My new book, Speak Life, releases this September. Here is a brief excerpt about distractions that hinder our ability to hear God.
At last check, you and I are receiving upwards of five thousand marketing messages a day, which promote everything from online gambling to new cars to the mammoth fast-food cheeseburger that somehow relates to the scantily clad blonde bombshell being used to promote it. “It’s a non-stop blitz of advertising messages,” says Jay Walker-Smith, who runs a London-based marketing firm. Marketers now plaster corporate logos and taglines on everything from escalator handrails to jetliner fuselages to the sides of buildings to big-city sidewalks. There was even talk at one point of using Major League Baseball bases to promote upcoming movies! According to Walker-Smith, “It’s all an assault on the senses.”
He’s absolutely right.
I was in New York City a few weeks ago to help celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of the church some friends planted just months after 9/11. I was in town to encourage them and their congregation, but when I discovered I had a four-hour block of unassigned time on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t resist the chance to take in a few Manhattan sights. I eventually wound up in Central Park, thinking I’d find a quiet corner where I could sit, think, and maybe pray for a few minutes. At least I could simply reflect on the season of life I’m in.
I wandered around the massive tangle of plots and trails for probably thirty minutes before I realized there is no such thing as a “quiet corner” in Central Park. That night when I reconvened with my friends, I told them about my afternoon and then asked, “Where do you guys find silence in this town? The streets are loud, the inside of my hotel room is loud, and even Central Park, for all its beauty, is, I’m convinced, one of the loudest places on Earth.”
They chuckled and said, “Brady, we’ve learned to thrive in the chaos. You would too if you lived here.”
It’s the mantra of an entire society now, this idea that we can actually thrive amid chaos, even as we’re not really thriving at all. Most of us are a restless people, incapable of stilling ourselves—mind, body, or soul. I asked my congregation to sit in perfect silence one Sunday to prove to them how uncomfortable we’ve become when the noise dies down, the lights quit blinding us, and we’re left with the company of our own thoughts. It was only fifteen seconds, but I could sense the jitters by the end.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We’re busier than we’re meant to be. We’re letting our senses get assaulted by what we see and what we hear, the net effect of which is our inability to detect the voice of God. We don’t see him in the world around us. We don’t hear him over the unceasing roar of our lives. Then we come away thinking that he’s the problem, that he’s abandoned us to ourselves. The hard pill to swallow is that our addiction to chaos is what’s keeping us from God—or one of the top things, anyway. If we’re serious about encountering him, we’ll get serious about quieting our souls.
If you grew up in certain circles, you’re familiar with the phrase quiet time. In the Pentecostal church of my youth, everybody was big on having a daily quiet time, which was the twenty or thirty minutes you were to spend reading your Bible, praying, and getting yourself centered for the day ahead. It may sound antiquated, but now more than ever I think we’d benefit from setting aside a daily quiet time, if for no other reason than to actually practice being quiet.
My advice to you if you’re struggling and straining to hear the voice of God: be quiet. Schedule a quiet time and just sit there in a chair, with nothing in your hands and no earbuds in your ears. Just get quiet before God and see what unfolds. Start small. Start microscopically if you have to. Just start.