Have you ever been in a situation where you were far louder than the situation called for? Or, have you ever been chatting with someone in a loud room only for the room to fall silent at the most inopportune time? These situations lead to some awkward moments, but these pale in comparison to the awkwardness of silence.
I don’t know about you, but in music and movies silence catches my attention and I love it when artists use silence well. The other day my co-workers and I were working late and we were listening to music that one of them said we just had to hear. I was half paying attention as I was focused on my work until the music suddenly stopped. I immediately looked up because the silence caught my attention. There wasn’t a problem with the video or the technology, the musicians all intentionally stopped and fell silent for maybe 15 seconds, letting that stillness hang in the air before they continued on with the song.
Silence is a powerful tool when used the right way.
We’re taught from a young age that silence is a weapon that can be used against someone else. As children (and still as adults) we give people the “silent treatment”, shunning them from our presence when they do something that displeases us. I remember as a kid acting as a go-between for two people who were refusing to talk to each other, using their silence against the other. The adult version of this is withholding information or our opinion because we think that the other person isn’t “deserving” or hasn’t “earned” our expression.
But this isn’t how God commands us to use silence. God understands the power of words and the power of silence, something that we fail to grasp on a daily basis. Over and over again in the Bible, at pivotal moments, in that time right before a miracle happens, God commands his people to be silent. I encourage you to read through the story of the people of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho and notice God’s commands about silence.
When you’re focused on the mission, it leaves little time for talking.
Nehemiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible because it’s incredibly practical. This book contains the story of a man who saw a need, sought the Lord, and worked with a group of others to accomplish the task. Nehemiah had gathered leaders together and they had been rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but there were many people who were opposed to the work they were doing. Nehemiah wrote in Nehemiah 4: 17-21:
“The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.
Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”
We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard.”
These men didn’t have time for chit chat, there was no room for complaining or space for gossip; these men were ready for work, they were prepared for battle. They had to constantly be alert and there was no time for them to let their guard down. They had to listen carefully because when that trumpet sounded they had to be ready to fight. If they were chatting or relaxing on the job and the trumpet sounded, they would be unprepared for battle. More than that, if they missed the sound because they were so focused on their own words, they would miss God fighting on their behalf.
I wonder how many times we miss a miracle because we’re too focused on the sound of our own voice.
I am great at complaining. My personality is the “glass half empty”, pessimistic, something will always go wrong, type. So, it doesn’t matter if things are going well or everything’s awful, I can always find something to complain about. But this isn’t what God wants for his people. For about a week God’s word to me has been “be silent”. When I want to complain or say something negative or just run my mouth, I’ve made the choice to be silent. Instead of outwardly expressing my opinions, I’ve shared them with God and am trusting that he’ll correct me or the person or the situation, whatever he feels is best.
I’m choosing to enjoy the silence. I’m deciding to be still and silent before the Lord and wait for him to move on my behalf. I’m laying down my right to talk and taking up my privilege to prayer. I’m willing to endure the awkwardness of the silence to draw closer to him. Are you willing to join me?