In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Kong Hee delved into two of three things that transform a believer during silence and solitude.
“Jesus was busy, but He knew His limits,” said Kong Hee, the senior pastor of City Harvest Church on the weekend of 18 and 19 Feb. “He knew when to stop, to recharge, to refresh; when to retreat and when to return.”
Following his sermon on “Slow-down Spirituality”, Pastor Kong delivered a powerful message over the weekend about what silence and solitude can do to and in a person.
Before he began his sermon, the pastor introduced Professor Roger Heuser and his wife Gayle to the congregation. Prof Heuser is a professor of Leadership Studies at Vanguard University while Pastor Gayle is a senior chaplain of Silverado Hospice in California, US. The couple visited Singapore to lead the senior staff of CHC on a silent retreat these two weeks.
Pastor Kong shared that at the retreat, Prof Heuser reminded the participants that Jesus did not rebuke Martha for being too busy. It is not wrong to work hard and be busy in life. Martha’s problem, however, was that she was becoming worried and anxious. She was affected by so many things that she could not focus on Jesus even when He was sitting right in front of her.
Pastor Kong warned that if Christians do not have Jesus’ rhythm of life, worry and anxiety will set in and they will become easily angry with life and even with God. Martha asked Jesus, “Don’t You care?” When Christians lose the “work-life-God” balance in their life, they are likely to start questioning God the same way.
“It’s time to slow down to do what Jesus did: to retreat to a quiet and lonely place, to worship, to pray, to reconnect with God. This place is called silence and solitude,” Pastor Kong taught.
WHAT SILENCE AND SOLITUDE ENTAIL
Silence is to be quiet enough to hear from God and solitude is to be alone to connect with the Holy Spirit. The pastor emphasised that the “secret ingredient is God Himself. It is in His presence that you can find the fullness of joy, freedom, liberty and rest for your soul.”
He went on to illustrate the typical ways people seek relaxation: they pack their bags and go on a vacation, or binge on their favourite drama series the whole weekend. However, instead of feeling refreshed and recharged, they find themselves more tired than ever, or even stressed out by these activities.
While there is nothing wrong with taking vacations and watching dramas, they are not things that can refresh a person’s soul. “Your soul is created by God to be refreshed and revived by His breath and to be renewed and recharged by His Spirit,” the pastor revealed. Referring to Matthew 11:28, he reminded the church that going to Jesus is the only way to have a rested soul and to find that supernatural ease and light burden. “Then life is not so hard,” the pastor said.
“Take the Sabbath rest to enjoy God, withdraw from the noise and demands of this world and spend some precious moments of silence and solitude in the presence of God,” he reiterated. That is the secret to finding balance in life.
In the presence of God, three things happen. Pastor Kong shared two of the three.
“Meditation simply means applying your mind to the Word of God,” the pastor explained. Contrary to the secular form of meditation where one practises mindfulness and clears his mind to focus on the present, Christian meditation engages the mind in God’s Word.
The Word of God is powerful. It brings faith to the hearer, delivers them, washes them clean and heals their diseases. Meditating on the Word means listening and thinking about it or reading and studying it. It could be memorising the Word, reflecting upon it or discussing it with someone else.
“But this is usually where we stop—we stop at meditation,” the pastor said. There is a need to go further and deeper.
“Contemplation is loving God without words, coming into His presence with no agenda,” Pastor Kong said.
Beyond spiritual activities such as intercession or going into spiritual warfare, it is important to simply quieten down one’s heart and soul to receive the love of God.
“When you’re meditating, you are in control. In contemplation, you let go of that control. You just open your heart to God and to His love without saying anything,” the pastor continued. “From active faith in meditation, you enter into a quiet trust.”
Isaiah 30:15 reads, “…in quietness and trust is your strength…” When a believer is able to come before God with no agenda, he is also letting go of his worries, anxieties and frustrations, and allowing the Holy Spirit to take over. He is then able to rest in God’s presence and respond to His love.
To those who feel that they have never felt the love of God, Pastor Kong advised them to “come into contemplation. If you wait long enough, the love will melt your heart.”
In meditation, a believer focuses on Christ’s work for them. In contemplation, he focuses on Christ being in him; the love that is God is in him. The Spanish priest, Saint John of the Cross described it this way: “The difference between meditation and contemplation of the soul is like the difference between working and enjoying the fruits of our work; between the toil of travelling and the rest of our journey’s end.”
Meditation involves working the mind in active thinking, speaking, discussing and speaking out the Word—it can get intense. Contemplation, however, brings the labouring to an end, and the believer can simply meet with the God of the Word and enjoy Him.
“You sit in God’s presence and gaze upon His love, opening your heart to receive it, soaking in it. And you give Him all the love and affection that you have,” Pastor Kong elaborated. This is what it means to “Be still and know that I am God…” (Ps 46:10)
He acknowledged that quietening down the mind is not easy to do, yet those who are able to wait in silence will experience God and the love and healing He brings.
The pastor went on to describe what happens in contemplation.
“All the things you want Him to do for you and through you are set aside, your worries and anxieties are satisfied. Nothing is more important than to experience His love for you,” the pastor taught. “In contemplation, you’re giving Him all the time and all the space to do and say whatever He wants.”
The more a believer opens up to God, the more he will feel safe to do so. Soon, he will be able to hear His still small voice in the same way that the prophet Elijah did. Slowly, God asks the believer to reveal himself to Him in all honesty—the things he is hiding in his heart, his frustrations and the things that have taken away his joy. In God’s presence, the believer feels trust in God enough to allow Him into his sadness and fears, anger and frustrations.
Revealing the honest self to God may sound like a scary thing to do but Pastor Kong assured the church that in God’s loving presence, they are in a safe place to do that. He shared from his personal experience that when he was able to be brutally honest to God about himself, he was able to receive the love God poured on him extravagantly.
“His love just washed over me again and again until there was no more anger,” Pastor Kong said. At that point, he realised that the more he experienced God’s love, the more it became possible to have zero anger.
“Meditation stirs up our inner man and strengthens it, but contemplation opens us up to God’s love and brings deep healing to our entire soul,” he said in conclusion. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote that meditation with contemplation is the means by which the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christlikeness.
“This is how you find balance in life, this is how you grow in Christlikeness, how your soul will find rest and inner joy. This is how you come into that easy yoke and light burden,” said Pastor Kong.