I didn’t know what to expect when one of our leader’s announced the opportunity to stay the night at the evangelical nuns’ monastery a few towns over from our base in eastern Norway. Regardless, my spirit leaped at the thought of staying away from kids, school, and the busy missions life for a few days in solitude with the Lord. I had preconceived ideas about nuns, and I expected they wouldn’t speak much English so I planned to stay in my room and pray or fast for most of my time there. The Lord didn’t explain why I was to go, He only whispered,
Go. Come away with me.
Boy, was I in for a treat.
Most of our team went together that Saturday morning. The plan was to stay there until dinner; eating with the Sisters, praying and worshipping with them, and gardening/helping out on the grounds. After about an hour long drive, we pulled into Kanaan Land and immediately I felt the presence of the Lord amidst the soft silence coating the oasis. Interesting. I knew then that I had no clue what the Lord had in store for me here.
All was quiet and still, yet the Lord was so near. His whispers were close enough for me to feel His gentle breath touching my ear. After a long day the team went home and I stayed the night there. I had the most amazing time at Kanaan with these three Sisters of Mary. It was a weekend filled with great conversations, Heavenly worship and prayer times, and timely revelation. The sisters love Jesus, they live in His peace, they love people, and in summary they brought an important part of the body of Christ that I’d never known was necessary. What exactly was the difference between this place and other ‘holy grounds’ I had visited? Churches of all different denominations and cultures, Christian conferences, baptisms, prayer gatherings, worship sessions, you name it and I’ve probably been to whatever ministry event you can think of. I’ve seen radical movements of the Holy Spirit and even experienced touches from God that took me to another place. And yet still in all of those wonderful, real encounters with God in both private times and public, there was an aspect of God’s nature that I had never quite dug deep into. The peaceful stillness that comes from God’s divine silence.
Silence is a foreign concept to my generation. We are always sharing our feelings with others, always speaking or typing out our experiences, and always listening to music, sermons, podcasts, and television. The noise is our normal. Our brains are constantly stimulated by words and our mouths, always pushing out every random thought that enters our mind. We are so adapted to the noise that silence actually feels like “the bad guy”. After living your life in the stimulating noise, brief periods of silence can grab your hand and walk you to the edge of the cliff that feels like madness. Here’s an example once describing my reaction to silence.
Silence falls and immediately your mind will wander, as questions and thoughts surface. Soon the thoughts go from shallow things like to-do lists and turn introspective as the silence prompts the depths of your heart to come out and reveal hidden insecurity, fear, pain, and doubt. Suddenly your ears are ringing from the sound of silence, your mind is racing, your heart is beating, and your throat tightens with anxiety as depression falls in an instant from your revelation of your own brokenness and sin.
You see the lie here is that silence is not normal, that it’s bad or makes us crazy. Where the ways of this world is noise, the kingdom of God is silence. God created life out of silence (Genesis 1). Silence is our resting place with Him. Silence rebuilds the God-given boundaries in self and relationships that sin and ignorance destroys. As for our mind’s initially chaotic result to silence, our brokenness was never meant to be a cage holding us hostage within our minds. God’s intention in creating us was not for us to live in fear of being alone with our thoughts. Christ died to set us free. Free from sin and death. Free from ourselves. It is only in the silence that we can let our minds love God. As the silence provokes the lies within, we are able to recognize and hold captive these thoughts that don’t bow down to the name of Jesus.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.”2 Corinthians 10:3-6 NIV
Silence is a space for God to begin mending our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies in Christ Jesus. This ushers us into knowing how to love God, and in return, love people-all of which is obedience. In Matthew 22, Jesus charges us with the greatest commandment being to love God with all of our heart, our soul and all of our mind, and we can not love Him fully if our minds are held captive by our thoughts, feelings and emotions. I have not yet attained this fulness in Christ, yet I press on alongside you in this journey (Philippians 3).
Finally, I would like to peer into the typically watered down concept of the stillness of God. So often we reference being still before God, but what does it really mean? What does being still look like? Is it having “quiet time” each morning as we read a quick chapter before the kids wake up? Reading our Bibles each day is our bread, our nourishment, and is completely necessary for abundant living. However, that time with God is not the same as being still. Most know the familiar story of Elijah running from Jezebel and ending up in a cave. God asked Elijah why he was there, and by Elijah’s response we can see that his mind was greatly resembling my previous example of a toxic thinking mind: insecurity, doubt, fear, and pain. So God tells him to go out and stand on the mountain because God is about to pass by Elijah (note: this mountain is Horeb the same one that God first descended upon in terrifying wonders to the Israelites after the Red Sea). A mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire all shake the mountain with force before Elijah, but God wasn’t in any of that.
“and after the fire a still small voice.”1 Kings 19:12 NKJV
The word used here for ‘still’ is Hebrew, דְּמָמָה (demamah). Demamah means a whisper that is calm, silence, and still. God’s whisper is silence. To be still before God is to be silent. It is in that silence, which surpassed all the natural wonders Elijah witnessed on that mountain, that God whispered in silence the truth that set Elijah’s mind free. The revelation was birthed in the whisper. And again we see God create life out of silence.
I challenge us as the body of Christ to dare to step back into the quiet, the pure stillness of God. To schedule times in our week of pure silence, to be still and know that God is God. No worship music in the background (as a worship leader I know well the need for worship, but that is not what we’re discussing here), no sermons, podcasts or other feeding tools for Christians-all of which are beneficial parts of our walks with God. In these divinely commissioned appointments of silence, just be in the presence and bask in the soft caress of divine silence. Let the Holy Spirit guide you on the journey in your mind. As your brokenness and hidden sin become revealed, receive forgiveness and let the blood of Jesus wash you clean. Let God become your stronghold (Psalm 27). In that silence you will discover ancient gates within that have yet to be opened so that the King of glory could come in, it is there Jesus wants to dwell with you-all of you. Here in the silence, Jesus is waiting. For you.
My retreat at this monastery was an incredible refuge along the way in my journey with Jesus, and I can’t wait to visit the sisters again! If you would like to learn more about Kanaan land and the Evangelical Sisters of Mary here in Norway, check out their website! (They’re main location is in Germany and you can find that English translation here.)