Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.
The following is from my class in Spiritual Formation in pursuit of my M.A. in Theological Studies.
Select one of the following tools of worship and practice it: Silence, Walk, Pray, or Write. Post a reflection of what you got out of this experience. Stay focused on the uniqueness, spiritual value, and biblical fidelity of the experience rather than on the deep, remedial, or personal work God may have done through the experience.
Silence. A hard proposition for someone with a type-A racing brain that wants to know everything right now. I am not, however, driven by the notion that the more recent the information I learn, the better informed I am. So, when I choose to “study” and then sit and contemplate, I am not “memorizing” data; rather, I am experiencing a meeting of the mind and the heart. I was told many times in the past that I needed to get God out of my head and into my heart. One of my prior pastors said, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” I did not take kindly to that suggestion at all.
Amazingly, I understand these comments today. I was reading for the “mind” of it and not the “heart” of it. I was accumulating information. It took about a year of struggling with this issue to see the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. There is no devotional quality to cramming my brain full of personal, genealogical, historical, and cultural information about Jesus of Nazareth. Christ is central to Christianity. He is, as noted brilliantly by C.S. Lewis, “mere Christianity.” As you can see by my comments, I do a lot of “thinking.” Analyzing and digesting. But this is not divine reading. Moreover, it does not lead to “silence.”
I spent three hours last night worshiping God. It started with watching YouTube videos of Hillsong United, Kari Jobe, Bryan and Katie Torwalt. I began singing along. I was awash with emotions: peace was chief among them, followed by gratitude, joy, contentment, and wonder. I ended up on my living room floor, face down, praying the words of the songs: I am Not Alone. Holy Spirit. Let the Heavens Open. Initially, the silence was in me. My mind simply gave the joystick over to my heart and said nothing. I just sang along and worshiped.
I did not know holiness, or sacrifice, or mercy. These godly attributes were swimming in and through me. God was so close. Jesus was so, personal. I listened to Kari and the band worship Christ for over ten minutes in a live performance, then hit MUTE. I poured out my heart to God. I thanked the Holy Spirit for helping me think about what I think about; to pay attention to my comments, especially about others. I asked Him to continue granting me discernment to be aware of the fleshly desires and evil spirits attempting to attach themselves to me: the spirit of pharmacia; the spirit of lust and pornography; the spirit of pride; the spirit of anger and resentment. My heart was praying. My joy and contentment were unbelievable. My sense of God’s complete forgiveness was crystal, and my usual “default” mode of 90-miles-an-hour changed. I thanked God for the call on my life; for delivering me from 40 years of bondage to addiction to alcohol, to drugs, to pornography—to fleshy living. I told Him, “I am yours.” And vowed to serve Him, acknowledge Him, and glorify Him by how I live, what I say, how I love, how I forgive.
Then, I just lay there, on the floor of my living room, face down, in silence. I focused on my breathing, slowing it, experiencing it. I imagined Jesus breathing, living, eating, sleeping. I imagined Him teaching, healing, gathering disciples. I imagined Him suffering, bleeding, stumbling. I saw Him dutifully walking to Calvary. Afraid, yet not afraid. I saw Him being nailed down, and then hoisted high. I could not move. I dared not speak.
There was nothing to say. No “thank you” would do. No words were necessary. But this is what is needed. This silence. This quintessential contemplation of God’s unconditional love. Edwards writes, “The kind of religion that God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless ‘wouldings’—those weak inclinations that lack convictions—that raise us but a little above indifference ” (1). For me, I cannot be fervent in of heart, praying without ceasing, without looking heavenward for the “vertical orientation” we lost when Adam and Even decided to eat the forbidden fruit and look inward for purpose, origin, the meaning of good and evil. Holy fear and affection were sacrificed that day in the name of pride and self-centeredness. Human will was exercised in a decisive and lasting manner. No longer could man walk with God in the cool of the day, in complete fellowship, listening with the heart and not the ear. Silence was lost. Peace was lost. Life became complicated. Unfair. Troublesome. Hard. Our friends started dying of heroin overdoses. Our parents got sick. Our bodies began to break down from toil.
We stopped stopping. We stopped being silent. We stopped listening.
(1) Johnathan Edwards, “Engagement of the Heart,” in Devotional Classics (New York: HarperOne, 1990, 2005), 19.