But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him!
Be silent before the Lord God!
Yes, Scripture does command us to come before God with praise and thanksgiving, but Scripture also commands us to be silent before Him. There are times we find that words are not enough. They are always not big enough to express ourselves to God. There are times we want to be silent before Him. There are “divine spiritualities that cannot be expressed.” (A. W. Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason) There is a place for wordless prayer. Even the man so eloquent in words, C. S. Lewis, thought, “Prayer without words is best.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer) John Calvin said, “The best prayers are sometimes unspoken.” (Institutes III, XX)
English Preacher George Whitefield was a clergyman whose powerful preaching in Colonial America helped ignite the Great Awakening. He often prayed without words, posting in his journal:
God was pleased to pour into my soul a great spirit of supplication, and a sense of His free, distinguishing mercies so filled me with love, humility, and joy and holy confusion that I could at last only pour out my heart before Him in awful silence. I was so full that I could not speak well. (Arnold Dallimore, The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century Revival)
From the time of that Great Awakening there comes the testimony of David Brainerd, early missionary to Native Americans, who cherished wordless prayer: “I knew not what to say to my God, but only lean on His bosom, as it were.” (The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, edited by Jonathan Edwards)
Because prayer is first an attitude of heart, we can express ourselves to God without words. God does not need words to read our hearts. Like Saint Augustine you can simply present yourself to Him: “Here is my heart O God; here it is with all its secrets.” (Confessions) You can move beyond the distraction of trying to find the right words. You do not always have to know what to say to God. He knows!
I remember the first time that I realized I didn’t have anything more to say to God, but yet longed to still be with Him. So I asked if I could stay and rest silently in His presence. I have come to think that Richard Foster was right: “How desperately we in the modern world need this wordless baptism! Progress in intimacy with God means progress towards silence.” (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home)
- Take a few moments to meditate on David’s reverie in Psalm 139:1-2, 4:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away…
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
- God knows you completely and loves you completely; He longs to be with you. Like Augustine you can say: “Here is my heart O God; here it is with all its secrets.” Now allow yourself just to be with God.
- At the end of your silent, wordless time with God, pray the Lord’s Prayer.
“We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing — closer than consciousness itself.”
Thomas Keating, Centering Prayer