By Riley Brysch
Silence. It is something that people fear for different reasons. Some people fear silence because they are not comfortable being left alone with their thoughts and feelings. Others fear silence because it can end the feedback loop that they are accustomed to relying on for assurance and affirmation. Others simply fear silence because they are trained in a busy culture to always keep moving and never stay still. No matter the reason, I would argue that silence is an essential spiritual discipline to not only train us to listen to the voice of God, but also to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our ministry. God has called us to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV). It is in these moments of stillness and silence that we can hear the gentle whisper of the voice of God like Elijah did in 1 Kings 19:11-13.
Silence is not only how we listen to God, but sometimes it is even how we speak to God. Contrary to popular belief, prayer does not need to end when we run out of things to say. Silence is an opportunity that we can take in prayer to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for us as we commune with God: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, NIV).
Silence is also an essential element in ministry. There will be the temptation for you in ministry to feel like you have to be a “Magic 8 Ball” pastor where congregants can shake you for answers the moment that they have a question on their mind. As Christians, we are called to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). We are called to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ and in the gospel, not to be omniscient. Instead, God has called us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19, NIV). The Southern version of this I heard growing up was, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
As I have continued to serve more in ministry, I have realized that the impacts that I have made on people have been less about what I said, but more about when I listened and sat in silence with people. The best thing that Job’s friends did when they came to comfort him in his suffering was sit in silence with him. It was when they opened their mouths that their ministry and care to Job became less effective. Learn to embrace awkward moments of silence as you engage in pastoral conversations with others! Yes, they can be uncomfortable; however, God gave you the Comforter because he has called to get uncomfortable. If you learn to embrace those moments of silence, this silence will often serve as a catalyst for congregants to continue sharing their problems with you. By doing this, it not only allows you to understand the needs of those you are ministering to better, but it also allows you to form responses that are better informed than if you would have filled that silence with giving advice.
In the end, silence is about listening. Silence is how we listen to God, our own thoughts and feelings and to others. Silence is essential to our relationship with God, with ourselves and with those we are ministering to. Silence is a means to allow God to speak to us and through us by the Holy Spirit. Embrace the uncomfortable silences in life and allow the Comforter to work in those sacred silent moments.
Riley Brysch serves as a Resident Chaplain at Baylor University. He is currently pursuing his M. Div. from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
What are some ways to hear from God in moments of silence and stillness, and why is it important?
How can we create space for silence in our busy lives and cultivate an awareness of God’s presence?
What are some benefits of cultivating silence in our spiritual lives and how can we make it a regular practice?