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Story: Silence & Posting

Sun, Aug 16, 2020
Teacher: Liz Webster
Passage: Psalm 131:1-3
Duration:25 mins 6 secs
Silence - letting go of our right to make noise, the beauty of a quiet soul Posting - filling the earth with praise & thanksgiving

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Good morning. For those who don’t know me, my name is Liz and I’m one of the ministers here at St Hilary’s and it’s a pleasure to be with you digitally today as we continue our series on Patterns of the Presence, where we’re thinking about how we use the spiritual disciplines, age old tools of the faith, to help us build upon our relationship with God in this season. Today we’re looking at the overarching idea of story, and framing that in two practices: silence and posting.

On first glance, the idea of ‘Story’ being associated with silence might make little sense. And for a verbally processing extrovert who enjoys telling stories, there is a lot to wrestle with here. But helpfully this is the journey that God has been taking me on this year, and at times I’ve succeeded and at times I’ve miserably failed, but what I’m learning is the places where God speaks to me and learning to sit there with him in those spaces. And this is an ongoing process, one I’m sure will continue throughout my life.

Many of you will know that at the start of the year I went on a two and a half day silent retreat before my ordination, and some of you know that this terrified me greatly ahead of going. How on earth was I going to cope? But over the course of those few days as I engaged with the silence of interpersonal communication, I had the space to really engage with God. And that led to many realisations for me about who I am, and who the Father has made me to be, and the true value of what can happen when I take the time to let him speak. I also discovered that in the silence, we can find space to engage with our own story, and with God’s story in our lives. And this is where I want us to look today. The ways in which our engaging with God’s story in our lives can reshape the way that we look at the world and that both of these practices are helpful in this.

Over the last few months there has been a constant reminder for me of how God is calling us to leave space for him. A few months ago I was meeting with my spiritual director, and after a long time of trying to process why I was feeling so caught up in a number of things going on and how they were impacting me, this was what came out: ‘Be still.’

And then for the next couple weeks I wrestled each day with how to do this, what does it look like, why am I failing at this so bad? And then I stopped thinking of it as a task, and instead as an invitation. Because this is what spiritual practices are, they are an invitation from God for us to journey deeper into relationship with him. It’s not about the task, it’s about the journey, a conversation and a relationship. And as I’ve let this sink in, I’ve found it has shaped my time with God, allowing me to be more content and grounded in him.

All of this leads me here: as we look at these two practices today, even though I’m going to try and leave you ways to engage with them that look like tasks or homework, they are but an invitation. An invitation from God to see just how much he can shape and transform us when we let him.

I’m going to read Psalm 131 for us, and as we look at these two practices, I want us to think about it in the context of finding content in the Lord and of putting our hope in him.

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,

    my eyes are not haughty; (arrogant)

I do not concern myself with great matters

    or things too wonderful for me.

2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,

    I am like a weaned child with its mother;

    like a weaned child I am content.

3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord

    both now and forevermore.

 

Silence: freedom from constant communication; space for God to speak

Silence. (pause)

When this pandemic hit and we went into lockdown, many of us had great plans for what we were going to do with all the extra time on our hands. Read more books, learn to play an instrument, bake more, create more, spend more time with God, all the things that we want to explore but that ‘normal life’ seems to get in the way of. There was a sense of hope for how this forced slowed down time might help us all to stop and reflect a little. But as time has gone on, how many of us have actually found ourselves slowing down? We live in a society that is task-driven, and productivity-minded, and that means that solitude and silence seem like unproductive uses of our time. What will I achieve if I sit in my room alone for 10 minutes? Or for some of us, you’re spending all your time alone, so you feel you’re already ticking that box. But it’s more than just being silent and alone.

Did you know that the average person in 2020 sees 6 to 10 thousand advertisements every day. In the 70s, it was around 500-1600. Even when we’re alone, we’re still surrounded by messaging and noise. We have constant tools of communication in our hands, our computers and tablets can go with us anywhere, which means that we can work from the couch while we Netflix binge. Google something and within 10 minutes ads for that thing will fill your Facebook feed. Step outside on a walk and the buzz of notifications distract most people from the environment around them. Our minds and lives are filled with things that distract us from God’s presence.

How often do we take a step back from all of the things of the world around us and allow ourselves to just ‘be’ in the presence of God and see the world the way that he does, and the way that he wants us to? It’s hard.

But the Lord says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ And this is what the practice of silence is all about.

As we read through the gospels, we might notice the practice of Jesus that appears time and time again:

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Jesus was intentional about taking time to escape the crowds, get away from the disciples, and spend some time alone with God away from everything else. This is a model that we should seek to follow if we want to build our relationship and connection with the Father. The bible speaks of the ‘still, small voice’ of God or of God appearing in the quiet spaces and places. But how do we embrace this silence?

Solitude, time alone with God allows us time to rediscover the person He has made us to be, not the person the world tells us to be, or maybe the person we tell the world that we are. God can use the silence to reveal things that we don’t always see in the moment, in the noise around us. But we have to also listen, for silence and solitude are not just about taking away speech and noise, we have to also be listening to God. It’s about how we sit in the silence, it’s the posture we take to listen to God.

What silence and solitude look like is going to look different for each of us depending on the stage of life you’re in. For some of you, even taking a shower brings no solace because of small children who want to know where you’ve gone. Some of us are more evening people than morning people, so the idea of getting up early just isn’t going to fly. But maybe you get up 10 minutes earlier than normal, maybe you even just lay in bed and say, ‘Hey Jesus, I’m here and I’m ready to listen.’ I’ve found this to be a great way to start my day.

For me personally, I often use music as a way to help focus my mind because in the silence I’m alone with my thoughts and they generally go everywhere but where I want them to, so I’ve started small, I have small periods of time where the music goes off and I let the sound of birds in the tree and the running creek outside my window fill the space reminding me of God’s good creation around me, and I focus in on him.

So here’s two exercises you might use as a way of embracing the silence:

The first is this: Start small. Find a space where you won’t be distracted or disturbed, and set yourself a timer. You might start with five minutes or ten minutes. This way you don’t need to watch the clock for how long you’ve been going for. If the timer is on your phone, put it on the opposite side of the room. Stop and let yourself quiet. ‘Calm and quiet yourself’ before God. Take in the noises around you, and let them go: cars on the road, birds outside, electronics buzzing, your breathing, and finally your thoughts. If like me, this silence brings up everything in your to-do list, you might use the first minute to get all of those things out of your mind, write them down and let them go. Just let yourself sit and be with God. You might find it helpful to have a scripture to meditate on, to focus your attention back on God as you find your mind drifting. ‘Be still and know that I am God’ or ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’, remind yourself of the character of the God you are coming into the presence of.

The second is this: Take an activity that you would be doing in your day anyway, something that takes you around 10 minutes or more. It might be your walk or run, your commute to work, taking a shower, doing the dishes, ironing. Do it alone, and dedicate that time to God. Turn off any noise-making devices that might normally accompany that activity: the radio, music, the TV. Make the decision to use that time to be silent before him. Spend that time in prayer, but let God be the one who speaks. Prayer is not just one-way communication. God will speak to each of us in different ways, for some in pictures, some in words, some in abstract ideas. Sit, and wait, and see. Take some time to reflect on what God brought to mind for you at the end. You may find it helpful to write it down, in a journal or in a note on your phone, and see how God speaks over time as you take time to be with him.

As Lamentations 3: says,

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

    to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly

    for the salvation of the Lord.

There are plenty other ways to do this, and you’ll need to find what works best for you, but the thing that I’m discovering about letting God shape my inner life, is that it then transforms how I live my outer life. That’s not saying that I don’t get stressed, frustrated or upset about things, because believe me, I am all of those things rolled into one a lot at the moment. But it shifts the way that I’ve been dealing with it. I’m usually a generally optimistic person anyway, so that helps, but what I find is that when I’m living my life with God in private, it better allows me to live my life with him in public.

Posting

When we take the time to engage with God in his way it’s easier for us to engage with our place in the world, and to fill this world with his praise and glory. And that’s what the practice of posting is about. It is about sharing our lives with joy and thanksgiving. This is not about leaving out the bad stuff, we still need to be real about the journey, but it’s about what we put out into the world around us. Are we putting out a positive view of God and his people, or are we actually doing more harm than good? We want to be aware that people who don’t know Jesus and know that we do are often watching us, if our lives are no different to theirs, they won’t see a need for him. ‘The Blessing’ is a great example of Christians seeking to fill the earth with God’s glory. Churches around the world have taken this ancient prayer and shared it using today’s media to millions of people around the world in many different forms and languages.

For me, this idea of posting is about two key things: being witnesses of Christ in our every day, and celebration and gratitude for the life that we have in him,.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Our role as Christians is to share the joy and love of God, to tell the story of Christ to the ends of the earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

When we think about and fill our minds with the things of God, then the things that come out of our mouths will be shaped by them. This is why we want to practice the disciplines of celebration and gratitude, so that we might be able to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and people will see the impact Jesus can make in their life. We want to show people that being a Christian is not about following a set of rules, but rather about a relationship with Christ. And we want to remind ourselves that being a Christian, following Jesus, is about freedom in him and in the Spirit. I love the way that Richard Foster explains the necessity for celebration in our faith:

‘It is an occupational hazard of devout folk to become stuffy bores. That should not be. Of all people we should be the most free, alive, interesting. Celebration adds a note of gaiety, festivity, hilarity to our lives. After all, Jesus rejoiced so fully in life that He was accused of being a wine-bibber and a glutton.’

We of all people have the most to celebrate and find joy in, in this world, so why is it that so often Christians can seem the most lifeless? We need to develop healthy, earthly ways of celebrating and bringing joy to the world around us. We don’t want to be people who take ourselves so seriously that we don’t know how to have a bit of fun. And when we get to the point where we are allowed to gather and celebrate together in person again, I look forward to doing so with our community gathered, sharing in laughter and celebration that God has brought us through to the other side.

But how do we practice this now, while we wait for the big party at the end of the pandemic?

Be an encouragement to someone else: This week pick someone in our church. Pray for them and ask God to lead you to a scripture that will encourage them in their faith. Send it to them in a message or call them and let them know.

Or maybe write a letter to someone who has encouraged you or brought you joy in the past and thank them and encourage them, send it via email or find out their address and post it to them.

Think about the things that you both put out and consume on social media: is it helping you be a witness to the light? What can you do to be different? Rend Collective post on Instagram: the algorithms of social media engage with what people engage with, so if we choose more to engage with the positive things, with whatever is true, noble, lovely - then that’s what will start to show up more. If we engage with the negative, that’s what we’ll keep getting.

And finally, celebrate one another: let’s be a community that celebrates with one another, but also celebrate one another. I know that Tim, Amanda and myself have been so thankful for the encouragements that we have received from our community over this crazy season. Let’s continue to build one another up in love.

Friends, ‘put your hope in the Lord now and forevermore.’ And let us allow that hope to shape us and how we live in our story shaped by God’s story.

Let’s pray.

 

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