A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Say What? Series: Hearing God Speak through Silence (1 Kings 19:11-13)
This morning we kick off a new sermon series called "Say What?"
God is still speaking, right now, to ordinary people - like us! But, how can we
hear from God? How could our lives be different if we intentionally seek out
the places God is speaking? What if we had the daily expectation that God has
something to say to us?
Today our message will be “Hearing God Speak Through Silence.”I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a
lot of silence in my life.There’s a lot
of noise in my life, much of it generated by me.Maybe we avoid silence.Maybe we find silence awkward or
uncomfortable.Sometimes it is.But today, let’s see how leaning into silence
is a way to better hear from God.
Back before everyone carried a cell phone, we had this thing called a
“landline” – a telephone that, somewhere in your house, was plugged into the
wall, where it connected with a wire that ran over land and connected you with
the outside world.
Back in the olden days, we also had this thing called “Dial-up Internet
service.I remember was getting kicked
off the Internet when someone else in the house picked up the phone to make a
call.I also remember that when my
parents were expecting an important call, we had to stay off the phone and stay
off the computer, so the line would stay open for that call to come in.
In our faith, do we keep the line open to hear from God?Is God important enough to us, is hearing from God important that we do
what it takes to keep the line open?
In this new year, I want to be the kind of person who expects to hear from God.I
want us to be the kind of church who
expects to hear from God.There is no limit to the places and methods
God uses to speak.We won’t be paying
much attention to the obvious places, but that doesn’t lessen the reality that
yes, God still speaks to us through Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, through
Scripture and prayer.Over the next few
weeks, we’ll be paying attention to some of the less obvious ways that God
speaks to us.Because they’re less
obvious, we’re more likely to miss them.If God is trying to get through to me, I want to make sure all lines are
That’s the aim of the series of messages we’re beginning today – that we
all expect to hear from God, that we
keep all lines open, and are intentional to seek out those places where we can
find God – both the obvious places, and the not-so-obvious places.
Turn with me in your Bibles to the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, Chapter
19, verses 11-13:
11 The Lord
said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing
by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones
before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an
earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the
earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire,
there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he
wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A
voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
So here the prophet Elijah is told that God is about to pass by.God has a history of showing up in the
grandiose and spectacular, indeed, in things like fire, and smoke, and wind,
and earthquakes.We, too, look for God
in awesome displays of power and grandeur.Have your home damaged by an earthquake, fire, or storm, and the
insurance company calls that, “an act of God.”When asked to describe God, we offer superlatives like, “All-powerful,”
“All-knowing, “All-present.”What does
God sound like?Surely something deep
and commanding like James Earl Jones in an echo chamber.
Our faith tradition witnesses to the reality of a God who is bigger,
mightier, more awesome than our minds can fathom, and so we look for God in
signs and wonders that are beyond our comprehension.It’s easy to overlook that God is also found
in stillness and quietness, in whispers and shadows, in movements imperceptible
to the human eye and in silence indistinguishable to the human ear.
God spoke to Elijah, not in the power of the wind, earthquake, or fire, but
in a still small voice. God often spoke to the prophets in the quietness of the
God still speaks in silence and stillness, indeed God speaks to us in the
quietness of our days, yet how often
do we miss it because our lives are too cluttered with other noise and
Several applicants were seeking a position as a ship's Morse Code operator.
They gathered in a waiting room, which soon filled with the sounds of small
talk between strangers.Then another
applicant comes in, sits alone, and waits quietly. Suddenly, she jumps up,
walks into the private office, and after a few minutes, it was announced that
the position had been filled.The other
applicants exclaim, "We were here first! Why did you hire her?" The
captain replies, "Any of you could have gotten the job.You see that intercom?” and points to a
speaker on the counter.“For the last
twenty minutes, I’ve been transmitting a message in Morse Code through that
intercom. If you had been quiet enough and paid attention, you would have heard
the message, 'The first person who hears this message and comes directly into
my office will get the job.’”
It’s often the same between us and God.God is speaking to us all the time, but our ears may not be tuned to
hear the message.We are looking for God
in the grand and mighty displays, the signs and wonders, the earthquake, wind,
and fire, when all along God has been speaking quietly, almost imperceptibly, and
for all the noise around us and within us, we miss it.
We are unfamiliar and unaccustomed to silence.We find silence awkward and
uncomfortable.And yet, God is often
speaking quietly in a still, small voice, so we need to become people who
intentionally seek out silence.
How can we do that?Well, first,
each of us needs to talk less.How much
of the noise around us is self-generated?We can all be more enamored with our own voice and opinion than is
probably warranted, yet it’s very hard to hear God speaking if we never stop
talking.I’ve said it before but I’ll
say it again: we have one mouth and two ears for a reason; if we want to hear
from God, we need to listen more than we speak.
Have you ever had a conversation with a person who talks non-stop and
doesn’t let you say anything?Or, a
person who walks in, dumps their words all over you, and then walks out?Or, a person who asks one question after
another and never pauses long enough to hear the answer?That’s frustrating, isn’t it?
I’ve often wondered if God experiences something of the same frustration in
dealing with us.How often is our prayer
time a one-way conversation where we dial in, talk at God non-stop, and then
dial back out?Barraging God with our
desires, our requests, our needs, our joys, our concerns.I wonder if God says, “Hey, I’ve heard from
you the whole time, which is great, but, can you take just a moment to listen
to what I have to say?”
The first step in listening is to stop talking.Friends, while we are bringing everything on
our heart to God, can we also make space to hear what’s on God’s heart for us?
The second thing we can do, once we stop talking, is to turn off as much
other noise as we can.We live
cluttered, busy, and noisy lives.How
often have I found myself working on something at home, laptop open, looking up
something on my phone, Ashley showing me something on the iPad, TV on in the
background.Let’s assume God is trying
to speak to me – how likely is it that I am going to hear God with all the rest
of that going on?
To find some silence in order to hear that still, small voice in which God
is constantly speaking, sometimes we need to simply turn off and put away some
of the other distractions so we can focus on God.The very definition of the word “focus” means
to give our attention to one thing only, which means we are not giving
attention to other things.And so,
focusing on God requires us to put other things away.
And then, after we’ve stopped talking so we can listen, after we’ve put
other things away so we can focus, we may still need to seek a quiet place or
That’s one of the things I love about our Wednesday night service at 5:30 –
we’ve created that service as a place for some silence in the middle of the
week.Our Wednesday night service is
completely different from what we do on Sunday – Sunday is often loud and
celebratory, chatty, a bit chaotic sometimes.Wednesday nights are simpler and quieter – where liturgy, Communion,
prayer, and silence get center stage.Silence
isn’t popular – we rarely have more than a dozen people present each Wednesday
– but for those few but faithful who do
come, those 30 minutes of prayer and Communion and silence are an intimate
experience of God’s presence that is far too rare in this busy, noisy world of
ours.Only when we are still and silent
before God can we hear the faint, almost imperceptible whisper of his voice – a
whisper that’s been there all along if we had only quieted down to hear it.
That’s a place we create a silent space as a church – silence that we can
more intentionally and alertly draw into God’s presence.Perhaps you also need to create some silence
in your day – intentional silence where you practice hearing for the still,
small voice of God.A place where you
can pause amidst the busy noise to not only pour out your heart to God, but
where you also hear God speak, and show you what’s on God’s heart.
This week at home, I want you to prepare your own quiet place.Some physical space – a room, a corner, a
certain chair – where you will go for quiet and to hear from God.Prepare some quiet space in your schedule –
when during your day will you seek out that quiet place so you can hear from
God?Some people do that early in the
morning, some late at night, some just after lunch or before dinner.Remember, this is focused time, not while
you’re doing some other task.Not while
you’re driving, not while you’re working out, not while you’re cooking.
And then, once you’ve prepared that quiet place – both physically and in
your schedule – begin practicing being in silence.If you’ve never done that before, start small
with five minutes or ten minutes a day.Sometimes it helps to keep a pad of paper nearby so you can jot down
what you’re hearing from God.
God so often moves among us quietly and imperceptibly.Silence doesn’t come to us naturally or
easily, at least it doesn’t to me, I wonder how much of God I’ve missed over
the years because I was making too much noise or paying too much attention to
the noise around me.
Even so, it’s not too late to free up the line, because we are expecting to
hear from someone important.We’re expecting
to hear from God.Listen carefully to
Holy God, who speaks to us in the silences of our lives and invites us to
listen closely for the Spirit's Presence, be with us as we continue to seek
after you. Forgive our noisy ways, reclothe us in a quieter mind.Guide our hearts and open our eyes and ears
so that we may gain new glimpses of you--trusting that there is deep
faithfulness in listening deeply. Teach us the gift of silence, that we may
hear you, O still, small voice of calm and peace.Amen.