"My heart is not proud, O Yahweh. My eyes aren't prideful. I don't concern myself with lofty matters or try to figure out things that are too complicated for me. Instead, I have stilled and quieted my soul. Like a young and trusting child is my soul within me. Yes, my soul is like a young and trusting child." (Psalm 131:1-2, TW paraphrase).
These are troubled/troubling times that we are living in, aren't they? It's times like these that make us more aware of the importance of living with inner stillness. It's always important, of course, to live with a "quiet soul," but we become more motivated to find peace and stillness when noisy storms are all around us.
One of the most important things Papa God has taught me over the past several years is how to "still my soul." My ability to maintain inner stillness has had some major interruptions along the way, as many of you know, but lately, more than ever, Papa has been restoring to me the grace to live in inner stillness (most of the time, at least).
So how does someone still her/his soul and reach that place of inner stillness? The psalms quoted above not only show us the importance of it but also a substantial part of the process. So how do you do it? I can't take time today to write out everything I have learned, but here are a few thoughts that may help you.
- Believe that it's possible and extremely valuable to learn to "still one's soul." My journey into the quiet place was launched because of a desperate longing for God's life, love and power to flow through me to others. He surprised me, though, by inviting me first into intimacy with Him instead of bestowing on me the power I was seeking. It was my subsequent hunger for intimacy with Him that moved me to pursue inner stillness because I couldn't hear His voice due to all the internal noise in me! But I did eventually reach a place of consistent inner stillness in the midst of a very busy and highly driven life. The fact that I did so tells me that this is possible for anyone. It is possible for any and every follower of Jesus to learn how to still his/her soul. And the value, of course, is obvious to anyone who longs to hear God's voice and know Him intimately.
- Remember that it's a journey, not a project. Learning to quiet your inner world doesn't happen overnight. It requires time in at least two ways. First, it takes a long period of time to learn the discipline itself. You don't learn to still your soul in seven easy, 5-minute lessons. Second, it takes lots of time, each time, (especially at first) to get our minds to stop spinning and whirling enough to get quiet. It used to take me far more than an hour to still my soul (quiet my mind).
- As Psalm 131 clearly indicates, it begins with humility and the perspective that humility brings. The psalmist obviously has no problem acknowledging his smallness, his weakness, his limitations. His approach to God begins with that humble perspective. How does this help us reach inner quietness? It helps, first, by reminding us to surrender things that were never meant to be in our domain or under our control. It helps as well by affirming to God and ourselves that we are dependent on Him. And it helps by reminding us let go of our need to "understand" things that are beyond us or at least currently hidden from us. I think you get my drift here: humility opens the door into the quiet place of the soul.
- We rest and surrender our way into stillness. This is seen clearly in many of the various translations of Psalm 62 (especially meaning-for-meaning translations). The HCSB, for example, translates Psalm 62:5 "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him." And the NIV is similar: "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him." Both of these translations show us that quieting our souls is more about relaxing our way into stillness rather than fighting our way into it. This is obvious once we "say it out loud," of course, but I am amazed at how many people try to "make themselves be still." Yes, the psalmist says "I have stilled my soul," but he did so by relaxing into an awareness of God as His Abba and by picturing himself as a little child. Stilling one's soul is about making a decision, not making an effort. For me, quieting my soul always involves a decision to relax and surrender and re-surrender various things into God's hands. This surrender is often accompanied with truths from Scripture that speak to the anxiety that is creating or adding to the inner noise, so Scripture also helps us find our way into stillness. (see the next point for more on this).
- Yes, Scripture helps us find our way into stillness. Another way that Scripture helps me still my soul is that it gives language and power to my desire and decision to enter into God's embrace (where stillness is found). In addition to the psalms quoted above, other passages also help me to picture myself approaching Abba or lifting my life/soul up to Him. Psalm 25:1 often finds its way into my heart and onto my lips as I quiet my soul: "To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. In you I trust, O my God." I am sure you will find your own collection of passages that help you express desire and decision to approach our loving Father with a surrendered heart.
- We trust our way into stillness. I think it's important to mention trust specifically, rather than just assume it, because inner stillness for a follower of Jesus is about relationship, not some kind of mind control or new age meditation. I quiet my soul because of my relationship with my totally trustworthy Abba. I quiet my soul in order to hear my Abba's voice, experience His embrace, honor Him with my attention, etc., and it's my confident trust in Him that enables me to surrender my way into that place of stillness.
Tom, one of Abba's learning-to-be-still children