This world is full of noise. You can’t go anywhere without something happening in the background. Music at a coffee shop, a podcast in my ears as I drive home, cars driving past. If I ever take public transportation I need some music to listen to and a book to read. Silence it seems makes us uncomfortable. When I start to teach adult and student leaders about leading others in a Sunday school class or small group discussion, one of the first things that we need to understand is that silence is not only okay, it’s needed. When we ask a question, awkward silences can be times when the Holy Spirit can speak the most to us. I feel it all the time when I teach. Students don’t like to be in silence. They squirm and wonder what to say and want to come up with something quickly. I feel that in my own life. Fridays are now a day off for me while I work in a church. I get to sleep in while my wife goes off to her 8-5 type job. I absolutely love to sleep in and I’ve discovered my routine of waking up, taking my dogs out, fiddling around at the house with stuff most of the time is still filled with noise. I want to have a podcast on in the background and I give myself the excuse that I’m learning something. This could be about the sports of the day listening to Dan Patrick, or maybe it’s about youth culture as I love to listen to Youth Culture Matters a podcast by The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. I might even be supporting some amazingly talented friends by listening to The Threshing Floor Podcast. On a side note, every one of those podcasts are awesome. In an ever changing world with technology flying around at a million miles an hour it’s important to keep up on what my students are dealing with. Some of these things are deep and heavy, others are wondering about what is the best snapchat filter and not so deep. But they are all important to teenagers.
The Threshing Floor has become a great place for encouragement for me being back on staff at a local church. One of my favorite things about podcasts like The Threshing Floor and the Dan Patrick Show is that I feel like I am ease dropping on a conversation. Joshua Toepper, Drew Causey and Chad Brooks, have deep and meaningful conversations with each other and others inviting their listeners to participate. It’s encouraging to hear struggles and joys as they wrestle with how to theologically think about the practicality of ministry. This is huge for me as youth ministry is in the middle of a theological turn. When ministry to youth needs to be more than just something to do and a way to teach others about Jesus. There is a need for others to participate in the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. Teenagers are looking for more than just pizza and a message but desire for questions that shake their soul to be explored. Of course I also listen to random fun podcasts like Dan Patrick, Bill Simmons, This American Life, The RobCast, and others. Maybe that will be another blog post when I just write about my favorite podcasts because there are plenty, don’t get me started on the coffee ones.
Even when I am alone in my house I still want noise in the background, as I shave, cook breakfast, make my coffee, whatever it might be. Silence is a killer. It’s something I avoid whenever I can. These past few weeks I’ve had conversations with a few different people who are asking some awesome questions like how can I hear God. It’s an important question because I think the Holy Spirit communicates in a lot of different ways. I believe that if we are all made in the image of God and many of us have been given the Holy Spirit that lives within us. With that belief then we can experience the voice of God when others talk with us. It can very well be in the noise that God speaks to us, it’s always important to never put God in a box on how or when he speaks to us. But then I read stories like in the book of 1 Kings and the prophet Elijah. He was at one point afraid for his life. He ran away to be alone and wanted to hear from God what to do. He was told to go stand on a mountain because the presence of the Lord was going to pass by and this is what happened:
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
The Lord was not in the loud noises but in the sheer silence Elijah knew that the presence of the Lord was upon him. Our world is filled with noise. There are studies that tell us that ambient noise like that of a coffee shop can stimulate creativity. Which is probably why my last few Thursdays have been spent at one of my favorite local spots here in Atlanta. There is a website that you can go to in order to stream noise that was recorded at a coffee shop in order to help stimulate your creativity. This is to make sure that all you people who might be working at home can enjoy the creative power of a coffee shop without needing to pay for an espresso or cortado. There is always something to hear, so it makes me wonder, have I missed the very presence of God because I haven’t sought Him in the sheer silence?
There are several examples of Jesus being bombarded by people. He would heal the sick, teach and then go off to the desolate places to pray. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus sends out His disciples giving them authority over demons while they also anointed many of the sick among them. They proclaimed that people should repent and then when they returned to Jesus, so excited to tell Him all they had done and taught Jesus immediately tells them to rest, to go to a desolate place where no one will find them and to rest. Everyday there is noise, there are places to go and things to do. There are people that are searching to hear the voice of God. Often my loneliest times are when I’m surrounded by people. I can be out in the world, at a restaurant, even in a church and be surrounded by like minded people. Yet be completely alone. I think we can be in the middle of an earthquake of noise surrounded by people. Yet wonder why we’re not hearing from God. Sometimes there are days like Pentecost when the spirit is like a mighty rushing wind and empowers people to make a lot of noise and we can hear and feel the Spirit of the Lord. Other times it can take sheer silence to discover what His voice sounds like.
I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find more times of silence in my life. Hopefully I start to seek them out so God doesn’t have to force them upon me. In the midst of meetings, in the midst of coffee shop noise, in learning from podcasts or getting pumped up by music. We return to the silence not to feel uncomfortable or awkward but to be at home in the presence of God.