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A Time for Silence

[God] said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence….Then the LORD said….” I Kings 19:11-12, 15a

The United States is probably the only country in the world where success is measured by how busy you are.  Before the recent economic downturn Americans were increasingly working longer and longer hours.  They are way in front of all industrialized nations.  One UN report said they worked 2 ½ weeks more than Japanese, 6 weeks more than British and 12 ½ weeks more than German workers.  An economist who oversaw that report said, “It has a lot to do with the American psyche, with American culture. American workers are eager to make the best impression, to put in the most hours.”

We fuss about being busy with too crowded schedules.  We lament that we don’t have enough time for the important things like devotions and ministry for example.  But it looks suspiciously like all our protestations are really a way of saying to people, “Look how important I am,” or “Look how successful I am.”  Because we continue to make choices that keep us busy rather than enabling us to slow down, simplify, and prioritize our lives by what we say are the really important things.

One of the victims of our busyness is silence.  I made a phone call about our long distance service and as you might expect was told something like all our representatives are busy serving other customers, your call will be answered as soon as possible.  Then I was treated to silence!

I was reminded of that later when I read an article on silence in worship.  Silence is a rare experience for harried, busy, successful getting-ahead-people.  Chances are if you have an experience of silence it makes you uncomfortable, uneasy, irritated.  Waiting for someone to answer your call is not an opportunity for silence but an irritation.

As one writer observes, even in worship, “Silence, it seems, is to be filled.”  She continues, “I suppose we inherit this sense of silence as ‘dead air time’ from radio and TV, where every second of time not pulsing with a voice or image is ‘lost’ or ‘dead.’”1

Silence is difficult to find in our daily lives even for those who seek it.  We have become so accustomed to so called “white noise”–whine of refrigerators, idling motors, florescent lights, neighboring boomboxes, passing cars, etc. we are startled by silence.  Our life style our technology all make it difficult to find stillness, silence.  It is true that every new technology changes the way we live.

To be sure there are times in which it is sinful to be silent.  To face evil and say nothing is sin.  To keep silent when God is to be praised is sinful.  We are told there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7 NRSV).  Yet, the Bible places a great emphasis on silence.

It is a sign of wisdom—If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! (Job 13:5 NRSV)  Jesus certainly demonstrated it was important to him.  Do you regularly use silence as a part of your discipleship practices?

John Wesley was once advised to preach faith until he had it and then to preach it because he had it.  I’m not there yet in regards to silence.  But by God’s grace I hope to get there.  I invite you to go with me.

Some reasons for silence

1Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

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