sound of silence

I couldn’t talk for three hours. My wife forbade me. And I always do what she says.

On Sunday, Shannon taught Sunday school at church. She’s been leading a series of lessons on spiritual disciplines. This past Sunday the focus was Silence. She gave the class a challenge to be silent for the next three hours, until lunch. I considered just having a early lunch, but then thought Shannon might think that was a bad idea.

Why be silent?

First, the prophet Habakkuk thinks it’s good to be silent. He declares,

  • The LORD is in his holy temple;
  • Let all the world keep silent before him (Hab. 2:20).

Sometimes, the only appropriate response to God’s holiness is silent, reverent awe.

Second, Paul thinks it’s good to be silent. He specifically prays that all people “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). A few verses later Paul encourages women to be quiet (h`suci,a|; 2 Tim 2:12), but when this is taught on people often ignore the fact that Paul had just encouraged everyone, including kings and leaders, also to be quiet (h`su,cion). It’s good for both men and women to be silent.

Third, YHWH thinks it’s good to be silent. After Elijah’s mighty victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Queen Jezebel put out a “hit” on the prophet’s life, which prompted him to spiral into a suicidal depression (1 Kgs. 18-19). YHWH spoke to Elijah not in the rock-shattering wind, not in the ground-shaking earthquake, not in the blazing fire, but in a silent whisper. The Earth, Wind and Fire got the prophet’s attention, so God could speak. God speaks in silence. Silence helps us hear God’s voice.

Fourth, Jesus thinks it’s good to be silent. The prophet Isaiah speaks prophetically about Jesus, the suffering servant in Isaiah 53,

  • 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. (Isaiah 53:7)

Like a sheep before its shearers, Jesus was silent on the way to his own slaughter. During his three-year ministry, Jesus taught crowds, called disciples, told stories, and asked questions, but shortly before his death he was silent (Mark 14:61)

Habakkuk, Paul, YHWH and Jesus all think silence is golden.

Why be silent? It’s harder to listen when you’re talking. But it’s easier to listen when you’re silent. There is a lot of noise out there. We need the sound of silence to listen to others and to listen to God.

Our Sunday school class meets during the first service, so many folks from our class attend the second service. As I silently walked around the lobby of the church, I dreaded seeing someone I know because I knew it might be awkward. When I saw a friend I’d hold up the card Shannon gave everyone in class to show people why we weren’t talking: “We’re practicing the spiritual discipline of silence.”

One friend I listened to on Sunday said he was worried that I was having vocal cord problems again. In the fall of 2012 my vocal cords were damaged, and I needed to rest them as much as possible, so as little talking as possible (which my family loved). But as I walked around voluntarily choosing not to speak on Sunday, it made me grateful not only for God’s healing of my voice, but also for the opportunity to actively listen to others and to God.


0 # Mark Neale 2014-07-02 16:15
I am very mouthy, in the UK we say 'gobby'; but sometimes I just run out of words to describe God's grace, holiness and mercy. When that happens I have to give up and be quiet - sometimes silence is the only language that will suffice to express His magnificence.
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0 # tanya marlow 2014-07-03 07:18
Love this exploration of silence. Has challenged me to be more silent today. (I don't use my actual voice very much, but i am very 'noisy' on social media...)
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0 # Brenda Reibson 2014-07-03 09:16
I'm learning that in this world of so much noise and so many voices (including my own), silence provides a peaceful and reflective interlude.
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+1 # David Lamb 2014-07-03 09:22
Mark, Tanya, Brenda,
Amen, amen, amen.

Silence is undervalued in our culture, and certainly in the church. Introverts are a overlooked treasure, as is anyone who listens well to God and others.

Thanks for the comments.
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