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Scriptural Foundation

When the Prophet Elijah flees from Jezebel after a bit of a triumph in his ministry, he winds up in a cave at Horeb where he encounters God. God is not in a wind, or earthquake, or fire, but in the “sheer silence” as the NRSV translates it, or as other translations put it, a “still, small, voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12). My experience is silence is overly blessed yet seldom sought. It is silence that illuminates the distracting voices of the present so we can listen for the true voice of the one whom we seek. 

I was reminded recently after meeting with my spiritual director of a formative time of prayer in which I learned the beauty of silence, of contemplation, and of the gift of prayer. In fact, in being reminded of this experience, I realized that my habits of prayer, my comfort in leading corporate prayer, and my sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence and God’s providence were all rooted in this formative time.

After Elijah encounters God in the sheer silence, God tells Elijah to go find Elisha, who will become his successor. In the sheer silence, Elijah is reminded there’s still more to God’s calling on his life. One way to imagine God’s calling is as a hymn whose verses keep being written. Using this metaphor, the verses are being written until our last breath, or until Jesus returns. The refrain gives assurance that the hymn of life is still being sung. God is always doing something new, God is still writing the verses of our callings. Silence, like the refrain of a hymn, re-centers us, reminds us, and connects us, so we can go onto the next verse and season God has for us.

The Formative Time

It was in a desert time of my life that I, like Elijah, was on the run. I wasn’t fleeing after a triumph in ministry, indeed I was struggling to accept my call to ministry. I had spent several years trying to run away from it. I had already had at least one mystical encounter with God (which ought to have been enough, and is a story for another time). But, like so many before me, and so many throughout the scriptures, I kept fleeing. Finally, I prayed. It would have been better to have started praying earlier. I didn’t know what contemplative prayer was but I began teaching it to myself.

I would drive to the building of the church where I grew up, a building built in 1868, let myself in, and sit in silence in the massive sanctuary. Often these times of prayer were early in the morning, and as the warmth of the sun illuminated my closed eyelids, the Holy Spirit continued its work in me. I was being prodded to leave behind the previous verse of life. God was writing a new verse, forming me for a new path and journey ahead.

A photographer friend captured this picture when I showed him the church in 2017. He asked me to sit where I sat. This is the sanctuary of the former Deerpark Reformed Church in Port Jervis, New York, the church in which I grew up. The building has since been sold and the congregation now worships with the congregation I serve. I officiated the last service in the sanctuary on Pentecost in 2023. When I was ordained in this sanctuary in 2021, I never envisioned God would call me back to minister in Port Jervis, nor that I would officiate the last service in this sanctuary. I didn’t reflect on the formative prayer times I had there until recently.

I remember two days in which my contemplation of of Jeremiah 29:13 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 were both comforting as well as formative. My best description of my sensation is that the Holy Spirit enabled those verses to echo with magnified significance as I prayed on them.

I remember feeling God was speaking those words especially to me and for me. Reflecting on that experience today, I realize God was forming me, giving me an important spiritual foundation that would lead a short time later to a transformative experience while on retreat and finally the acceptance of my call to ministry. The following year I entered Princeton Theological Seminary to study for a Master of Divinity on the way toward ordained ministry.

‘When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,’ Jeremiah 29:13.

‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” Matthew 6:33.


People sometimes comment on how I pray. I suppose that’s an odd thing to receive feedback on. Prayer is, after all, a conversation with God. And there is surely not any one way to have a conversation with God. Conversations involve both speaking and listening. God is always listening: we need to listen to God too.

I guess perhaps the way I pray, the words I say, and my sense of how God is listening, are forever interwoven in that desert time, when I fled not to a cave, but to a church sanctuary. I had attempted to run away from a call that God had for me and my life. What I found instead was the embrace of a vocational call. I know there are many future of verses yet to be written. In that sanctuary, God spoke in the sheer silence of the still small voice, and it was Holy.

I’m curious, what are your habits of prayer? How do you listen for God? What is the rootedness of your prayer life? When was a time when prayer became part of your spiritual life in an impactful way? How does prayer shape your faith?


 I have a special inclination toward the Christian mystics. Perhaps I identify with them. The Italian mystic Carlo Carretto in his book “Letters from the Desert,” comments on the significance of contemplative prayer:

“By our prayer we share the life of God. The Trinity becomes in us as the guest of our soul. Earth becomes heaven. Why go on searching for God beyond the stars when he is so close to us, within us. Heaven, this hidden place, is not some lofty vaulting construction, studded with the stars. It is a land of intimate closeness, so near that we can speak to God, stay with him, worship him anywhere. His Holy Spirit is in us.”[1]

I resonate with the deep and mysterious way Carreto describes how prayer enables us to be closely connected to the Triune God. God is closer than we realize. It’s one thing to say we understand God is “omnipresent,” it’s quite another to experience that omnipresence in a salient, tangible way. It is a way that unveils heaven through “intimate closeness,” in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Concluding Thoughts

A lot has been written about the state of the Christian faith today in North America. The obsession in our society over the idols of wealth, power, being “right,” ideology, success (whatever that is), is everywhere. Material wealth is the ideal, power is sought in various arenas including the church, and political ideology is frequently enmeshed with how Christian faith is understood and practiced. The emphasis on teaching the next generation to be “successful”— instead of teaching them to rest in their truest identity as beloved children of God—is an all too common reality.

Idols come with noisy voices that compete for our attention. God still summons us. God is summoning us. I hope we all will stop and listen to the sheer silence. It’s beautiful. It beckons.

Regardless of the various idols scattered throughout contemporary society, God keeps offering us the amazing gift of prayer, the assurance that God is still listening and still speaking, especially in the beauty and holiness of the sheer silence of the still small voice that is beckoning to us.

The Apostle Paul writes “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). That’s it. The whole verse is three words. The preceding verse is two words, “rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16). It’s a beautiful mash-up the Apostle Paul offers us, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” Even, maybe even especially when, we want to flee from something in life, we ought to flee to the silence like Elijah did. Might we experience silence and open space for God to speak. Don’t stop listening for the still, small voice, of God. Rejoice, beloved children of God, for the gift of prayer, and keep praying, especially in silence.

The old hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” goes:

“Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!

that calls me from a world of care,

and bids me at my Father’s throne

make all my wants and wishes known.

In seasons of distress and grief,

my soul has often found relief,

and oft escaped the tempter’s snare

by thy return, sweet hour of prayer!”

[1] Carlo Carretto. Letters from The Desert (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1972), 53.

Zachary K. Pearce

Rev. Zachary K. Pearce is Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA and the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis N.Y. He also serves as a Stated Clerk and a Trustee at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.


  • Ken Agema says:

    The still, small voice of God. Excellent! Thanks so much.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Thank you for saying the word mysticism. Am ongoingly grateful for the work of Richard Rohr and Howard Thurman and so many others in this regard. And, aware how dramatically “The Sweet Hour of Prayer”alters, for me, when it occurs in our Mother’s Lap. While present in the church pew and in other places too. Thank you for the blessing of this piece.

  • Lynne Swets says:

    Thank you for your insights, encouraging words
    Today at this old age, I needed them

  • Karl Van Harn says:

    Thank you, Zach, for your encouragement through your testimony and reflection on the meaning and value of prayer for living in relationship with God. I remembered others in Scripture who pushed against God, questioned God, or ran the other way. I thank God that God always listens and continues to work God’s purposes in life. Even with the grief of your childhood church closing, new congregation now fills the place, and you continue following your call. Prayer with God does open new perspectives and hope.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Ah yes. Resonates. I’m glad for the Reformed Church that you have that sense of prayer.