Presbyterian pastor B.J. Woodworth understands how terrifying silence can be.

Twenty years ago, a campus minister asked him to go away with him to a monastery for 24 hours.

“I remember how freaked out I was,” he said. “Are you kidding me? You want me to be alone. Still. Quiet. For 24 hours?”

Facing his fear, Woodworth began to pay attention to what was really going on inside. He began recognizing he’d been listening to a lot of voices rather than one.

They were like ‘false shepherds,’ telling me who I was, or what I needed to be,” he said.

From Jan. 19-22, Woodworth will lead a Presbyterian Mission Agency-sponsored evangelism conference called Living the Way: Foundations of Discipleship. The conference will focus on the spiritual disciplines of silence, solitude and prayer and how to incorporate those into daily life to sustain one’s faith.

As part of his preparation for the conference, Woodworth spent some time at the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York.

One of the Trappist monks told a story of how he loved to walk out in the woods when the snow was coming down thickly. He would arrive at the edge of a creek, where he would sit quietly and eventually hear the water running and rushing underneath a foot of ice and snow.

The monk’s point: That’s how it is with God.

“He said, ‘Silence is God’s first language.’ If we practice the disciplines [of] silence and solitude, we will hear again,” Woodworth said.

Organizers built the rhythm of the upcoming conference around Matthew 7:24-25, where Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

“That’s a great picture,” Woodworth said. “I want to help people think about and then practice living like Jesus lived — into rest, solitude, silence and prayer — in a very fast-paced frenetic world.”

Practicing these disciplines has been life altering for Woodworth.

Through the practice of stillness, he’s come to really believe that we are “participants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

“The discipline of getting up at 6:00 a.m. daily with a candle, Bible and journal — and getting away three to four times a year — has done something to me,” Woodworth said. “It’s a mystery to me, but I humbly tell you, in that space, by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit, I am becoming more like Jesus.

“Thomas Merton said, ‘We need to be alone with the Alone.’ What I’m most looking forward at this conference is creating space for people to encounter God,” Woodworth said. 

 The evangelism conference Living the Way: Foundations of Discipleship is  at the TradeWinds Resorts in St. Pete Beach, Florida, Jan. 19-22.