When You’re Praying…Just Shut Up.

So yesterday I was attending what was our latest class for the New Church Start Academy, a program in the East Ohio Conference of the UMC that trains leaders to start new ventures in ministry.  Our guest speaker was Cathy Townley, a writer and coach that assists churches in new ventures, particularly in the area of worship.  She began leading us in an example of different ways to evoke interaction within a worship service, and one part included a quiet minute of writing down our response to this question… “If God were talking to you, how would God finish this sentence? (Erik), if all was silence in your life, then ____________.”

I had to think about it for a few seconds.  The question kind of caught me off guard, and after feeling the time ticking away I wondered if I would be able to write down a response at all.  Then, out of nowhere, the words “then you will know me” came into my consciousness.  And as I meditated on that response, I remembered the familiar words of the Psalmist of #46: “Be still and know that I am God.”  Remembering the scripture came secondary, almost like a validation to the original thought.  And actually, I needed that validation.  Thoughts come into my head all the time, and in the process of processing I often filter the wrong thoughts, day dreaming about nonsense rather than meditating on what God might be saying to me.  All of this is my common struggle to find the most appropriate way of “listening.”  And given my lack of ability to turn my attention the right way, it was as if God didn’t want this particular one to be left to chance.

The exercise continued, and we were now asked to share with our neighbors what we wrote down.  My friend Micah sat next to me, and as I looked over to him it seemed as though he also feared he wouldn’t have anything to show for his minute with God.  So I gave him another few seconds to write something down, and I went ahead and shared first to allow him to process a bit more.  In my long-winded way I talked about how my minute went: feeling unsure, receiving the thought of knowing God, thinking of the scripture, blah blah blah.  Micah looked down on his paper in a strange and serious way, then showed me his paper.  In his font of small, capital letters it read: “KNOW ME.”  What followed was a confession from the both of us about how busy we are, and how time with God has taken a back seat.

Sure, this could be a coincidence.  But what if God is trying to break through to me?  Even now I’m remembering an article I read earlier this week by Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible, on keeping a Sabbath Day.  It inspired me so much that I forwarded it to my wife so that we could carry out some of his practices, with one in particular that I had my eye on.  We would go somewhere peaceful and calm, read scripture to one another or simply share our responses to the question How is it with your soul?  Was God trying to say something earlier this week and I hadn’t yet connected the dots?  This whole experience may not seem like a big deal to you, but I feel like there is something God wants to get through to me.  And I wonder how many times I miss the message.  I mean, I’m not sure I would have thought any further on the whole “knowing God” thing if Micah hadn’t shown me his paper.

It’s pretty clear that in prayer, the greatest discipline I can evoke is shutting up.  In Matthew 6:6 Jesus instructs: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Jesus was targeting the over-pious, self-important Pharisees with these words, not giving universal instructions on prayer….right?  But come to think of it, at least when it comes to my interaction with God, I’m that Pharisee.  I always presume that I need to be the one talking in prayer.  How narcissistic is that?!  This whole time I thought that God wants me to shut up so that I can hear Him speak to me.  Maybe he just wants me to shut up.

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