The Practice of Pausing

“Mark this down, okay? You and I were never meant to repent for not being everywhere for everybody and all at once. You and I are meant to repent because we’ve tried to be.” (Zack Eswine)

Have you ever considered that with a world to save, and good news to preach, and people to hear, and crowds to teach, and being the literal embodiment of God’s plan of redemption as the kingdom of God broke into this world… that Jesus would often withdraw to be alone?

Matthew 14:23 “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.“

Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

If we – as followers of Jesus – are more hurried and busy than Jesus; we are doing it wrong. If we see our work or our words as so important that we find ourselves unable to meaningfully rest; if we do everything in our power to avoid the possibility of being alone with our own thoughts before God for any extended period of time: we are embracing a discipleship to Jesus, that actually doesn’t look like the life of Jesus.

Perhaps the reason so many of us who love Jesus find ourselves more like busy-Martha than adoring-Mary (Luke 10:38-42), is that we have yet to learn the rhythm of stillness before God. A couple of weeks ago, I ‘preached’ the first ten minutes of a sermon on this subject, without speaking. I wanted our church feel the surprisingly instructive weight of silence. You can watch it below.

Learning to strategically withdraw – to pause – is a vital way that we grow in wisdom and deepen our joy in God. Here are three biblical pauses that we need to recover if we are to to live well in our hurried, noisy, world:

  • Silence: Pausing from our words
  • Solitude: Pausing from one another
  • Sabbath: Pausing from our work

1. Silence: Pausing from our Words

When it comes to speaking, the difference between a powerful sentence that really sticks in our hearts and a mere blur of human noise that is easily tuned out, often comes down to the use of a pause. The pause, is the intentional space between words that gives weight to the message of those words.

Silence is the practice of pausing from speaking, in order to hear from God and be attentive to what is really going on in our lives. There are countless benefits to the practice of God-focused quietude: in the place of silence we find strength (Isaiah 30:15); in the place of silence we gain clarity (Psalm 39:3); in the place of silence we practice the humility of listening – of putting aside our voice to hear from one another – in order that we may become wise (Proverbs 15:31-21).

Donald Whitney reminds us that , “On a long fast you discover that much of the food you normally eat is really unnecessary. When you practice silence…you find that you don’t need to say many things you think you need to say. In silence we learn to rely more on God’s control in situations where we would normally feel compelled to speak, or to speak too much.” With the constant barrage of words and sounds all around us, perhaps if we spent more time before God with our mouths closed and our ears open, we would emerge as people in our culture who actually have something to say.

2. Solitude: Pausing from one another

Like two pedals on a bike, both solitude and community are essential to forward movement in the Christian life. In fact, the Son of God himself modelled for his disciples a pattern of life marked by this idea of withdraw-and-return. Withdrawing from the noise of the crowds to be alone with His Father; then fruitfully re-entering the rhythms of community & mission.

Or perhaps it may help to think of these two rhythms as we would think of breathing. In the same way that an inhale of breath is necessary to exhaling, so is silence to our speaking and solitude to our mission. Both are essential to life.

Without community, we live in a place of self-absorbed isolation.
Without solitude, we live in a place of constant distraction.

Henri Nouwen writes, “The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God. They did not think of silence as not speaking, but as listening to God. Solitude and silence are the context within which prayer is practiced.” Neither our silence or our solitude are ends in themselves, but means for beholding God and delighting our hearts in Him.

3. Sabbath: Pausing from our work

The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that literally means “to cease” or “to rest.” After creating the universe as we know it, the Scriptures teach that “on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” (Genesis 2:2-3). Have you ever considered that the very first thing in Scripture that God himself set apart as holy, was not an object or a place, but a period of time?

While the practice of Sabbath as it was for Israel is no longer required for New Testament Christians, the principle remains. God has built a tempo into existence for the sake of human flourishing, where every seven days, we pause from efforts to produce, and practice worshipful gratitude for what we have.

So in one sense, practicing Sabbath rest reminds us of the limitations of our humanity. We are not machines defined by constant productivity. But in another sense, practicing Sabbath rest reminds us that rest and delight are gifts from God. When we refuse such a gracious gift, we only reveal that we treat our work with more seriousness than God’s Word.

If you’re wondering where to begin, I’ve been greatly helped by author Pete Scazzero in shaping this weekly twenty-four-hour window of time, with four easy-to-remember statements: Stop work. Enjoy rest. Practice delight. Contemplate God.

  1. Stop work: what do I need to pause? What areas of productivity – both paid and unpaid – need to cease as an act of worshipful trust in God?
  2. Enjoy rest: what fills my tank and replenishes me?
  3. Practice delight: what parts of God’s creation brings me joy? What tastes, sights, friends, and activities deepen my gratitude?
  4. Contemplate God: as I receive this gift of time, I want to be attentive to God and consider: where do I see His grace at work in my life? As I open my Bible and gather with other believers, where can I catch glimpses of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and grace in my life this past week?

The Sabbath, then, is not so much a break from the life; it’s the pinnacle of life! It is a foretaste of the new creation; a weekly sip of the world to come. Have you ever considered the Sabbath in that light? As a recurring preview of your future, experienced in the present? What could be more important (and life-renewing), than setting apart a day each week to experience that and rest in God?

Silence. Solitude. Sabbath. 

Each of these are a grace that God has ordained for our joy, because in each of these we remember that God is the Giver and we are receivers. Each of these are a holy space within our lives where we meet with God. Each of these are a form of surrender, through which we learn to trust God. Take some time today and through the week to practice pausing, in order to be present to God.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Selah.

(Psalm 46:11