My friend just came back from a silent retreat. When I spoke to him, he said it was a great experience, although, I confess, lots of jokes were running through my head. I mean, how would you know that people didn’t hate the silence? No one could say anything about it!
These kinds of retreats are becoming more popular. People travel a long way and pay good money to sit for days in silence. To be honest, it sounds like a wonderful idea to me. We are bombarded like no generation before us with information overload and voices uttering every imaginable message. I find that I need to turn the shouting voices of our culture off and rediscover who God is and who I am. In fact, I have a little silent retreat nearly every morning. It has become my sanity.
Jesus not only took time to disengage from the busyness of his world (Matthew 14:23), but he called his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31). Solomon’s wisdom reveals to us that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). In 1 Kings 19, we see the burnt-out prophet Elijah receive refreshment, purpose, direction and a reason for living from the “gentle whisper” of the Lord.
But I think that some of us are fearful of silence. We choose to fill our lives with noise – and there is no shortage of noise and worthless activity all around us. We fear silence because the voices we hear or the things we learn about ourselves during times of contemplation intimidate us. The truth is, some of us, when we get quiet, hear the voice of the accuser telling us that we are not enough or we haven’t done enough. We buy the lie and we feel worthless.
That is why I love the message that God speaks to us in Zephaniah 2:13-3:5. The passage starts out with a command to
“be still before the Lord, all mankind,
because the Lord has roused himself from his holy dwelling”.
There is a sense that some huge injustice has occurred and that the Lord himself is stirring to put it right. A holy silence fills the heavens as we see what God will do. Then we see the reason for the Lord’s wrath. Satan is accusing Joshua the high priest, just as he accuses you and I. But here we see the heart of God as he thunders from heaven,
“The Lord rebuke you, Satan!
The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!
Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Then the Lord saw to it that Joshua’s filthy garments were taken away and spoke truth to him:
“Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you,
and I will clothe you with pure garments.”
Maybe…just maybe… if we will stop the madness of this world long enough to be silent before the Lord of Hosts, we will hear him reassure us from his Word, by his Spirit, that we are chosen… redeemed… safe in his love… righteous because he has plucked us from the fire.
Now THERE is the ammunition we need to go back into the fray. We cannot hide ourselves from the world. We are called to be salt and light in the midst of a perverse generation. We must bear the clamor of the world in order to effect it for the Kingdom of God. But it is often in the silence that God speaks loudest and fills us with what we need to be secure in him and to point others to him. We need His voice to be the loudest voice in our lives.
So don’t fear the silence. Sometimes it is just what we need to hear.