Jesus had a purpose, a mission, and work to undertake. He was regularly serving others. It was worthwhile work—the sort of work that would cause many to give everything and burn themselves out.
Jesus’s ability to undertake his mission had a source: his relationship to the Father. Withdrawing to be with the Father was critical to everything he did. For this reason, I love how in the NIV translation the word ‘but’ appears at the beginning of verse 16 in the short passage above.
The work was ever present, but Jesus withdrew to spend time with the Father. His worth and identity came not from what he did but from his proximity and union with the Father.
The heart of the Christian life is not defined by what we do. It is defined by our relationship and union with God. What we do and how we live then flow from this. With this in mind, there is one practice in my life that continually brings me back to this heart of things, my union with God. It’s this practice that keeps me from drawing my sense of worth from one of the many of roles I have, some of which come with a lot of status.
I was introduced to silence as a practice during some time in Israel/Palestine in 2012. My faith, which had been built on how effective I could be in the world, was confronted by my inability to change anything in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I remember sitting in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem feeling useless and wordless—I simply sat there with nothing except myself, God, and the space. It was freeing. I realised God and I were OK even though there was nothing I could achieve. Since then, I have woven silence into my regular rhythms.
Taking time in silence intentionally to sit with God is an act of submission and trust—an act of prayer. It continually brings me back to the place where my faith and union with God isn’t about my achievements. For me, it usually happens early in the morning before the world wakes up. In that silence, it does not matter if I am a great church minister, radio announcer, social media fiend, husband, father, Bible reader, or any of the roles I have. In silence, I’m reminded that God and I are together, and we’re good, no matter how well I am performing. It is a space where I open myself to the transforming nature of the Spirit, even if it often feels like nothing is happening.
That time with God, no matter how it feels, is the space from which all else then flows. My ability to engage in what I have been created for comes from the one who gives life. My life apart from him would be destined for burnout.
If intentional silence is something you wish to embrace, find a time and place that works for you. Begin by acknowledging the presence of God with a short prayer, then just sit. You can listen to the sounds around you, focus on your breathing, or repeat a simple prayer. It can be as simple as gazing at a tree; remember that the intention is not to achieve anything but to simply be with God, whatever the outcome.
It is my sincere belief that the Spirit of God is constantly at work. I want to participate in what God is up to, but, to do that, I need to be with the Spirit. Silence is a way to intentionally withdraw to lonely places to be with the one who is the source of all that is good.