Pentecostal meetings are not renowned for silence. They are often full of loud praise, fervent singing, enthusiastic comments, passionate prayers and the gifts of the Spirit (words of prophecy or tongues and interpretations are all spiritual gifts which use words!) There’s nothing wrong with that and indeed we are urged to bring our songs of praise to God (“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.” Ps 33:1-3)

But there are also times when God urges us to be still before Him. The vow of silence has long been part of some monastic orders, such as the Benedictines and Cistercians. At last night’s prayer meeting we were urged to wait silently before God and listen for His voice. We read Psalm 131, with its unhurried tone (“I have calmed and quieted myself; I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Ps 131:2)) and Isaiah 30:15 (“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”) And we waited in silence before God, quietening our hearts, listening for that ‘still, small voice’. In a world where noise is everywhere, from background ‘muzak’ in supermarkets to tinny tunes when you’re holding on a telephone line, it is good to wait quietly before the Lord (see Ps 27:14)

Many of us live frenzied, hurried lives. Our lives could be said to be in a state of constant hyperventilation. There is something very practical about intentionally slowing down and listening to God. God, unlike us, is never in a hurry. When we listen carefully, we hear Him speaking words of reassurance, challenge, commission and love. Our perspective is changed. Though outwardly we may be wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed (2 Cor 4:16). We are like Samuel: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ (1 Sam 3:9)

The prophet’s primary task, before he could speak out on behalf of God, was to hear what God was saying. John, in his marvellous Revelation, is repeatedly told ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Rev 2:7, 11, 17) We need to listen more than we speak, for as James reminds us, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ (James 1:19) The challenge for us is perhaps to believe that in the silence, God really does speak.

In stillness and simplicity
In the silence of the heart I see
The mystery of eternity
Who lives inside of me

In stillness and simplicity
I hear the Spirit’s silent plea
That You, O Lord, are close to me
In stillness and simplicity.

You’re the Word who must be heard
By those who listen quietly.
Is the reason we’re not still
To hear You speak
Because we don’t believe You will?

In stillness and simplicity
I lose myself in finding Thee
O Lord, You mean so much to me
In stillness and simplicity

So seek the One who dwells in you
The kingdom that’s within is true
That innermost reality
In stillness and simplicity (Michael Card, ‘In Stillness and Simplicity’)

Michael Card, ‘In Stillness and Simplicity’