The Surprising Impact of Silence
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” ~ Psalm 62:1-2
I remember well a brief conversation I had with my son one early morning when he was only four years old. Attempting to get some time alone with the Lord while he played on the living room carpet, I had my Bible open, eyes closed, and was silent. After a few moments, my son asked, “Daddy, what are you doing?” I gently opened my eyes with a smirk on my face and answered, “Well buddy, I’m praying.” He then replied, “But you’re not even saying anything.” After some thought about how to explain how silence before the Lord is a form of prayer, I gave some answers about how prayer isn’t just talking to God, but also listening to Him and simply being with Him. Surprisingly, my son seemed to grasp my response by saying, “Oh, okay,” and went back to playing.
But this brief exchange got me thinking. I didn’t recall ever telling or teaching my son that prayer just involved us talking to or with God, but up to that point I realized that was the only kind of prayer he had seen modeled. Yet if we’re honest, how many of us view silent prayer as an oxymoron, or maybe something reserved for monasteries separated from the world and its limitless distractions?
Recovering an Indispensable Practice
In an age that’s bombarded and even addicted to noise, information, entertainment, and hurry, silence can seem impossible to come by. Or for some of us, silence is something we seek to avoid. Author Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, “Silence asks for patience and waiting. And both silence and waiting make us uncomfortable. They seem so unproductive. We can’t tell if we are doing anything in them. So when we come upon silence, we fill it.”
But what if the practice of silence in prayer is the often-neglected yet indispensable practice our souls long for? It’s important to note that we are not talking about silence for silence’s sake. Nor is it to be confused with the recent resurgence of a kind of mindfulness or meditation that seeks to empty one’s mind. Calhoun defines the spiritual discipline of silence as a “regenerative practice of attending and listening to God is quiet, without interruption and noise. Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music.” 
When Scripture references silence, as the author of Psalm 62 did, it conveys a sense of being “still, quiet, and of repose.” In Psalm 62, the repeated refrain of waiting for God in silence in verses 1-2 and 5-6 shows that silence before the Lord is a type of resting or “relief from trouble with an implication of being in a right relationship to God.” It can also imply the “expectation of something that is rightfully, properly due” such as in Psalm 65:1-2, which links silence and praise in the context of prayer. The prophet Habakkuk reveals that silence is the right response to the revelation of God’s holiness (Habakkuk 2:20). And even Jesus Himself “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
Yet in light of the rich scriptural witness to the practice of silence, what are its God-given fruits in our lives and how do we practice it?
Silence Surfaces the True Condition of Our Souls
Every time I seek to limit or eliminate noise in my life in order to get silence before the Lord, the internal noise in my mind and heart begin to elevate. But in silent prayer, I can bring my whole self, including all of my insecurities and distractions, into the shining light of God’s steadfast love. In fact, we can even leverage our distractions which seem to surface when we are silent. We often label thoughts as distractions when we intend to think of something else, namely the presence of God. But God is underneath it all and is constant. When Paul speaks of “taking every thought captive” in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that doesn’t mean we attempt to chase down and capture our rogue thoughts, but rather to release our thoughts into the current of God’s abiding Spirit in order to cleanse and renew our minds.
Silence before God’s presence functions at the subterranean level. It provides space for the Spirit of God to do a deep work that we are often not even aware of in the present moment. But over time, the fruit of practicing silence cultivates our capacity to give God our full attention while also deepening our affection for His character. When this happens, we discover the bedrock of truth that the Lord is our fortress and salvation and He alone provides security at the soul level.
The fruit of practicing silence cultivates our capacity to give God our full attention while also deepening our affection for His character.
Silence Sensitizes Us to God’s Voice
The Lord in His wisdom speaks to us as His beloved children in a variety of ways. I once heard it said that God is infinitely better at speaking than we are at listening. Yet a core fruit of practicing silence is growing in our ability to listen to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that he would always begin and end his days in silence so that God would always have the first and last word. I, too, have found that beginning each day sitting at Jesus’ feet in silence postures me to walk in His ways throughout the day.
Beginning each day sitting at Jesus’ feet in silence will posture you to walk in His ways throughout the day.
Silence Deepens Intimacy and Mobilizes Impact
The level of comfort with silence in the presence of someone is one sure sign of intimacy. When one is secure in their relationship with another person, silence doesn’t surface insecurities about what the other person thinks of them, but rather reassures them that they are accepted, belong, and are loved. The same is true in the way we relate to the Lord. “Silence,” writes Susan Muto, “is not to be shunned as empty space, but to be befriended as fertile ground for intimacy with God.”
I think of Jesus, who often would disengage from ministry in order to pursue intimacy with His Father. In Mark 1:35-38, we see a picture of this practice where Jesus’ time alone in prayer with the Father disentangled Him from the distractions and expectations of others, and mobilized Him with certitude of where the Father was leading Him next. The anonymous author of The Way of the Pilgrim wrote, “I need peace and silence to give free play to this quickening flame of prayer.” Like Jesus, allow times of silence to quicken a posture of unceasing communion with the Father throughout your day, so that you will carry out His purposes as one who is loved and sent into the world as the Father sent the Son.
Like Jesus, allow times of silence to quicken a posture of unceasing communion with the Father throughout your day so that you will carry out His purposes as one who is loved and sent into the world as the Father sent the Son.
Copyright © 2023 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved.
- Calhoun, Alhlberg, Adele. Spiritual Discplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. IVP Books. Downers Grove, IL. 2015. p. 122
- Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 189.
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).