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Be still and listen to God

The threat of COVID-19 looms over everyone causing enforced isolation for some and for others, the stress of working and serving in the equivalent of a war zone.

Millions are impacted, fear of sickness is rampant, and our patience is stretched razor-thin.

As people of faith, we are called upon to pray not only for ourselves but for everyone impacted by the crisis. Prayer is the foundation of our faith and demonstrates our trust that God is in control even in times of crisis.

But, many of us struggle to put our good intentions into practice.

What does it really mean to pray? How long should I pray? What should I do while I pray? How do I know if God is listening?

Years ago, Dan Rather had an interview with Mother Teresa that had Dan shaking his head. He asked her, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

“I don’t say anything,” Mother Teresa replied. “I listen.”

Dan tried another question, “Okay, when God speaks to you, what does he say?”

“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” Then she added, “And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”

As the Scottish like to say, “Some things are better ‘felt than telt.’”

Often when we talk about prayer and how to pray, we emphasize what you say or how you say it or whether you stand or kneel or sit but one of the most important disciplines involving prayer is the discipline of listening. After all, God knows everything on your heart. He knows all and sees all so doesn’t it make sense that one of the most important things you can do is not talk so much as simply sit at God’s feet and listen?

Have you ever been in conversation with someone that does all the talking? Before you can respond or say anything, they are yacking again at 125 words a minute with gusts up to 500. It’s frustrating. Sometimes, people are so nervous they can’t stop talking. They talk faster and faster, caught up in the moment.

“Stop!” a counselor once said to the fast talker. Then quietly she added, “Now, take a deep breath. Do it with me. Breathe. Now again. Breathe.” Try it. It’s amazing how that can calm you down.

Psalm 46 says to us, “Stop. Now take a deep breath. Breathe.” This Scripture helps us to slow down, take a breath and begin to understand, who God is and why we should come ready to listen.

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So, we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge.” (Psalm 46:1-3)

COVID-19 certainly seems like the worst of storms. Such extensive damage. Yet the Psalmist says to us, God is there. Then the word “se’ lah,” appears as a note off to the side of the Psalm. It’s a term cueing the musician to pause, take a breath. Any artist or speaker understands the power of “se’ lah.”

Se’ lah – Pause – Take a deep breath. Breathe. Think about that. Reflect on that.

The Psalm continues, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” – 46:10

If you want to truly honor God, “Be still.”

The purpose of silence is not to receive secret messages from God. Yet somehow during silence the Holy Spirit communicates with us. God transforms our heart more truly for Him and our decisions are more likely to accomplish God’s will. Sustained periods of quietness are essential for that to happen.

Se’ lah. Pause. Take a deep breath. Now exhale. Breathe. Be still and know that I am God.

Mary Pasternak, a Better Health specialist, showed how our heart rate is impacted negatively by stress and anxiety and positively by prayer and silence. When a doctor takes your pulse, they may say your heart beats 72 beats per minute. But this is an average. The time between each beat varies, speeding up or slowing down.

Emotions are reflected in heart rhythm patterns. When you feel frustration, or anger, impatience, or anxiety, these rhythms become jagged. We don’t think as clearly or perform at our best. However, when you experience care, love, appreciation, compassion, courage, honor, dignity, the heart rhythms become more coherent, ordered, and smooth. We feel good, think well, and perform well.

We hooked up a volunteer, in order to see those emotions reflected in heart rhythm patterns in real time. The pattern was somewhat chaotic as he sat in front of us. We were then asked to pray for him. What happened next was stunning. As each second passed, his heart rhythm became more and more coherent. The calm, and peace that washed over him as he was being collectively prayed for was real. We could measure and see the change on the screen in real time. Silence before God and prayer works.

As you practice the discipline of silence and solitude, you find yourself growing stronger not weaker, more purposeful not less. You will begin to understand why you exist and what God has in store for you. You should feel less anxiety and more peace.

As the coronavirus crisis deepens, there is no better time to trust that God is not only in control but has a plan of action for you. So, look for a quiet place and listen for God. “Se’ lah.” Pause. Take a deep breath. Now exhale. Breathe. Be still and know that I am God.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.