It’s been a few years since I studied psychology at Santa Clara University, but one piece of research we learned about has always stuck with me.
In 2014, some social psychologists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville conducted a series of experiments to see how people felt when left alone with their thoughts for even just fifteen minutes. The results–no pun intended–were shocking.
In one of these experiments, researchers put participants alone in a lab room for fifteen minutes, where they could push a button to shock themselves if they wanted to. Even though all of the volunteers originally said they would pay money to avoid getting shocked, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to shock themselves rather than just sit quietly and think.
Though researchers were unclear as to why, it’s clear that quiet reflection is not an enjoyable experience for a lot of people. In a world of constant stimulation and noise, it is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and not slow down to check the condition of our hearts.
I regularly find myself stuck in this cycle—on the lookout for something fun, enjoyable, engaging, or anything that can distract me from my own mind and heart. It can get scary in there, like this song so accurately portrays:
I think the biggest reason I don’t like being left alone with my thoughts is that I feel out of control sometimes. Even telling myself “Just think happy thoughts,” does little to resolve the inevitable bubbles of anxiety or negativity. Like in the song, I can get beat up by my own mind!
Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control, the soothing comfort of your presence calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.Psalm 94:19 TPT
When our thoughts feel out of control, God’s soothing presence can calm us down. So when God is involved, we don’t have to be afraid of slowing down enough to reflect because he’s in control, and we don’t have to be. Quieting down helps us understand where we are so we can know where we need to be, and this is how we develop the strength to endure and grow.
For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel has said this, “In returning [to Me] and rest you shall be saved, In quietness and confident trust is your strength.” But you were not willing.Isaiah 30:15 AMP
This is what the Almighty LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: You can be saved by returning to me. You can have rest. You can be strong by being quiet and by trusting me. But you don’t want that.Isaiah 30:15 GW
Strength comes from quiet and confident trust in God. When the world around us, and even the world within us, is noisy and chaotic, we can have quiet and secure hearts that are content with God.
But before we understand how to get that heart with God, let’s look first at what a quiet heart is not.
What a quiet heart isn’t
I recently studied out the word “quiet” in a digital Bible because in the chaos of the world lately, I have been feeling in need of some peace. What I expected to find were some Bible verses on calmness, stillness, and rest, and there were many helpful passages on those topics that we’ll look into later.
But I soon discovered that, like me, many people in the Bible have tried to quiet their hearts in not-so-helpful ways. Trying to find quiet apart from God can lead to some damaging results.
Quiet is not suppressing
But some troublemakers said, “How can this man save us?” They disapproved of Saul and refused to bring gifts to him. But Saul kept quiet.1 Samuel 10:27 NCV
When Saul first became king, not everyone was supportive. But rather than take his hurt, rejection, and insecurity to God, Saul kept quiet.
If you read the book of 1 Samuel, you may recognize that this isn’t the first time Saul kept quiet. When the prophet Samuel first told him he would be king, Saul’s family asked him about it but he didn’t tell them the whole story (1 Samuel 10:14-16).
Rather than let God and people in throughout his life, Saul kept quiet. This left him isolated, alone, insecure, and internally weak. And though he made these choices to be quiet on the outside, he was everything but quiet on the inside, which led him to crack later in life (1 Samuel 18:10-11).
If you compare Saul to David, who would eventually succeed him as king, you will find a clear difference in their willingness to express what was really going on. Even during the times that David tried to suppress like Saul did, he ultimately recognized how damaging it was to his heart and mental state.
I said to myself, I’m going to quit complaining! I’ll keep quiet, especially when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there silently the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point. The more I mused, the hotter the fires inside. Then at last I spoke and pled with God: Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more.Psalm 39:1-4 TLB
Suppressing just doesn’t work when it comes to keeping a quiet heart. It doesn’t work to silence and shut down; that’s just going to bring us to a bursting point. Like David, we need to let our real thoughts and feelings out with God so we can get the perspective that comes from knowing him.
Quiet is not refusing to speak up
I tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. I would rather keep the peace, keep my thoughts and emotions to myself, and not say or do anything that would lead to any sort of conflict. To me, this seems the best way to go. Why would I go out of my way to make someone upset or cause issues?
For the leaders of my people- the LORD’s watchmen, his shepherds- are blind and ignorant. They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.Isaiah 56:10 NLT
This scripture is intense, but helps me understand how important it is to speak up. When we see wrong being done—whether that be injustice in the world or a friend going down a path that will cause themselves or others pain—refusing to speak up makes us no better. In fact, it often makes us self-righteous and hypocritical, because we have critical thoughts and observations internally but keep quiet, which benefits no one.
We are in the lives of the people around us for a reason, and keeping quiet can often be a way we protect ourselves from discomfort.
If you keep quiet now, help and freedom for the Jews will come from another place. But you and your father’s family will all die. And who knows, maybe you have been chosen to be the queen for such a time as this.”Esther 4:14 ERV
Esther initially was afraid to speak up when she saw injustice coming for her people. She had a lot of excuses (albeit valid ones) for why she should keep quiet. But her cousin Mordecai reminded her of her purpose: God had allowed her to be in a royal position for a reason, and keeping quiet was throwing that purpose away.
Quiet is not rushing or being driven by emotion
Watch your step when you enter the house of God. Be ready to listen quietly rather than rushing in to offer up a sacrifice to foolish people, for they have no idea that what they do is evil. Do not be too hasty to speak your mind before God or too quick to make promises you won’t keep, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, watch your tongue; let your words be few.Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 Voice
Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.Ecclesiastes 5:3 NLT
In Ecclesiastes 5, we learn that rushing around and too much activity are the opposite of listening quietly. Though hard work is important, getting caught up in the bustle and busyness of life without slowing down will make us restless and unable to listen quietly to God and the people around us.
Sometimes “rushing” refers not just to our schedule but to being driven by emotions. Emotions can make us rush to answer or speak before we listen and quiet our hearts.
When we are run by our own emotions and desires, we will feel restless and unsettled. Emotions like distrust and despair can make us question God’s faithfulness, and to find a quiet heart we will need to give up some of these mistaken emotions:
Therefore thus says the Lord [to Jeremiah]: If you return [and give up this mistaken tone of distrust and despair], then I will give you again a settled place of quiet and safety, and you will be My minister; and if you separate the precious from the vile [cleansing your own heart from unworthy and unwarranted suspicions concerning God’s faithfulness], you shall be My mouthpiece. [But do not yield to them.] Let them return to you-not you to [the people].Jeremiah 15:19 AMP
God wants to bring us into a place of quiet and safety, but we must first acknowledge and deal with our hearts, and any doubts, suspicions, or fears we have over who he is and his faithfulness toward us.
This takes transforming our quiet time with God so that it leaves us more secure and content, not less. We’ll cover how to do that in the next section of this devotional.
Pause and reflect
- What are the parts of your heart that you tend to suppress or keep quiet instead of giving to God?
- Who are some friends in your life that you could help by speaking up to them?
- What are some signs that you are being hasty or having a hard time listening quietly to God?
Transform your quiet time with God
Some of Saul’s aides suggested a cure. “We’ll find a good harpist to play for you whenever the tormenting spirit is bothering you,” they said. “The harp music will quiet you and you’ll soon be well again.”1 Samuel 16:15-16 TLB
As we learned earlier, Saul tried to rely on external sources to quiet him, since he didn’t have any internal peace. Because of this, he was unable to sit in silence, and often needed something going on around him to keep him busy.
If you keep reading his story in 1 Samuel, you may find that this could be a reason he kept chasing after David even though he had no reason to—he couldn’t sit with his own thoughts. I think Saul might have been one of the first people to shock himself in that experiment mentioned earlier.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace, And the result of righteousness will be quietness and confident trust forever.Isaiah 32:17 AMP
The result of righteousness, which can be defined as being right with and close to God, is quietness and confident trust. So if we want a quiet heart, we have to seek out being close to God. This closeness will be determined by the times we spend with him. This means that how present we are in these times is important.
This scene from the Oscar-nominated movie Sound of Metal is such a powerful one, and I think of it all the time when it comes to being able to sit still and be present with God. The movie is heavy, as it deals with substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, and recovery.
Ruben is a recovering addict and a drummer in a metal band who loses his hearing. He enters into a deaf rehab facility to learn to navigate this new lifestyle he’s been thrust into. But he has a hard time with recovery because he has not yet learned how to sit in silence, so the person in charge sits him down to have a talk with him.
Though not explicitly stated, I think that Ruben is fixing the roof because he doesn’t want to have to slow down enough to face what is on his mind and heart. He has to be useful, on the move, and do whatever it takes to distract himself from what he really feels. But Joe’s words pierce through all of that:
“You don’t have to fix anything here.”
With those words and the exercise he suggests, Joe is trying to help Ruben be present in the moment. Not jump to the next thing, not distract himself with activities and projects, but to be still and silent. He’s inviting him to explore and discover who he really is without any judgment, and in doing so allow himself to heal.
This is what I think God invites us to do. Our times with God are not a time of fixing, but of slowing down enough to be still and present in the moment with him.
This is what Elijah learned to do when he was at his lowest point. If you read Elijah’s story up to this point in the book of 1 Kings, you can see he had been through a lot. He felt alone, worn out, and ready to give up. In 1 Kings 19, we see how God responds to him:
Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before GOD. GOD will pass by.” A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before GOD, but GOD wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but GOD wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but GOD wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for GOD, the GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”1 Kings 19:11-13 MSG
We can learn a lot about who God is and Elijah’s relationship with him in this passage. Elijah came before God in complete honesty— he felt alone, discouraged, afraid, and embittered. But God’s response to him was not in explosive or loud actions, nor was it in judgmental chidings. God showed himself in a quiet whisper.
With quiet patience, God gently nudges us to slow down and reflect on where we are and where we want to go. As he did with Elijah, he asks each of us, “What are you doing here?”
So how do we develop a relationship with God that leads us to hear those quiet whispers?
Give yourself time and space to just be with God
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child [resting] with his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me [composed and freed from discontent].Psalm 131:2 AMP
We learn from Psalm 131 that our souls get quieted and calmed when we rest in God. Think of a baby or young child with their mother. They are completely trusting and relying on their mom for safety, nourishment, and comfort. They are content and at peace with her.
When we rest in God, this is how our souls can be. Do you see God as the place to go to be calm and content? Or do you see him as a source of anxiety and guilt?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.Matthew 6:6 MSG
What you focus on will dictate the quality of your time with God. Too often, I can see the Bible as a “self-help” book and prayer as a way to unload everything I’m thinking or feeling without much thought of God. Then I wonder why I go about my day insecure, anxious, guilty, or irritable.
The way to get a quiet heart is to shift my focus from me to God, which starts by being with him as simply and honestly as I can manage, and by creating a space where it’s just me and him.
GOD, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.Psalm 23:1-3 MSG
Our times with God are meant to be a space where we can catch our breath. When we are distracted by our phones, other people, or a pressing schedule, we won’t have the time or space we need to catch our breath and focus back on God.
Take some time in the morning when you aren’t rushing yourself or easily distracted. This means turning off notifications on your phone or computer, and making uninterrupted time in your schedule where you can be with God.
I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.Psalm 27:4-5 MSG
Along with making time to connect with God, create a sacred space with him. The time we spend with God is a getaway, and helps us get security and peace in an otherwise insecure and noisy world. This could be at home, a coffee shop, or a park—anywhere you feel you won’t get distracted and can shift your focus from yourself to God.
Let it out so you can let God in
“So I will not be quiet! I will let my suffering spirit speak! I will let my bitter soul complain!”Job 7:11 ERV
Job is a great example of someone who came into prayer completely himself. Even when he was angry or bitter, he refused to keep quiet.
If you read the end of the book, you’ll find that God blesses and calls Job right with God, because he chose to be honest with him.
This is such a different depiction than the story of Saul. Saul kept quiet about what was going on inside, and this refusal to let it all out led to a lot of turmoil internally. Job on the other hand was honest and let everything out with God and friends, which led to a quiet and contented heart.
So what should we be honest with God about in order to quiet our hearts?
Let out your doubts
Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer.Psalm 94:19 TLB
Being honest about the doubts that fill our minds helps us clear our hearts so we can truly see God. These could be doubts about God, about ourselves, about the future, or even about our friends or family.
Whatever doubts are filling your mind, no matter how small or ridiculous they seem, choose to be honest about them with God.
Let out your guilt
Before I confessed my sins, I kept it all inside; my dishonesty devastated my inner life, causing my life to be filled with frustration, irrepressible anguish, and misery.  The pain never let up, for your hand of conviction was heavy on my heart. My strength was sapped, my inner life dried up like a spiritual drought within my soul. Then I finally admitted to you all my sins, refusing to hide them any longer. I said, “My life-giving God, I will openly acknowledge my evil actions.” And you forgave me! All at once the guilt of my sin washed away and all my pain disappeared! Psalm 32:3-5 TPT
Keeping our guilt inside leads us to devastating our inner life, and it’s impossible to find peace. Choose to be honest about the things that are making you feel guilty so that you can remove the weight and pressure that’s keeping you from being at peace.
Let out your prayers for other people
For Zion’s sake I (Isaiah) will not be silent, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, Until her righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, And her salvation goes forth like a burning torch.Isaiah 62:1 AMP
God calls for us to have the kinds of prayers that refuse to keep quiet about the needs we see in others. I can often not be honest with God about the things I would like to see happen in the lives of my family and friends. I get so focused on myself that I don’t think or make time to pray for these things, or sometimes I don’t really believe my prayers matter that much.
But I need to keep being honest with God about what I see in others and what I want to see happen in their lives.
Let out … everything!
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7 TLB
Philippians 4 covers over everything that the other verses didn’t – pray about everything. Telling God our needs, expressing gratitude, and praying about the little details of our lives are all ways we can open up our hearts to let God bring us peace in ways we never could on our own.
Get to know God
They tell the prophets to keep quiet. They say, “Don’t talk to us about what’s right. Tell us what we want to hear. Let us keep our illusions.”Isaiah 30:10 GNT
Once we let it out and tell the truth, we need to be willing to hear the truth, too. Rather than silencing God and truth, we must silence our own doubts, defenses, and pride to let him influence us. When you read the Bible, do you come with your own preconceived notions of who you think God is and what he wants from you, or do you come to learn?
“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the LORD. “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be.”Isaiah 43:10 NLT
When we read the Bible, we will come to understand that the one thing God wants from us is to know him, believe in him, and understand him. He didn’t choose us to blindly obey, follow rules, or even to be perfect. He simply wants to be known by us.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.Isaiah 55:8-11 NLT
When we read the Bible, it helps to remember that the way we think about things is not the way God does. He isn’t limited by human perspective. When we read the Bible to learn his way of doing things, we end up growing in ways we never could on our own.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.Colossians 3:12-14 MSG
In any relationship, the more time we spend with someone the more we will become like them. This is true with God, too. God is compassionate, kind, humble, and quick to forgive. The more we spend time with God, the more we will develop the quiet strength necessary to love in our relationships.
Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.Matthew 11:29 AMPC
In this verse, Jesus tells us that the way to get quiet rest and refreshment is to learn from him. Jesus was able to have a quiet heart even in the midst of constant storms and chaos. Looking at his life and actions can help us learn to be the same.
Pause and reflect
- What do your times with God look like?
- Which of these three points (making time and space to be with God, letting things out with God, getting to know God) do you want to grow the most this week?
The results of a quiet heart
A quiet heart is humble (it wants to learn)
Wise people are quiet and learn new things, but fools talk and bring trouble on themselves.Proverbs 10:14 ERV
A quiet heart is willing to listen and learn new things. When we are insecure, pent up, or restless, it is easy to become sensitive to what we don’t know or aren’t good at. If someone tells us the truth about ourselves or gives us constructive criticism, we may feel like we should already know everything, get down on ourselves, or feel the need to prove ourselves.
When we have a quiet and content heart, others’ opinions don’t rock our world so much. We want to learn so we can grow. What could you learn if you quieted down enough to listen?
Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening-it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character.Hebrews 12:11 TLB
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.Hebrews 12:11 NIV
Quiet growth comes from consistent training. When we are content in God, we will embrace discipline and training, because we know that is the way to grow.
A quiet heart is content and secure
Better is a dry morsel [of food served] with quietness and peace than a house full of feasting [served] with strife and contention.Proverbs 17:1 AMP
This scripture tells us that quietness and peace bring us more contentment than striving to have all our material needs and wants met. It can be easy to try to get security and happiness from things like comparing ourselves with others on social media, running after success or achievement, or even striving to get others to like us or make us feel better. These things may distract us, but fall short when it comes to helping our hearts be quiet and secure.
“But as for you, do not fear, O My servant Jacob, Nor be dismayed, O Israel! For behold, I will save you from [your captivity in] a distant land, And your descendants from the land of their exile; And Jacob will return and be quiet and secure, And no one will make him afraid.”Jeremiah 46:27 AMP
The Bible pairs quietness with security; these two things often go together. We know we have a quiet heart when we are unafraid and secure even in the midst of difficulty. Valuing and prioritizing those times with God that make our hearts quiet is what will help us stay secure no matter what storms happen around us.
GOD proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from GOD. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.Lamentations 3:25-27 MSG
Being quiet and content in God gives us the strength to endure even when we don’t get what we want right away. Scriptures like this help me be happy, content, and hopeful, even when times are hard and feel impossible.
A quiet heart slows down enough to notice others
Jesus and his followers were in a very busy place. There were so many people that he and his followers did not even have time to eat. He said to them, “Come with me. We will go to a quiet place to be alone. There we will get some rest.”Mark 6:31 ERV
Jesus worked at quieting his heart in his relationship with God (see Mark 1:35, Hebrews 5:7), so he had the capacity to notice his friends’ need for quiet rest, too. He took the time to notice what they needed and went out of his way to meet those needs.
Do you notice and address your friends’ needs? Are you aware of where they are at or are you focused on yourself?
“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure-‘playactors’ I call them-treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it-quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.Matthew 6:2-4 MSG
The way God loves us is quietly and gently. He is always behind the scenes, content with not getting credit and simply wanting us to be happy. When we are close to him, we can love others in the same way.
Too often, I want people to acknowledge what I do for them and how hard I work. I get mad when I love someone and get nothing back. But when I’m content in God, I can love people behind the scenes, which can actually be fun and enjoyable. It’s the best feeling to watch someone you’ve loved or helped grow in ways you couldn’t imagine, and know that you had a part in getting them there.
Little children (believers, dear ones), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words]. By this we will know [without any doubt] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart and quiet our conscience before Him whenever our heart convicts us [in guilt];
for God is greater than our heart and He knows all things [nothing is hidden from Him because we are in His hands]. Beloved, if our heart does not convict us [of guilt], we have confidence [complete assurance and boldness] before God.1 John 3:18-21 AMP
When guilt or anxiety overtakes our minds, the way to quiet our consciences is through choosing to love the people around us. That is putting our relationship with God into action, and how we can get the confidence to move forward.
Pause and reflect
- What is God trying to help you learn in your life right now?
- Who is God calling you to love in your life right now? How can you love them quietly, behind the scenes?
Learning to have a quiet heart is a process, and it’s tough to do it alone. Talk with some friends this week about what you learned from this study, the unhealthy ways you try to quiet your heart on your own, and how you can help each other transform your times with God to get the peace and security you’re looking for.
Check out these resources to further your study:
- Read the entirety of 1 Kings 19 to learn more about how God responded to Elijah’s discouragement and fear, and what helped Elijah come out of it.
- Read the book of Luke to learn how Jesus found quiet in his relationship with God.
- Read and watch the following devotionals and videos from Deep Spirituality on this topic: