Have you ever spent 30 minutes in silence alone with God? I can hear what you’re thinking – “I could never spend 30 minutes in silence!” You’re right. If your focus is to spend 30 minutes in silence, the noise in your own head will make it almost impossible. However, if your focus is to be with God out of your deep love for him (not out of duty) the time will fly by.
Silence is one of the best ways to overcome the chaos of modern life. We live in a noisy, busy world where true rest is rare. Spending time in silence with God is my favorite way to reduce stress, focus my day, and become more productive – but that’s not why I do it.
The key to spending time with God is to focus on the quality of your relationship with him. Have you ever spent time with a loved one while your mind was distracted by other things? That’s not quality time, because you aren’t focusing on the other person. So the first step is to focus.
- Find a place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Start by setting a timer so you won’t be tempted to look at the clock.
- Silence your phone (I like to use airplane mode).
- Do a Mind Dump by writing out everything that is on your mind and setting it aside for later.
- Use a mindfulness practice to help you focus (see below).
- Use a scripture passage to focus your mind on God and help you be aware of his presence.
I like to use the acronym BEETS to help me focus as I am beginning to be with God. I first read about this practice in Charles Stone’s book People-Pleasing Pastors (appendix 1). Remember to do all these things in God’s presence. Here’s how it works.
Start by focusing on your body. Take several deep breaths. Breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold for four. Repeat for a total of four cycles. Continue breathing deeply and focus on your body. Starting at your toes and working your way up through every muscle group, notice where you have tension and try to relax. Be sure to sit in a comfortable posture – feet solidly on the floor, back straight, chin up, and arms resting at your sides or hands in your lap.
Now listen deeply to your environment. Notice the small, barely audible sounds around you. Try to focus on one sound at a time. Notice a sound then move on to the next sound.
Now turn your listening inward. Listen to your emotions and attitudes. Don’t judge them. For example, don’t tell yourself “I shouldn’t be angry.” Just notice, “Hmm, I’m angry.” Name the emotion, don’t try to figure it out. Notice the feelings that you can’t express in words. Allow them to be a sigh or groan before God. Trust the Holy Spirit to express them for you.
Notice your thoughts. Again, don’t judge them. I find it helpful to think of them as floating down a stream. I watch each one float by until they are all out.
Now notice the deepest longings of your heart. What is the Holy Spirit speaking into your soul? How are you longing for God? Can you express this in a single short prayer?
Focus on God’s Presence
How would you express your soul’s image of God right now? For example, I’m loving the image of quiet rest of a weaned child with it’s mother from Psalm 131. Don’t idolize your image but use it to come before God. Allow the biblical tensions of relationship with God to guide you. In what ways is God close to you right now? In what ways is he holy – different or separate from you? How do you know God according to scripture? How does scripture say you cannot know God? Hold these tensions within your image of God. It doesn’t have to be a perfect image. It just needs to be a true expression of your relationship with him.
I’m Too Easily Distracted!
As you sit in silence, you will face distractions. There are several things you can do to help regain focus. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Breath Prayer
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton offers two steps to forming a breath prayer that can help you maintain focus.
- Answer these two questions in prayer: “God, what I most want from you right now is . . .” And “My most meaningful name for God is . . .”
- “Now combine your name for God with the expression of your heart’s desire. Place it where it is easiest to say in the rhythm of your breathing” (p. 76). Simplify your prayer until it is both clear and short enough to say in one breath (six to eight syllables).
Whenever you feel distracted or your thoughts begin to wander, say your breath prayer as a gentle guide back into awareness of God’s presence.
I like to use the position of my hands to help me focus on God. When I am being receptive and open to God’s presence my hands are resting on my lap with my palms up, as if I am receiving a gift from God. The gift is God himself. When I get distracted or overcome with a dark emotion, I turn my palms down. While my palms are down, I silently pray, telling God what is happening in my heart and mind. Then I use my breath prayer to refocus. When my soul turns back to a receptive posture, I turn my palms back up.
3. Be Gentle with Yourself
You will have times when silence is easy and times when it feels impossible. Most often you will be somewhere in between. Don’t fight it. If you just can’t focus, tell God about it and try again at a later time.
Often, when we are silent for an extended time our deepest emotions surface. You know, those things of which you told yourself you’d deal with later but never did. They may come rushing back in an overwhelming flood. Grief, anger, sadness, and other dark emotions are common during silence. Let them come. Feel them fully in the safety of God’s presence.
This is healing for your soul. Don’t judge yourself. Instead, I try to imagine I am comforting a little child who is feeling this way. Then I apply those comforting words to myself, even if it just means being present while the child cries. Finally, I let God comfort me in this way.
4. Smaller Times of Silence
Don’t start with 30 minutes all at once. Start with three minutes and work your way up. You can also use smaller times of silence throughout the day as reinforcement. If you can only manage 30 minutes once or twice each week. That’s fine. Take three to five moments each day for a few minutes of silence and plan ahead for the larger times.
I like to end my times of silence with either reciting the Lord’s Prayer from the depths of my heart or entering into deeper study of God’s Word. Please remember, through this whole process you are following the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Submit to God and seek him with your whole heart.
What spiritual practices help you spend time alone with God?
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© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.