What is it about silence that makes people so uncomfortable? As an introvert, I thrive on silence. Yet when I’m in a group of people or with one person and I don’t say anything (because I genuinely have nothing to say), they grow uneasy. Or when I’m reading a book rather than socializing with people, they also grow uneasy, so they interrupt my growing relationship with the good book. As an introvert, I only talk when I believe it’s necessary—that is, when I have something to say, I’ll say it. I don’t see the point of saying anything if it’s just meaningless talk. About a year ago or so I wrote my 1,167th poem inspired by Proverbs 29:9, “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” The poem is called, “Loud World,” and it reads as follows:
People speculate at my silent nature, —
an anomaly that I don’t talk much.
The world is loud enough as it is;
I shall not add to it with foolish talk.
What are a thousand words set against eternity?
Eternal significance equates to God’s glory.
Speak with a mind focused on God,
lest you find yourself adding to the noise.
In this poem, I’m describing how my introversion is an anomaly to a lot of people and that I usually only talk if it has significance. In my mind, if it’s insignificant and meaningless, why bother saying anything at all? It’s just a waste of breath and time.
We live in a loud world. People are constantly talking about things that don’t really matter and even when we pray, we don’t wait for the Lord long enough before we start talking again. Sometimes, words are unnecessary. When Job’s suffering was so great, his three friends sat with him for 7 days and nights and didn’t even say a word (Job 2:13); they just sat with him for comfort because they knew words would not be enough (Granted, his three friends said many things afterwards, but this was after Job began lamenting over his birth in chapter three.) Sometimes, we may not even have the right words to express ourselves to God, in which case the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). So silence before God, and silence in general, is not at all a bad thing. In fact, Scripture exhorts us to be silent before God.
The greatest figure in the Bible that we have as an example for silence before God is Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Much is said about Mary the mother of Jesus, and even Mary’s cousin Elizabeth in the gospel of Luke; but nothing is really said about Joseph. Why is this? Is it because Joseph had little to no role to play in Jesus’ life? Not at all. In fact, when Luke gives accounts of Jesus’ childhood (which is unique to Luke alone), we see Joseph was still a father figure to Jesus. He still took care of Him as a father would his child. When he found out Mary was pregnant, assuming she was promiscuous, he was doing an honorable thing to divorce her quietly rather than publicly, which would’ve brought shame upon her in front of the people. But when God sends an angel to Joseph telling him what he revealed to Mary, Joseph literally doesn’t say anything and does as the angel told him to do (Matthew 1:18-25). After that, nothing much is really said about Joseph except for his silent obedience to God’s will.
His silence speaks volumes. When God called Moses to free the Hebrew slaves, he had a lot of questions about whether or not this was possible and if he was the right person to do this. When God called Jonah to preach destruction to the Ninevites, he refused and ran from his calling, and eventually when he did preach to Nineveh he complained to God when He forgave them after their repentance in response to Jonah’s preaching. Even Abraham questioned God. Abraham silently obeyed God in leaving his country and countrymen to go to another place, but he also questioned God’s promise, “Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3). Even though he questioned God, God still assured him He would keep His promise in the subsequent verses. All these important figures in the Bible questioned God at some point, yet Joseph was the only one who was silently obedient.
But what is silent obedience to God? Beyond not saying anything, what does it mean? Psalm 37:7a says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him…” Patience is the key word. We’re not patient when we begin to question God’s will for us and the promises He’s made. We’re not patient when we ask Him to hurry up or ask for a sign. When you’re patient, you’re silent because if you’re patient, why would you need to say anything? We’re patient before God because we trust in Him; and because we trust Him, we are silent because we know nothing needs to be said. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10). This is like when God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). In other words, “I am God and because I am God, what I say will happen will happen. What I say I will do, I will do. So be still, and know this, for I alone bring it into effect.”
The prophet Zechariah preached to the Jewish exiles, “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling” (Zechariah 2:13). When God promises us something and promises to hear us, He will not rest until it is accomplished. As He is doing this, therefore, He calls us to silent reverence and to expect Him to accomplish His work. Impatience and continuing to complain or asking Him to hurry will not make His work go any quicker. God, our King, has moved from His throne so He may take care of us. He is our King, and in comparison to Him we are like peasants, yet He makes us His princes and princesses (his sons and daughters), although we are still to be quiet and revere Him and trust Him as we wait patiently and expectantly for His work to come to fruition. God is our Master, so don’t treat Him like a servant. After praying for understanding, God said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). God created the entire universe; there is nothing He cannot do. All these words He’s said on numerous occasions is essentially Him saying, “Shut up. I am Yahweh. I can do whatever I say I will do and I will do it when I say it’s time.”
So what can we do to practice silence before God? Trying not to talk unnecessarily is a good start. That is, when you grow impatient, don’t approach God in your impatience and ask Him to hurry up or “give you a sign.” The Pharisees also asked Jesus for a sign, to which He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40). The sign already happened—Jesus’ death and resurrection. The promise of this atonement was given to us since the beginning (Genesis 3:15), and it happened! We may not have seen it with our own eyes, but we have Scripture that enables faith and trust. Faith is trust that leads to action. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus tells the parable of two men who die: the rich man and his servant Lazarus. The rich man remains in Hell, and when he sees the forefather Abraham with the raised Lazarus, he asks Abraham to raise him from the flames, too. But Abraham essentially says he’s received his due. So the rich man asks Abraham to bring the resurrected Lazarus to his family so they may believe, but Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them… If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (vv. 29, 31). In other words, they already have the Scriptures that point to the resurrection (which is in Christ), so if the Scriptures alone don’t create faith in them, then neither will a sign such as resurrection from the dead. People today are no different. When an unexplained miracle happens, most doctors immediately claim there was a scientific reason without having an actual scientific reason that adequately explains the miracle.
Likewise, today we have the Scriptures to have faith and trust in God when we pray to Him. If the Scriptures don’t lead us to be silent before God and trust in Him with patience, then neither will a sign produce such patience in us. Therefore, we exercise silent obedience to God when we remain patient and trust in His will to be done rather than our own.
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