Be still, and know that I am God…
How do we be still?
It’s not a super simple answer and I’m not sure I have the exact answer for you. I’m not even sure there is an exact answer. I will, however, say that stillness is a state of being; not an action, but the absence of action. There are a few areas we have to still before we can be completely still.
The first and probably most obvious area of our lives we must become still in is our physical being. We must physically make a quiet space for God to move into. How often do we let our church-go-get-’em attitude get in the way of the reason we go to church in the first place? How often do we run to church services, small groups, bible studies, fundraisers, social events, podcasts, school projects, coffee dates, discipleship times, et cetera to find our fulfillment with church? Yet, I guarantee that the short bursts of fulfillment and accomplishment fade away quickly. We’re like addicts trying to fulfill a sense of self that is upheld by how much we can do for the church, in the church, and outwardly be acknowledged by other church-goers. For some reason, recently we’ve come to believe the highs from the busy-ness are what make us good church-going individuals called “Christians.” We go, and go, and go, and go. We compare, and stress, and strive, and climb. None of it ever seems worth it though. And maybe that’s why there’s stigmas of boredom and lifelessness within the church – the very people that climb into leadership are falling asleep in their seats out of sheer exhaustion from running all the time.
So we need to still our physical lives. We need to make intentional time each day, week, month, and year to sit with God. For just one hour of your day remove yourself from distractions. Find a quiet space: no phone, no people, no television, no books, no music. Nothing except you and the Bible. You may have to talk to your roommate and set up a time each day for you to use the room; you may have to get up before the kids wake up; you may have to walk across campus to the secret spot only you know about even when it’s cold outside. Often I will find a blank, white wall to stare at – literally. Now, you may have to fight for this still space because I can guarantee you the enemy will not like when you start this practice. You’ll find that you might forget where you put your favorite pen and waste time searching everywhere; your phone might start to blow up with messages; suddenly the spot only you knew about might be filled with people. Do not give up. Fight for this quiet space.
For those of you reading this post that say you do not have the time: that’s an okay and understandable thought to have when starting off. I will, however, challenge that thought and ask: is some way you can budget your time better? Think about this – an hour is about 6% of one day (accounting for about 7 hours of sleep). If you can commit to set aside 6% of your day, that still leaves you with 94% of your wakeful hours to work, do school, take care of others, go to church, read, eat, and whatever else you need to do. It’s about finding the small pockets of time each day to sit with God, not huge chunks of it all the time. Put aside all the other obligations and commitments you’ve made – I can guarantee this one is not only more important, but will help you keep all the others in perspective.
A lot of people that have responded to my posts about this topic, however, have similar frustrations at this point. I share in their frustration. Many of us make the physical quiet space for God, but many of us still feel as if this doesn’t work. From my experience, I think there are two mindsets this frustration could stem from.
The first is that we believe God to be like a vending machine. I put my coin in, I deserve what I want out of Him. I put in my time, sat quietly, and now I deserve to know what my future looks like. I read my bible, and now I deserve to know exactly what God is like. This formulaic way of approaching God makes sense when we think of God in our human ideology of reciprocity, but frankly, it’s just not how God works. First off, God cannot in His entirety be comprehended and understood, analyzed and calculated by us. If God is an ocean, we are merely a pipet trying to store up His vastness. Second, in this mindset we find ourselves having a twisted view of God’s mercy. He is merciful and out of His mercy He reveals parts of His character to us, not the other way around. It is not because we are merciful to God with our time and sacrifices that He gives us glimpses of Himself. It is not as if we do more to be more merciful to God He reveals more of Himself to us. No, quite the opposite. God out of His mercy reveals Himself to us and we in humility accept His mercy and draw near to Him. It is not our mercy that evokes the love of God, but rather God’s loving mercy that evokes our love of God. God is not a vending machine and we can give nothing to Him. If we don’t praise Him the rocks and heavens will praise Him – He does not need you, rather He wants you. Because He does not need you this means He is free to want you and because He is free to want you, His Love is the realest, most perfect Love you can experience. For that reason we make time for Him and contemplate how glorious His mercy, grace, and love are.
The second is that while we are physically still, we are not mentally still. One translation of this verse in the New American Standard Bible tells us to “cease striving,” in place of “be still.” This version may be trying to get at the mental stillness that we often overlook. By focusing on the “striving” mentality that most of us have, it is zeroing in on yet another area of our lives that is turbulent and control-seeking. It is essentially saying, do not let your mind wander to the various things. What do you strive for when you sit with God? Discernment for where you are supposed to go? Understanding for your season? Wisdom for how to handle a situation or relationship? We cannot have our mind striving to understand God or God’s will, we must cease striving. We must cease striving to live a perfect life and rather behold He who is perfect. The question on our minds is no longer, “What is the right thing to do?” but rather, “What is the most loving thing to do?” No longer do we let our minds be slave to legalism and ritualism and what-do-I-do thoughts; we free our minds to see the unfathomable and seemingly impossible fullness of a God called Love.
So how do we still our minds? How do we cease striving? For me, this is the practice that takes the most learning and I still am not the best at. First, we let go of our expectations of this quiet, still time with God. We cannot force God to reveal Himself or His plan on our timeline and we must trust that what He chooses to reveal to us or not to reveal to us is intentional for the moment we find ourself in. God is not on our timeline, in fact He is beyond all timelines. Whatever you are concerned with knowing or getting from God, He will reveal when it needs to be revealed and He is not worried in the slightest that it will not be accomplished. Second, we reject distracting thoughts just like we reject physical distractions. We identify the thoughts that flood our mind in that quiet, still place in a nonjudgemental way. Through prayer, look at each thought objectively and let it pass by your mind until it is simply you, God, and the thoughts God puts in front of you. I cannot explain this in full detail, but those that have experienced this moment know what I am saying when I say you will know the presence of God in this moment. It is in this place of stillness, free from distractions that the fruits of the Spirit are felt: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is much different from introspection because rather than going into yourself, you are rejecting the thoughts of yourself and meditating on the character of God. For this reason, reading scripture in this time of sitting still with God is vital. We know that all scripture is God-breathed and we know the Christ is the Word of God, meaning that in the Word we can find God’s character revealed. So bring His Word into this time of stillness. Let the thoughts that echo scripture ring in your ears and let it cancel out the white noise that you hear – trust me, you will hear it. This is the importance of reading the Word of God in your quiet, still times too: without knowing the Word God gave us, how are we to identify the thoughts that are from God and the ones that are not?
Know this too, this stillness takes practice. You will not be perfect at it at first. You probably do not know the fullness of scriptures yet. You probably don’t know what times and places work best yet. You probably won’t get it right every time. That’s okay. I definitely don’t either. It’s important to know there is an infinite amount to learn about the character of God within the Word that He will reveal through reading and stillness. In 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 it says, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed…And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” It is a process to become like God and to know Him. A process that happens inch by inch, one degree to the next over an eternal lifetime. Even more, all we need to do is behold His glory in order to be transformed. That’s it. How do we do that? We be still and cease striving, beholding God for who He is. In this process we take on the mentality Paul writes about in Philippians 1:21 when he says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and again in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 17, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
We must continue to die to self and live in Christ bit by bit. We must continue to accept and understand His grace as we fall short along the way. We must continue to be still and behold the glory of God each day. Then we will begin to know Him and be transformed into His image from one degree of His glory to another.
So let’s be still, reader.