Our walk with God needs to include some time for pause and reflection. But it’s daunting, writes Steve Chalke, because in stillness we are confronted with the honest truth about ourselves
An apprentice asked his teacher, “How can I find peace in such a busy town? Every time I try to meditate, I am distracted by the noise.” The teacher took the apprentice to a lake. “What do you see when you look at the lake?” he asked. The apprentice looked at the surface of the water. The wind was whipping it up into choppy waves. “It is troubled,” he said. “Then dive to the bottom,” said the teacher. Hesitating for a moment, the apprentice duly took his teacher’s advice and dived into the turbulent waters. After a time he surfaced. His teacher asked him again, “What do you see when you look at the lake?”
“It is deep and still,” he replied. “So then, you must learn from the lake!”
Life is frantic and often chaotic. Our time is squeezed. Our lives are filled with noise and distraction. But some of us will do everything we can to escape the very peace and solitude we claim to crave. Why is it that we tend to shy away from the silence that we need most? Erwin McManus, in his book Soul Cravings, described it this way: “Sometimes the thing we want the most, we fear the most.”
What are we afraid of? Perhaps we are scared of facing up to the honest truths with which stillness confronts us. Or it may be that, for some of us, the attractions of the surface are more appealing than the silence of the depths.
They say that the universe ‘whispers’. Some scientists conjecture that this is the residue of the Big Bang. But even though this whisper has been there for an eternity, it has only recently been heard. Astronomers have patiently listened, blocking out every other sound around them, and tuned their radio telescopes to listen to the hiss, to the whisper of the universe.
But there is another ‘whisper’ that has permeated the fabric of the universe for an eternity: the voice of God.
If we have ears to hear, we can sense God whispering to us in a multitude of ways: through the beauty of the sun as it rises over the warm seas, the ice-cold glory of the mountain range, the moonlit night sky, in the smile of a friend, the cry of a newborn baby, the memory of a treasured experience. But we can also hear his voice in the dark and disturbing experiences of life. As Martin Luther, the father of the sixteenth-century Reformation movement within the Christian church, came to understand, God is “the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed, the desperate, and of those who have been brought down to nothing at all.”
However, God is subtle, and it is possible for many of us to get by in life without recognising or acknowledging him. For God it is enough to paint the multi-coloured rainbow in the blue sky, the green grass on the rich dark soil, the hazy beauty of the rolling hills, the rugged grandeur of the deep canyon. He does not feel the need to manipulate cloud formations in such a way as to spell out Bible verses in giant letters that shout at us with warnings of eternal peril or judgement. In short, God has the kind of relaxed, gentle attitude which means that those who do not search will not find; that those who do not listen will hear...nothing.
Many people think prayer is essentially about making demands of God, about pleading with him to let us have our own way, about trying to get what we want from him. Our prayers become little more than shopping lists. “Give me what I want, now.”
In Jesus’ famous story of the lost son, we learn about a young man who, bored with his lot, decides to leave home. Consumed with his own desires, he demands of his father: “Give me what is mine... now!” Then he walks away, with his pockets full, to live his life his way. It is only after he has squandered his wealth and been abandoned by his new-found ‘friends’ that his attitude changes. In his brokenness, he comes to his senses and decides to turn homeward. On his return, his heartfelt request to his father will be simply this: “Make me your servant.”
God will not force himself on us. He gives us the space we demand, and then, like the father in the parable, he waits patiently, day after day, month after month for our return.
God, we discover, not only allows but encourages our freedom. He grants each one of us the space to explore our own pathway through life. Yet he waits, watches and hopes for our return. And once we begin the journey towards him, just like the father in Jesus’ parable, he rushes out to greet us and throws a party. The God of the Bible is not a God of reprisals or of “I told you so”. He is the God of love, who loves us as we are and who welcomes us home with joyful celebration.
Indeed, understanding that God loves us is the first step on the journey home. But there are many distractions along the way. How often do we become still enough to edit out the ‘white noise’ of everyday life that so easily drowns out the whisper of God? Much of our life is spent rushing from one hectic day to the next without much thought of stopping to listen or to reflect on the trajectory of our journey.
Rushing headlong through life, without pause for reflection, is a sure way to get lost. Taking the time to stop, to reflect and find the right path can make all the difference between a successful journey and a disaster. If you’ve ever been lost in the dark, you’ll know that it’s a good idea to sit still for long enough to listen, strain your eyes, and watch for the clues which will help you locate your position.
An apprentice asked his teacher, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
“Nothing”, said the teacher.
“When you pray, what does God say to you?”
“Nothing”, said the teacher.
“Then why pray at all?” enquired the perplexed apprentice.
“Because we enjoy one another’s company,” replied his teacher.