Be Still - Two

The modern world is noisy. It’s actually very hard to get away from noise. From the distant hum of aircraft passing far overhead; the noise of traffic on nearby roads; all the modern aids to living (washing machines and so on); the sound of conversations; to ‘music’ - every shop you go in has some radio station or other burbling away to itself and you. And most of us have ceased even to notice it with our conscious minds.

We have become accustomed to noise. Indeed many of us feel uncomfortable without it - we try to replace the silences by constantly ‘listening’ to music - i.e. having earphones in, and our devices playing music to us.

Even in church - certainly in our church - a service leader will say ‘now we’re going to have a few minutes of quiet to think about what we’ve been hearing.' And then they proceed to talk via the PA system throughout the ‘silence’ - as if, actually, silence is a bad thing.

That is such a contrast to the rest of human history. Life was, to a large extent, quiet. Yes, there was conversation. And yes, there were some loud sounds - like horses and carts on cobbled streets, or the blacksmith working - and in towns and villages in the daytime that sort of thing could be quite deafening. And there was music - people played instruments, and sang - but it was deliberate, and active, rather than passive. But constant noise wasn’t the norm. Much of the time, the loudest sounds were birdsong, and the drum of rain on the roof.

Why do we so dislike quiet?

What are we afraid of?

Are we so afraid of our own thoughts, our own ‘inner life’, that on some level we feel we have to try to drown out the quiet with noise?

Are we, as followers of Christ, so afraid of the silence because we fear, deep down, that God may actually want to interact with us on a level we aren’t comfortable with, or don’t feel ready for?

I believe God can speak most clearly in our silence - if we give Him the chance.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19: 11-13

That’s what I mean. We actually need, sometimes, to ‘shut out’ the noise. We need to leave all our devices behind and go to places where the only sounds are our own breathing and heartbeat, or the wind in the grass. It’s at times like that, in places like that, that we are most able, and most likely, to hear God speak directly to us.

Many of us, or even, dare I say it,most of us,have ‘soul work’ to do. We need healing; we need discipling; we need encouraging in our walk with God. In order to do that work we need to be able to hear God, and respond to him. We need to be engaging with the ‘hard’ things in our lives, in the past and the present, and ‘dealing with them’ - letting God in, and letting Him speak words of comfort and wisdom into our pain. That can’t happen while we’re constantly anaesthetising ourselves with music and shutting out the ‘gentle whisper’ with thoughtless noise. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6

It’s not just a remindernot to show off our piety - there’s also a spiritual principle, linked to the passage in 1 Kings, at play here - we need quiet to hear God - He seems to prefer to speak when we are still and quiet and able to concentrate.

And when we pray, we need quiet, and stillness, and to take the time to finish our monologue, quiet our thoughts, and wait in the silence for God to reply. And more than reply - we need to wait for Him toinitiate new conversations too. It takes time, and self-discipline, and a willingness to be vulnerable before Him.

The level of noise in our lives has, to an extent, reduced since the arrival of COVID-19. There are a lot less flights; the roads are quieter; social spaces have been shut down. We could, if we wished, take advantage of that, and use the enhanced quiet, and the‘opportunity' afforded by isolation or social distancing, to be silent before God. Or we could turn up the volume, and fill our lives with new activities, to compensate for whatwe’ve lost and for the world being quieter. It’s up to uswhich we choose.

Another post, with some hints on the practicalities of spendingsignificant lengths of time being silent before God should, hopefully, appear fairly shortly - once I’ve finished writing it!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020