“The Sound of Silence”

“…in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 Back in my college days, I volunteered in an inner-city ministry. I loved it. Each week we would gather kids off the street or those who would otherwise be devising plans of a less than reputable nature, plan some games, study the Bible, and develop relationships. The most profound experience I had with those young men and women was a weekend retreat in the mountains.

We packed up the vans, traveled an hour outside the city, got them settled in cabins, and conducted a few activities to orient them to the expectations for the following hours together. Then night fell. I cannot remember what I was expecting, but I will not forget their reactions—absolute fear! Here are kids who live in the blast zone of inner-city life: violence, danger, insecurity surround them constantly. But here they are in wonder of God’s creation, the magnificence of the starry sky, and the freshness of the mountain air. It wasn’t these that elevated their fear—it was the silence! They were terrified of the silence.

This experience is not unique to a few kids visiting the mountains for the first time. We live in a culture obsessed by noise. It is ubiquitous. Noise in our homes. Noise in our workplaces, noise in our cars, noise when we are alone, noise when we are with others, not to mention the noise in our heads. I was struck once again on a recent camping trip by the great lengths people go to eliminate silence. Camping neighbors ran their generator ten ours a day to keep their cell phones connected to the “outside world.” Astonishing!

Why is silence so terribly shunned? Dallas Willard pointedly reminds us: Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of life. He goes on to say that sound always strikes deeply and disturbingly into our souls. And thus, silence is essential for the spiritual journey. Silence is a powerful tool for the care of the soul. In silence, we open ourselves to a great work of God’s Spirit.

Consider a few of the benefits that scripture identifies for the practice of silence:

Silence is the only place where we can discern the still small voice of God. Elijah rminds us in his cave experience on top of Mount Horeb: there was the great strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire. But the Lord was not in any of these. Then scripture says there was the sound of a gentle blowing; the word means “a soft whisper.” Think of that! The magnitude of the all-powerful God reduces His own voice to a soft whisper. And it takes silence to hear that.

Silence is the place we find deep strength. Isaiah wrote in 30:15—in quietness and rest is your strength. Quietness is all about keeping silent, a state or condition tranquility. There is something about silence that strengthens the soul like nothing else can.

Silence allows for a better perspective. James 1:19 declares that everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to become angry, because this is how we grasp the righteousness of God. We could say, “the righteous perspective of God in all matters.” Have you ever been around a person who just could not stop talking? Have you ever given yourself over to more talking than listening? I know I have. The simple benefit of closing my mouth and tuning in is a righteous perspective that otherwise might well be missed.

Silence can be beneficial to my body. Here me out on this one. James again describes the problem of a tongue that won’t stop—it sets the members of our body on fire and defiles the entire body. Obviously, the context is the overuse of the tongue (help I can’t shut up!). But the deeper intent is to declare that such incessant noise can indeed harm the body. The citizenry of Western culture certainly bears witness to unhealthy bodies racked by the pounding of noise, noise, noise (Grinch reference to all the noise emanating from Whoville).

So how do we adopt the practice of consistent silence? Here are a few pointers that you may find helpful:

Start small: we Americans are notorious for wanting to eat the entire elephant all at once. We jump in with both feet and attempt to master the practice in one setting, conquer the thing, and move on to the next one. Instead, start small. Set aside 5-10 minutes to sequester yourself from all your everyday noises and be quiet.

Be patient: It is one thing to escape the noises of the world, it is another thing entirely to quiet the internal noises. Our drivenness will overrun our patience if we are not careful.

Take a deep breath and quiet yourself: St John of the Cross (16th Century) was a Spanish saint of great spiritual depth. Listen to how he approached silence—My house being now all stilled. He was referring not to his dwelling where he resided, but to his inner house. It could take a while to get to this point, which is why starting small and being patient are so very important.

Invite God it: Ironically, He already is. Too many Christians look for God outside of themselves (and he is certainly there). But remember Jesus said that He has made His home in us, and the Father, too, has moved in. Therefore, we do what John wrote in The Revelation, when He stands at the door and knocks, open it, and enjoy the delightful presence of the God who has saved you.

Finally, listen, just listen: Francois Fenelon was a devote follower of Christ in 17th century France. His advice is crucial—Be silent, and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that His Spirit may impress upon you such virtues as will please Him. Let all within you listen to Him. The silence of all outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear His voice.

I look forward to hearing how silence has benefited you in the coming days.

Blessings on the Journey, 

Pastor Dewayne