In this worship gathering, we hear a message on Revelation 8 that talks about the importance of silence, and the promise that God will spare faithful people from the worst of judgment. You can watch the message below, or the entire worship gathering below that.
My wife and I made our last shopping trip of the year to Costco on Monday. (Why the last one of the year? Well, let’s put it this way: we find we are better able to bear the fruit of the Spirit when we avoid places like that in December!)
While there, I made a purchase I had been pondering for a while: a pair of noise-cancelling ear buds.
They’re handy for tuning out the drone of an aircraft when flying, or when listening to music without background racket.
The reality of contemporary life is that “background racket” is pretty hard to avoid.
If you sit in your home, there’s the sound of your heating system, or the refrigerator, making noise, albeit subtle, from time to time.
If you sit outside, you might have a neighbour assaulting your ears with a leaf blower. (Don’t get me started.)
Unless you’re out in the woods, alone, it can be hard to have no sound but nature. I’m sure that’s why noise-cancelling earphones were invented in the first place.
One of the challenges of modern life is that we often do not really want quiet.
Most people who use noise-cancelling earphones use that feature to keep out the sounds of the world around them so they can listen to the music or podcast or whatever they want, without distraction.
Rarely will people put on noise-cancelling earphones and not play something.
When we are so used to some sort of sound, whether the din of the city or the music of our choosing, sitting in silence can feel awkward, if not unnerving.
But for followers of Jesus, it can also be immensely rewarding. It’s most often the way in which the Lord has room to speak to us.
I encourage you to try it: sit in silence for an hour, even half an hour. If you can’t find a place where you can have silence, and you have noise-cancelling earphones, use them, but don’t play anything.
You might feel uncomfortable, because the first time you do it, it will be like a detoxification process. But the second time, as you listen for God to speak, you might actually hear something in your heart.
Read the Scriptures while you sit in silence. Choose a short passage, or even one verse, and sit with it. You may be tempted to do all the talking with the Lord, but try sitting in silence. It might be challenging, but perseverance will pay off.
Enjoy the sound of silence.
“I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62.1-2, NLT).
If your experience is anything like mine, you might have found that even the pandemic and its restrictions have not slowed you down all that much.
Sometimes, we find that if we stop doing something, we get restless, thinking that the time could be used more productively. (For some, playing a video game or watching television might feel like productivity!)
But if just sitting in silence, alone with your thoughts, seems daunting, try this: sit with an image.
You might have heard of the ancient practice of lectio divina, or holy reading, where we take a short passage of Scripture and read it over a few times, meditating as we go to grasp what God may be saying to us through it. But have you heard of visio divina? That’s a practice where we take an image and look at it intently for a period of time, to discern whether the Lord may have a word for us through that.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sacred image; it could be any piece of art. For instance, consider this image. Take a few minutes just to look at it, with no other distractions. Does God have a word for you in that image?
If anything came to you, write it down on a piece of paper, or in your journal, and talk to the Lord about it. Maybe this could be a new way of engaging with him.
The sound of silence.
For some, it is a reference to Simon and Garfunkel.
For others, it is the noise made by the refrigerator or the HVAC system.
For some, it is deafening.
For others, it is the most beautiful sound on earth.
Whatever it may mean to us, the sound of silence is a gift, whether we acknowledge it or not. For it is in silence that we are most clearly able to commune with God as friend to Friend, as servant to Master, as disciple to Lord. Think about it: when you are having an intentional conversation with a close friend, you’re probably not having to shout over a loud racket, right? When it’s a serious conversation, there’s probably no discernible noise in the background.
So why not do this with the Lord?
At times, we may wonder why we don’t hear from God; it’s less likely that God is silent, and more likely that we are not making space to listen.
As you read the Bible, as you pray – whatever shape that takes – consider doing it accompanied by the sound of silence. You may be surprised how much you hear.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62.5-6, NRSV).
“The sound of silence.”
Some of us may think of the old Simon and Garfunkel song when we hear those words. That song may not give the most solid advertisement for the value of silence!
The reality, today, is that most of us do not know the sound of silence, because we hear so little of it.
For some, it’s simply a mindless habit: when we get up, we turn on the radio or the TV or a streaming device, and sound motivates the start (and maybe middle and end) of our day.
For others, it’s an intentional act to avoid silence because they fear what they will encounter in the silence.
Understand this: silence is where God may want to reach you. Silence may be where you have the best opportunity to hear from God.
Elijah learned this. He had conquered the prophets of Baal, with God’s help, and was now running from Queen Jezebel. He stopped to rest, basically parking under a broom tree saying that he’d had enough of life. God sent an angel to feed him and give him strength for the journey ahead (that he didn’t want to take). God said he would speak to Elijah, so Elijah went into a cave at Mount Sinai, as if to hide.
God asked him what he was doing there. Elijah offered an excuse. God sent him to the edge of a mountain, and along came a windstorm, and then an earthquake, and then a fire. But God was not in those phenomena. We read in 1 Kings 19.12b-13 (NLT), “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
God spoke in the gentle whisper. It was not the booming sounds of windstorm, earthquake or fire in which the voice of God was to be heard, but in the quiet.
When you spend time with God, do you set aside time in silence? Who knows how the Lord might speak if you set aside all the noise of life even for a few minutes.
Last night, my small group was talking about the disciplines of solitude and silence. For many Christ-followers, these can be really challenging – perhaps more so today than in any other era. Why? Because we have so much more to stimulate – and over-stimulate – us all the time. What might seem the easiest of spiritual disciplines can be the most difficult.
The thought of even a half-day silent retreat scares many of us half to death, because, if we’re honest, we have a certain addiction to our external stimuli. And, as with most addictions, we don’t really know it’s there until we are deprived.
As Ruth Haley Barton has written, “Silence deepens our experience of solitude, because in silence we choose to unplug not only from the constant stimulation of life in the company of others but also from our own addiction to noise, words, and activity. It creates a space for listening to the knowings that go beyond words…. The most essential question in solitude is: How have I been wanting to be with God, and how has God been wanting to be with me?” (Sacred Rhythms)
Today, instead of giving you more to read, I want to encourage you to take the next few minutes in silence, by yourself – just you and God. Sit comfortably, with your feet on the floor, palms up to indicate your openness to receive from the Lord. Pay attention to your breathing; slow it down. Close your eyes. Express your deepest longing to God. Take as long as you can, free from external visual or aural stimuli, in the presence of your Creator who loves you.
“Let go of your concerns!
Then you will know that I am God.
I rule the nations.
I rule the earth.” (Psalm 46.10, God’s Word Translation)
Did you enjoy that moment of silence?
Of course, if you’re like me, you probably scrolled through quickly and wondered what was wrong with the way I posted today’s Encouragement. I did it intentionally! I wanted to give you a moment of silence in your day. Most of us don’t get that, do we?
In a world filled with noise, good and bad, silence is a foreign thing to us. Some folks are afraid of silence; they feel the need to fill each moment with some sort of sound. Silence, though, can be said to be God’s first language. Certainly my experience is that I can hear from God best when I open myself to a time of silence.
Do you build time for silence into your day? For those who are introverts or who live alone, it can be easier to do; irrespective of our preferences or living arrangements, though, God invites us to times of silence.
“Be still, and know that I am God”, said the Lord through the Psalmist (Psalm 46.10a, NIV). That phrase “Be still” can also be translated, “Let go of your grip.” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look down and find my hands clenched into fists for no particular reason – it’s as if I’m holding on for dear life to something, but there’s nothing there!
When we let go of our grip, we can give up control to the God who made the world and made us for a relationship of love. When we are still, then we can truly know that the Lord is God. When we are quiet, we can engage in relationship with the Lord and hear him speaking into our souls.
Why not take a few minutes, right now, to be still, to let go of your grip, and to know that the Lord is God? Give yourself five minutes; time it if you feel you need to. Perhaps begin yours silence by inviting the Lord to speak, as Samuel did: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.10b, NIV). When you’re done, write down in a journal (or whatever scrap of paper is handy) how the Lord spoke to you through that time.
Here’s some more space for silence.
God’s best for your weekend. Maybe you can set aside some time for silence again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…