- Tyla Healton
I was driving to work a few mornings ago and about 10 miles into my drive, I became suddenly aware that I was not listening to anything – no audiobooks, no podcasts, no music and not the morning news. Wow! It was a wonderful thing and my discovery was not an unhappy one, but I was struck by the reality that this was quite a rare occasion. How refreshing not to be anxiously filling the sound void.
We live in a very noisy time! It is so rare to find times of silence and stillness and yet Scripture and those who would know the Lord most intimately, declare not only the value, but the necessity of silence. As Friends, our heritage significantly informs our understanding and hopefully our experience of this truth. Consider with me the reasons that silence must be a part of our personal and corporate Christian life
Wonder and worship
“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20) Silence is the natural response of awe in the presence of a God who is at once merciful, loving and almighty. We are rash and proud to have any other response. We use the expression in relation to events that we find stunning – ‘speechless’. How often do you find yourself speechless? As we stand-sit-bow before God, we need to have more times of being speechless. This applies to our personal and our collective response to the Divine. “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11: 1) The disciples were amazed at the incredible truth that the Gentiles are included in the great work of the kingdom. So amazed, that they fell silent.
Scripture further tells us that silence is a form of worship – not just something that makes it possible. Psalm 65 begins with a declaration that those before the throne of God will be silent. – “There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God, And to You the vow will be performed. O You who hear prayer, To You all men come.” The word and is added to the text, but it appears that it is not entirely necessary and may give a different read– that ‘there will be silence before You – praise in Zion, O God.’ Our silence before God can be a form of praise! Note that silence is not what we praise or worship – it is a potential means of worship, praise and spiritual formation.
The fact that staying silent is so uncomfortable for many of us is evidence of the role it can play as an act of discipline or soul training (If you are an apprentice) for self-control. All of us can probably think of times when remaining silent would have been a better option than the one we chose – to answer back with harsh words, saying more than we meant to, perhaps gossip – perhaps boasting or humble bragging. These are all times when silence would have been obedience, if we are honest. Proverbs speaks to this: “If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth." (30:2)
Here are some other passages that likewise encourage silence: “Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, ‘Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.’” (Deuteronomy 27:9-10) “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2-3) “Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)
If we are going to hear the voice of our guide, we need to allow times of silence. When our minds and hearts are full of the loud and even the not so loud noise intended to dull our ability to hear the Shepherd, we must choose the still small voice. Words may help and silence may help, but the one thing needful is that the heart should turn to its Maker as the needle turns to the pole. For this we must be still. This 20th century Friend, Caroline Stephen, reminds us of the need for words and silence in finding truth: “Our own times of corporate open worship are the opportunity that we have as a body to experience silence and stillness together. It is privilege to share this sacred time together. It is an incredible testimony to our amazing God and to the grace that comes only through sharing this holy time and space.”
It will be true that, at times silence will be uncomfortable for another reason. As we sit in stillness before the Lord we may learn that we need to make a change, we may feel convicted about something God has wanted to bring to our attention but we would not hear it. Lamentations 3:26-28 reads, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.” And in Isaiah, “For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.” (30:15) Let us give up bearing the burden alone and wait in the quiet for the strength of our God.
At other times, the Lord desires to pour His love out upon us, to call us His own. We must be still to experience the promise of Zephaniah 3:17 - “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” In your quiet, the void of noise will allow you to rest in His love for you.
I will leave you with this quote from William Penn: “True silence is the rest of the mind; and is to the spirit, what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” May you make time for silence in the days ahead and may you have the joy of experiencing the silence with your brothers and sisters during times of open corporate worship.