(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)
You know, I think the Grinch has gotten a bad rap all these years. Sure his actions in Whoville were…how should we say it….slightly less than neighborly. But I can sympathize with his plight. Think about it. What was it that caused the Grinch to pillage the townspeople right down to their last can of Who Hash? In his own words, "One thing I can't stand is the noise, noise, noise, noise!" Grinch was just sitting down to a nice quiet Christmas Eve with his little dog Max when the singing started—and, as he well knew from 53 years of experience, once the singing starts, it's not long before someone breaks out the bamboozlers and the kerflinkers.
Silence is such a rare treasure these days, and noise is its natural enemy. Unfortunately, our society is designed such that we have to intentionally search for opportunities for stillness, while sound is as easy to find as stink on a wet retriever. The worst part is—we like it that way!
We love noise because we have always had it. We are trained for noise as we grow up, so there is a comfort level with it. Noise is our default mode. Television, radio, CDs, iPods, even books, are all designed for a purpose—to constantly give us sensory stimulation. When that stimulation stops, it feels awkward…uncomfortable.
Noise is also entertaining. Let's see, I can sit in silence tonight or I can watch Kiefer Sutherland save the world, while taking out a few more nasty guys in 24. Not a difficult choice.
When it comes down to it, noise is just easier. Noise is distraction. Noise is escape. Noise lets us keep our lives at snorkel level, rather than having to strap on the tanks and scuba down to the depths. The sad result is that noise causes us to miss God and to miss who He has created us to be.
Mother Teresa said, "We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence." Why is that? Because it is in the times of silence that we can hear His voice.
Okay, okay, that last line just set off the Christianese platitude alert. I understand, but I'm not sure how else to phrase it. To truly listen to people, we need to focus on them and be silent. When we are listening for God, we are seeking an inner voice that cannot be heard if we are distracted by external noises trying to draw our attention away. Also, since we are trying to listen to God's voice, we need to shut our own mouths.
So, we have silence. We are waiting to hear His voice. The $24,000 question is, "What are we listening for?" I've spoken to some people who have told me they've heard an internal voice distinct from their own, but those people are few. Typically what I hear from folks is that God uses their own internal thoughts to speak to them.
That's how it works for me. I often experience this when I am preparing a sermon or writing something. I pray, giving myself and my time over to the Lord and asking Him to guide me with His wisdom. Then I shut my yap and listen. Soon ideas will come into my mind that I hadn't thought before. Illustrations and stories will be formed and processed. That's why I can honestly say that I take no credit for anything that I've ever written—it's not mine! It's really a strange mix of intentionality and passiveness. I find the same thing happens when I bring a problem before the Lord, whether it's a parenting issue, personal finance problem or ministry situation. I wait on the Lord, and He guides me to a solution.
When we give God silence, He will speak. But if you're expecting an audible voice from heaven or an appearance by Michael the Archangel, you might be waiting a long time. When He speaks it's usually much more subtle, but, when we listen, it can be no less life changing.
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)
"…the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him." (Habakkuk 2:20)
"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:2-3)
We've seen how God talks to us. Now you have the opportunity to listen for that quiet voice of God's Spirit. However, here are some cautions:
The Lord may use all of the above, but not every feeling, new thought or interruption is necessarily from the Lord. The devil is always in process of jamming the signals from heaven in order to confuse you.
Now, take some time to practice what you've just read. Block out a minimum of five minutes (preferably more), and commit to attentive silence before the Lord. Realize that there's a good chance that Satan's going to try to distract you with external and internal noise, but don't give up! Bring up an issue to God, and let His wisdom guide you and comfort you. And if today is a bust—try it again tomorrow!