his Word will be repaid. In that time and space the Holy Spirit is remaking us into our true selves, the true humanity embodied in Jesus and graciously given to us in him.

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