Time and Tide

“Time and tide wait for no man.” The meaning of this proverb is “if you don’t make use of a favorable opportunity, you may never get the same chance again” (quote source here). At this point we need to understand what, exactly, a favorable opportunity looks like. What looks good on the outside may not be so good after all. And if you choose it and it turns out poorly, what then? I did that once with a job I accepted, and it totally altered my life in very unexpected ways that I never could have foreseen, and not for the better.

We’ve all had these types of conundrums show up in our lives from time to time. “The definition of conundrum is a situation where there is no clear right answer or no good solution” (quote source here). Perhaps it is best to remember that saying, “all that glitters is not gold,” and not to move too quickly on what on the surface looks like it is a great opportunity. It may or it may not be.

As Christians, we have a powerful resource at our disposal and it’s called prayer. All of us have a tendency to move forward when an opportunity presents itself that, on the surface, seems favorable. In my personal example in the first paragraph above regarding the job I took that didn’t turn out well, I did spend a lot of time praying about it, and I did feel like it was something I was supposed to do. And even in spite of the poor outcome, I can honestly say at this point in my life that it wasn’t necessarily a mistake on my part that I accepted that job even with the impact it has had on the past decade of my life since I lost that job eleven years ago. God’s ways go far beyond our particular “wants” in life (see Isaiah 55:8-9). His purposes prevail regardless of how things turn out from our own perspectives and in our own circumstances.

There must be a zillion articles on praying for guidance from God on the internet. Often when I don’t know what to pray I find myself going to the Psalms and praying a psalm and making it personal as in praying, “Lord, You are my Shepherd, I shall not want” (from Psalm 23). The entire psalm goes like this when I make it personal:

Lord, You are my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
You make me to lie down in green pastures;

You lead me beside still waters.
You restore my soul;

You lead me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod (to protect me) and Your staff (to guide me),
They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Even when a situation might not specifically fit that particular psalm, I find it has an incredibly calming effect when making any kind of decision or just needing guidance in moment-by-moment situations.

Over my lifetime I have heard people who pray prayers that are so eloquent, passionate, poetic; yet, I must admit I do not consider my prayers to be in those categories. Well, maybe passionate but in a private way and not necessarily for public consumption. I’m often at a loss for words when praying about specific situations or people whereas for others those prayers just flow out of them like water. That may have been when I started using the psalms in prayer instead of trying to come up with my own words. God knows my heart, so He knows I don’t often know how I should pray about any situation, other then I ask for His will to be done whether in the lives and situations of others or for myself.

At the time of this writing we are in the midst of a world pandemic known as COVID-19 and much of our society is on “stay at home” orders. As of this past week, over 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past month from all of the businesses that have been closed down during this time. Millions of lives have been turned upside down from shutting down much of our society, and also those directly affected by the coronavirus who are sick and many who have died. And there are also all of the health care workers and others working 24/7 to provide help and supplies for the sick and everyone else still in need of groceries and other necessary items on a regular basis.

In an article published on August 1, 2016, titled, What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” by Ricky Alcantar, Lead Pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX , he gives some great advice that can be applied to any circumstance and situation. He writes:

There are times we simply don’t know what to do.

Perhaps a doctor calls after a routine test and says “You’re going to need to come back into the office and it’s important.” Perhaps a family member or friend calls and says “I don’t know if I even believe in the Bible anymore.” Perhaps a boss calls you into his office and you leave without a job. Perhaps the events of the last few weeks in our country are really personal for you: perhaps you fear the comments that kids at school will make about the color of your child’s skin, or you fear for a loved one who wears a badge. Perhaps you’re even normally a pretty strong person but you find that your strength is woefully inadequate for you what see in front of you.

I remember this feeling last year when the first two medical bills arrived. We were still paying for the expenses related to the birth of our last son when bills arrived for an emergency surgery and then another hospitalization. They were big. Not “we need to go on a cheaper date night for a while” big, but “Oh my gosh how are we even going to make it??” big. I remember feeling angry, defeated, frustrated. Wasn’t I trying to serve the Lord? How in the world were we supposed to get through this?

There’s a verse I love for times like this. It’s tucked away into 2 Chronicles 20. The king of Judah, faced with multiple armies arrayed against him, knew he was outmatched. This was a time of military strength and economic strength in Judah. But the nation’s strength wasn’t enough. And possibly even more frustrating, this was a time of judicial and religious forms where the king was trying to return to correct worship of the Lord. It seemed like the king and nation were doing what they were supposed to, and suddenly their circumstances seemed far worse rather than better.

It’s at this time that King Jehoshaphat leads the nation to pray: “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron 20:12).

Our Strength is Not Our Strength

Notice how the king comes to the Lord: confessing his need and weakness. He does not go out and count his men again (though I’m sure he called them to war). He doesn’t try to come up with the perfect long-shot strategy (though I’m sure someone was working on that). The first thing he does is renounce his own strength and seek the Lord’s strength. He prays “I don’t know why this is happening or what to do–I need you, Lord.” That’s not spiritual weakness, that’s spiritual maturity.

One of the hardest things for us as American Christians with homes and cars and health insurance, with the best economy and the most advanced military, is to come to a place of dependence on the Lord. When God brings us to a place of utter dependence we think we are dying, when in reality God is bringing us to life. We think that our strength is our strength, but that is a lie. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that it’s when we are weak, and utterly dependent on the Lord, that we are strong. Being overwhelmed by circumstances is one of the healthiest places to be if we will acknowledge our insufficiency and go to the right place.

But where do we turn next?

Our Eyes Need Filling

After confessing his weakness the king intentionally fills his eyes with the Lord. Does Jehoshaphat ask for God’s help? Yes. But most of his prayer is simply him rehearsing the truth about God. In moments of severe trial our eyes will be filled with something–that’s inevitable. In a moment when his eyes could be filled with the enemy arrayed against him, or filled with his own insufficient resources, he fills his eyes with God.

In the face of medical bills, I realized something about myself: if I didn’t intentionally choose what to focus my mind on I would naturally drift back to the bills, or over to the budget. I couldn’t just choose to focus on something else and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The only thing that worked was when I filled my eyes with something else before my mind drifted to the budget. I had to intentionally, and daily, fill my eyes so full of God that there was no room for anxiety. This, I think, is what the king is leading his people to do in a moment of great need.

What about God–what does he fill his eyes with?

God’s power for his powerless people. He prays “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (6). The nation of Judah is overwhelmed but the God who rules over every earthly kingdom is not. His resources aren’t limited–he holds unlimited power and might in his hands. Whether we are facing a debilitating illness or social unrest or economic upheaval, none of them are outside of God’s rule or beyond his power.

God’s unique covenant relationship to his weak people–He prays to the “God of our fathers” and then remembers, “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (7). God does not simply have a business relationship with his people, a “take a number” relationship, but a warm intimate personal relationship. He has set his covenant love on them. He calls we who are in Christ (even us!) his friends. We may not understand our circumstances or what God has allowed, but we can be sure his heart and relationship toward us have not changed from his generations of covenant faithfulness and love.

God’s glory in his endangered people–He prays “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” This is a dangerous prayer. He is committing to defend the temple to the very end if the invasion continues because God’s name is in the house. Is he concerned with what will happen to the people and their homes and land? Yes. But what he is most concerned with is the name of God and the glory of God.

He is concerned with the nation’s survival because God’s name is tied to his people. He is praying “Lord help us make your name great on the earth” and committing to it himself. That is a dangerous prayer, but a prayer that fills our eyes with the glory of God. Whether circumstances go as we hope or not, we should pray that God’s name be made great. But in this prayer we can have confidence because God has tied his glory to the good of his people.

There is much more in the king’s prayer but these three things provide a starting place for us. We too can fill our eyes with God’s power, his faithful covenant love, and his glory.

How Do We Do This?

This is where you’ll be disappointed in this post. There is no “One secret weird trick that will change everything” for you. What did Jehoshaphat do? He prayed. What must we do when we don’t know what to do? There are many practical things to do, but let us start with prayer.

A lack of prayer reveals extreme self-sufficiency. Prayer reveals a God-sufficiency. Prayer does two glorious things at once: it both acknowledges our great insufficiency, and then it fills our eyes with God. Praying about my medical bills meant I had to stop trying to come up with a brilliant financial plan for a moment. By coming to the Lord, I had to acknowledge “Father I’m not sure what to do.” But rather than feeling weaker and more defeated, I felt stronger and more sure. Because that very prayer reminded me that I have a heavenly Father, a Father who is sufficient, who loves me, whose name is great.

Today, friend, do you find yourself overwhelmed and not knowing what to do? That’s a perfect place to confess your insufficiency and cling to the Lord. Could you take a moment and go to him in prayer right now? (Quote source here.)

I hope this article has been an encouragement to you. It was to me. I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For my yoke is easy . . .

And my burden . . .

Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Just Need U” by TobyMac:

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The Power of Silence

It’s time to shift gears at least for a few minutes from the constant 24/7 news coverage regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that is going on around the world right now. So let’s get started….

Back on August 2, 2019, I published a blog post titled, The Sound of Silence .” The post was regarding a new book that had been published titled, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, founder of Key Life Network, host on the radio talk show, “Steve Brown, Etc.”, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a former pastor, and author of over a dozen books. As I was trying to find a project to fill up some of my stay-at-hometime (also known as shelter-in-place) during this coronavirus pandemic, I ran across Steve’s book again and I started rereading it. In the previous blog post mentioned above, I quoted from a couple of chapters including Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,” (Chapter 3).

Picking up where I left off back in August from Chapter 3, I’d like to start off this blog post with the last subsection in that chapter titled “Speaking the Truth in Silence” (pp. 30-31):

Sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking. There are some things Christians cannot say without words, but there are other matters that are only confused by words. My wife, who is a musician, has often said to me that music is the universal language. Sometimes it is best to remain silent and hear the language of music. Just so, sometimes it is best to speak the language of silence.

It is a cliché, but nevertheless there is some truth to believing that Christians are the only Bible unbelievers ever read. However, with due respect to that point of view, let me say that most of us sin so much, betray our principles so often, and fail so obviously in our Christian walk that the message is mixed and muddled.

But what if we remained silent by not defending ourselves? What if we remained silent when others are condemning those whose lifestyles, politics, or religious views are deemed unacceptable? What if we remained silent and refused to be the social, political, and religious critic of every opinion that wasn’t our own? What if we remained silent in the fact of rejection? What if we refused to share the secrets we’ve been told or tell the stories we’ve overheard? What if we remained silent and overlooked the foibles of others? What if we looked at the pain of our neighbor and just loved him or her, instead of trying to fix the unfixable? What if our response to confusion, fear, and guilt was simply, “I know”?

There is a powerful witness in that kind of silence. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 30-31).

Why is it that silence is so hard for us to practice? We live in a culture that is very fast paced (or at least it was before this coronavirus pandemic hit last month) and where everyone has an opinion on just about anything that comes up in the news, on social media, regarding politics and lifestyles, and in everyday conversations with others. Social distancing has limited our everyday conversations with others we used talk with in public settings on a daily basis for the time being, but it hasn’t limited our social media or smartphone interactions. We still have plenty of opportunities to give our opinions to others.

In an article published on May 14, 2015, titled, 5 Reasons to Be Silent,” by William Ross, a doctoral candidate in Old Testament at the University of Cambridge, he writes:

Silence is not highly valued in modern culture. When it comes to communication, it seems that we value quantity above all. And in our digital world it only gets easier to add your own voice to the cacophony. I recently read about a new book that suggests the act of writing is outstripping the act of reading in the digital age.

Whether e-mailing or snapchatting or podcasting or hash-tagging, we live in an age distinguished by noise. Not silence.

Church as Faithful Proclaimer

Of course, speaking is at the center of the Christian vocation as well. There is a range of biblical reasons to speak instead of being silent (e.gPs. 32:3; 35:22; 39:2Jer. 4:19Mt. 20:31Lk. 19:40Acts 18:9). Most importantly, we proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:19-20). Paul asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14c).

Yet I want to dwell here on the ways that Scripture counsels God’s people to be silent, and the blessings that come with it.

Five Biblical Reasons to be Silent

1. Obedience 

Simply put, you can’t obey if you are not silent to listen. This is true on a physical level, but also a spiritual one. Scripture symbolically links our hearts with what comes out of our mouths (Mt. 12:34Lk. 6:45). To extend the metaphor, only when we silence our heart are we in a place to hear—to receive God’s instruction—and obey.

Moses highlights this idea in one of his final speeches as he underscores Israel’s call to obey all of the Lord’s commandments (Deut. 27:1-10). That requirement is rooted in their identity as God’s people: no longer slaves, but God’s own inheritance (32:9). Moses puts an exclamation point on his speech with the sharp exhortation: “Be silent and hear, O Israel!” (27:9).

So God’s commandments and our obedience are hinged together by spiritual silence before the King. Conversely, disobedience is the uproar of indwelling sin as our heart denies who we are in Christ. This principle holds in a general way not just for God’s people, but all of his creation, including demons (Mk. 1:25//Lk. 4:35).

2. Self-Control

The silence linked with obedience also manifests self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Obedience and self-control are inseparable, but distinct. On the one hand, lack of silence betrays a lack of self-control that otherwise governs faithfulness (Eccl. 5:2-3). Scripture warns that the wordy fool only gets into trouble and displays his or her ignorance (Eccl. 10:12-14Prov. 12:23). The pragmatic but biblical solution for someone acting like a fool is self-inflicted silence: “Put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32).

On the other hand, being silent demonstrates our willingness to wait upon and serve others in love (Gen. 24:21Job 29:21Eph. 4:29). Silence is also the catalyst for godly self-reflection amid anger (Ps. 4:4). It attests to our resolve to endure difficulties with hope fixed firmly in the Lord (Lam 3:26-29). Silence also governs our ability to evaluate spiritual instruction carefully (1 Cor. 14:29-30), and interact shrewdly with the world without succumbing to its temptations (Ps. 39:1Prov. 21:23).

3. Wonder

It is possible to worship God in complete silence. One of Scripture’s most beautiful paradoxes is that wordlessness can speak clearly about God’s glory. We honor God when were are in awe of him. We are made in his image and therefore bring him glory in our humble silence, while every other creature is simply mute. Scripture is full of instances of silent awe prompted by wonder before God.

This kind of silence works two ways, both of which can bless God’s people. On the one hand, when Christians come to terms with the depth of sinful grievances committed against a holy God, Paul says that their mouths should rightly “be stopped” (Rom. 3:19). Silence is the only possible response in the face of God’s holiness and the coming judgment (Zeph. 1:7Zech. 2:12Mic. 7:16). On the other hand, we ought to be struck silent in light of God’s incredible redemption, worked out in his promised deliverance for his people (Isa. 41:1; cf. Lk. 1:20) and the reconciling work of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:18; 15:12). Silence even in corporate worship, where the church gathers to meet with God, facilitates the reverence that he is rightly due (Hab. 2:20).

4. Rest 

As a parallel to wonder in light of God’s salvation, silence is a blessed product of the rest that we have in him. Knowing that God is our God prompts us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10). Even in the face of uncertainty and suffering, the psalmist can say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation . . . for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:1, 5). Even creation knows its Maker and comes to rest at his command, as when Jesus silences the storm (Mk. 4:39). When Israel faced the Red Sea on one side and Egypt’s army on the other, Moses inconceivably commands Israel to be silent.The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent!” (Ex. 14:13-14). So firm is our hope in God and his salvation that fear may be laid aside, and our silence can demonstrate and encourage rest in him.

5. Wisdom

Often when we think of wisdom we think of speaking, usually to give counsel. But many times wisdom should prompt just the opposite. Especially in the book of Job, we see the tension between the desire to give counsel and the need to be silent. The multiplication of words by Job’s friends does little to help (6:24; 13:13, 19; 33:31, 33). The high point of wisdom in their counsel comes in 2:13: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (cf. 13:5).

Silence as a form of wisdom is frequently encouraged in Proverbs, too. It can help wisely avoid transgression (10:19) and manifest respect and understanding (11:12; 17:27). It is part of wise and even-handed interactions (29:11; cf. Amos 5:13). Silence is so powerful that it can even make the fool at least appear wise and intelligent (17:28).

Church as Silent Witness

Being silent is not only part of how we obey and glorify the King (Job 36:10-12). It is also how we bless others as we are lovingly quick to listen and slow to speak (Jam. 1:19). Silence is thus an unspoken virtue: part of the church’s vocation and the Christian’s delight.

Much more could be said on the topic. But now it’s time for practical application. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 16, 2016, titled, Top 7 Bible Verses About Silence,” by Jack Wellman, pastor at Mulvane Brethren Church, and senior writer at What Christians Want To Know, he writes:

Here are seven Bible verses relating to silence.

Proverbs 17:28–“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something that shows our ignorance, like the many times I’ve spoken too quickly and rather unwisely, so silence can be golden, but even a foolish person is deemed wise by saying few words or by saying nothing at all. It’s better to say nothing than to say something we’ll later regret.

Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The psalmist wrote, “we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:2-3), and even if “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6). All we need to do is to rest in the fact that God is over all things and so we can be still and simply know that He is God, and He “will be exalted among the nations” and “in the earth.” Nothing can prevent that.

Lamentations 3:26–“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Jeremiah’s wise words in Lamentations 3:26 are shown elsewhere in Scripture to be true. Isaiah the Prophet wrote, “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (40:31). By waiting upon the Lord, you’re also waiting for His divine timing.

Psalm 62:5–“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

David was in dire straits when he wrote Psalm 62. His life was in danger due to his son Absalom’s taking over the throne of Israel. David had to escape but harder still, he had to deal with those who had betrayed him as he wrote they plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse” (Psalm 62:4), but David didn’t panic as he wrote, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6).

Psalm 141:3–“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”

Perhaps the psalmist is asking God for a little help in keeping his peace in waiting upon the Lord. He needs to have help in his silence and to keep his hand over his mouth from saying something that he might later regret, or even saying something out of frustration. This is why he prays “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds” (Psalm 141:4).

Proverbs 17:27–“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”

I think what Solomon is saying is that if we restrain our words, we have wisdom enough to know when to keep our mouths shut, because with many words comes the chance for saying the wrong thing. Sometimes is just better to say nothing at all, and in the context of this verse, the one “who has a cool spirit” might be a person who knows how to hold their tongue and temper when angered, even when they don’t feel like it.

Isaiah 53:7–“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

This verse is clearly speaking about Jesus during the Passion and when answering all of the false charges brought up against Him. When Jesus didn’t defend Himself and kept silent before the charges when brought to Pontius Pilate, Pilate was amazed and said to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” (John 19:10), but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11), meaning it was all part of the sovereign plan of God.

Conclusion

I could have also included Habakkuk who wrote, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20) which is a show of holy reverential respect for God, or Revelation 8:1 where the Apostle John wrote, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Rev 8:1), perhaps due to what cataclysmic events were about to shortly take place, but most of these verses deal with how we should trust in God and wait upon Him and to “be still” and know He is God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

No YouTube Video is being posted for this blog post so we can contemplate the power of silence.

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