What is the discipline of silence?
Either cutting down on over-wordiness or abstaining from speech entirely for a short period of time.
Why practice silence?
Richard Foster writes, “One reason we can hardly bear to remains silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others.” Have you ever noticed that we can only sit in silence when we are with loved ones who make us feel the most comfortable? We often speak because we are trying to justify ourselves or adjust the way someone else views us. It stems from insecurity or a showy arrogance. Thus, practicing silence does the following:
- Increases clarity of God’s voice
- Combats arrogance and a need for control
- Removes self-justification and allows God to be our justifier
- Teaches us to be listeners rather than talkers
What does the Bible say?
The discipline of silence applies to 1) our interactions with God and 2) our interactions with other people. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and Lamentations 3:25–28 tells us, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 also says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Therefore, we should learn to quiet ourselves before the Lord and hear what He has to say.
Silence should play a role in our conversations with others as well. James 3:1-12 outlines the power of the tongue, so we should use that power wisely. When we talk, we make ourselves the focal point of the conversation, but when we listen, we make the other person the focal point. This is the loving way to conduct conversations. Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” so we should learn when speech is appropriate and when it is not. For example, speech used to boost our own status or popularity is never coming from a heart of humility. The Apostle Paul explains that he came to “preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul obviously spoke, be he didn’t over-speak. He didn’t rely on eloquence to convey his message, and he wasn’t haughty in his speech. He relied on the power of the cross.
How do I get started?
1. Find a place of where you can be completely alone ands it in complete silence. In our modern world, finding such a place may be difficult, but try to aim for as close to complete silence as you can. You may have more luck finding such silence early in the morning or later at night.
2. When you pray, quiet yourself before the Lord. Too often, we only talk at God and give no thought to listening. Quiet yourself before the Lord, look for vision, and record what He has to say.
3. Practice listening rather than talking. In your conversations with people, be intentional about listening to what they have to say and only speaking when necessary. Note how this affects your ability to show them love and compassion.
4. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Wait for the Holy Spirit to prompt you before you speak, and when you do speak, do so directly. Don’t say more than what needs to be said. Don’t fret over eloquence.
Avoid extremism or dogmatism when it comes to silence. Speaking isn’t a sin. Jesus spoke all the time, but he also knew when to keep silent (Matthew 26:63). If Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for speech, then remaining silent when we should be speaking is just as problematic as speaking when we should remain silent.
I also wouldn’t recommend practicing total silence around other people. Ignoring people just to avoid talking isn’t very loving! Instead, practice this discipline around others by speaking less and listening more.