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.

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

When Silence Is Golden

Reverence . . . Dictionary.com defines reverence as “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.” In our fast-paced, frenetic society we have lost our sense of reverence and awe. If we attend church on Sunday (and I’m not pointing fingers as I don’t at the moment), we may sing a few worship songs at the beginning of the service for maybe an hour (usually less), but for the most part the remaining 167 hours in the week are spent frantically rushing around in an attempt get more of whatever it is we are looking for–better health, a better job, maybe a spouse (or maybe a divorce), more money to get out of debt or to buy more stuff and go deeper in debt, a college education, a great career, the quest to become a millionaire or maybe a billionaire no matter the cost to your health, your relationships, or your soul . . . but God, well, He gets put back on the shelf until next Sunday morning arrives and we, once again, give Him maybe an hour of our time (if we can hold our attention on Him for that long).

Back in 2003 the Barna Group conducted a survey in which 84% of all adults taking that particular survey considered themselves to be Christian. Here’s the opening paragraph from their findings which may or may not surprise you:

“More than four out of five adults – 83% – contend that they are concerned about the moral condition of the nation. Given that 84% of all adults consider themselves to be Christian, they have good reason to worry about the moral state of the country: many of their own views conflict with the moral teachings of their professed faith.

“Of the ten moral behaviors evaluated, a majority of Americans believed that each of three activities were ‘morally acceptable.’ Those included gambling (61%), co-habitation (60%), and sexual fantasies (59%). Nearly half of the adult population felt that two other behaviors were morally acceptable: having an abortion (45%) and having a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse (42%). About one-third of the population gave the stamp of approval to pornography (38%), profanity (36%), drunkenness (35%) and homosexual sex (30%). The activity that garnered the least support was using non-prescription drugs (17%) (quote source here).

Surprised? I’m not. We rarely consult with God anymore about anything pertaining to our personal and professional lives. Lip service? Maybe. But actually seeking His guidance on how to conduct ourselves and how to live our lives 24/7? No . . . .

At the William Jefferson Clinton Memorial Library website there’s a list of Ten Signs of a Culture’s End. Let’s take a look at those ten signs (for a detailed description of each sign click here):

#1: a society which no longer worships or acknowledges God
#2: the decline of the family

#3: a low view of life–abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc.
#4: the prevalence of base and immoral entertainment
#5: the increase of violent crime among young people
#6: the declining middle class
#7: an insolvent government
#8: a government that lives off of society’s moral decay
#9: when the ruling class loses its will
#10: the failure of its people to see what is happening

Churches litter the landscape of America but the true worship of God is sorely missing most of the time. Many churches have become “Christian Entertainment Centers” instead of a place to worship the Creator of the Universe. “Worship” is a billion-dollar industry in America but rarely does it change lives. Sermons lasting 30 minutes at the most (and that don’t mention either Jesus or “sin” during that time) are about as long as our attention spans will allow for (if we aren’t thinking about something else during the sermon).

Read that list again–it starts with “a society that no longer worships or acknowledges God” and ends with “the failure of its people to see what is happening.” And folks . . .

We are there . . . .

Tomorrow is Election Day in America and we are at a crossroad–the most significant crossroad in our history to date. There is not one item on President Clinton’s list that hasn’t been embedded in our culture over the past few decades. If you are a registered voter you need to vote if you haven’t already (I voted early by mail). What happens in these next four years will determine what happens to America.

If you are Christian, I encourage you to spend some time in silence before God during the next two days. Here’s a devotion from Dr. Charles Swindoll titled “Waiting in Silence” to help you prepare:

Waiting in Silence

James 1:2-4

“My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1). Some of the best times in prayer are wordless times. I stop speaking, close my eyes, and meditate upon what I have been reading or upon what I have been saying, and I listen inside of myself. I listen deeply. I listen for reproofs. I think of myself as a home with many doors. As I am meditation–and often it helps to close my eyes so I won’t be distracted–I unlock doors and open them as I want. It is here that the Holy Spirit invades. Then, I take circumstances before Him and I listen with doors open.

Please be assured that I have never heard an audible voice. It isn’t that kind of answering. It’s a listening down inside. It’s sensing what God is saying about the situation. His promise is, after all, that He will inscribe His law–His will–upon our hearts and our minds.

It’s like what you do when you’re in love with a person. Isn’t it true–the deeper the love, the less that has to be said? You can actually sit alone together by a fireplace for an hour or two and say very, very little, but it can be the deepest encounter and relationship you know anything about.

Those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength according to Isaiah (40:31), but remember: the key is waiting.

There’s a sense of stability in trusting the Lord. That’s how we wait silently and with a sense of confidence. When we wait for God to direct our steps, He does! When we trust Him to meet our needs, He will!

God tempers us and seasons us,
making us mellow and mature
when we wait on Him.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 12
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

In our “instant” society, we know very little about waiting or silence, but we know a lot about impatience. Now is not the time to be impatient. Set aside some time where you won’t be distracted (even if you have to do it at 3:00 a.m.!) and wait on the Lord is silence and let Him guide you instead of your needs. He knows you far better than you know yourself. For a few minutes, “let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20), at least in your little corner of the earth.

You might even think about making it a regular habit. It will change your life and your focus on life. It is individuals that make up a nation. And, if we want to see change in our nation, it starts with usyou and me.

So let’s start now . . . .

And if you haven’t voted yet, VOTE!

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
~Psalm 27:14

YouTube Video: “The Lord is in His Holy Temple” sung by the Camelback Church of Christ, Phoenix, AZ (2011):

Photo credit here