John and I went to Grace Snellville's evening service tonight, where the Lord spoke to me through Aaron Keyes's message about the importance of silence and being still. I've typed up my notes below, with my thoughts at the end. Aaron said much that I never considered before and I felt as if the Lord showed me what He'd been saying in a way that I could grasp.
The Value of Silence in a Noisy World
The Lord tells us that it is important to be still before Him. Psalm 62 talks about waiting silently before the Lord. Isaiah 30:15 says, " For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.'"
The verses that we will focus on is Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" -- Refraining, letting go, being quiet. Too often our vacations lead to "vacancy" rather than stillness and rest -- an emptying of our brains -- and sometimes, even vacations are so busy that we have to rest, from our vacation! This is not very helpful to us and not what we really need. The kind of stillness and rest that the Lord speaks about is different.
Looking at Luke 1, concerning the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah, we see that the first Christmas gift was silence. He tells God that what He's saying is impossible, because he is an old man. Have you told God what He cannot do before? Often, we do this.
Words are powerful. And Zechariah's words were taken away. Look at James 3, to see the power of our words. Our words matter as much as our worship. Freedom in worship isn't just about how passionately we sing. Worship and freedom go hand-in-hand. Freedom in worship is about not being enslaved to anything in our lives - our lives themselves - the way we live - is the most important kind of worship. We can still worship passionately in song to the Lord and be enslaved.
Our words reflect our hearts. Those patterns are too deep for willpower alone to change. Can you be free of saying things that are destructive? Can a sailor control the wind or a gardener make a plant grow? We cannot force ourselves to speak differently but we can do so indirectly, by letting God transform our hearts. Your mouth only says what our heart is full of. The right word at the right time in invaluably beautiful (Prov.25:11). The wrong word at the wrong time is incalculably destructive (James 3).
We see that Jesus began His ministry with silence, being driven into the wilderness for 40 days by the Spirit (Luke 4:1). And notice that it seems as if Zechariah was not only unable to speak, but also deaf - his world was totally silenced - since we see later in Luke 1:62 that his relatives had to make signs to him to ask him what the baby's name would be.
In our noise-filled world, silence is golden. I don't know about you, but in my world, it's platinum! The value of something is measured by it's scarcity. Silence is one of the ultimate luxuries. In the Netherlands, they have "no wifi" benches that actually have wifi jammers in them and block wifi in a 15 foot radius around them - sponsored by Kit-Kat, "Take a break." In LA, hotels give a 5% discount if guests will check their cell phones at the lobby desk.
Yet, we tend to be afraid of silence. Why? Here are some possible reasons. 1) In silence, we are vulnerable to whatever is in our minds - you are at the mercy of your thoughts - good or bad. 2) We come face-to-face with our own weakness. The illusion of control dies. It's hard to influence anyone around you or do anything in silence. 3) And you bump into yourself.
When you love what you do, it's easy to keep piling things on until you break or burn yourself out. I did that - I am a worship leader and absolutely love it. I wrote music, lead worship, trained other worship leaders, started groups, with my wife and four kids. And I loved every minute of it. But finally, I literally couldn't take on any more. So, I took a year's sabbatical away from everything - no phones, computer, wifi, nothing. I didn't write music. And I started seeing all this junk surface in my heart I didn't know was there - insecurity, fears, all kinds of things - toxic junk that was there, under the surface, the whole time, and I didn't know. It's easy to miss things on the move. Perhaps that's why we stay at the pace we do. There are so many things that I began to see for the first time that I wished so much I'd seen years ago. I had to put to rest a lot of the things I *thought* I wanted, to make room for what God was really doing in my life, for His bigger and better dreams for me that I was missing.
The Lord tells us to deny ourselves and follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25). But we have to embrace what and who we are first, before we can deny that. Otherwise, everything just stays unknown, hidden beneath the surface, and we worship the Lord in expressions of piety that don't mean anything - it doesn't reflect the reality of our hearts - and this is dangerous. Lies can grow really quickly in the soil of self-ignorance. It's frightening at first, but it's immensely freeing in the end.
Someone once said, "Silence holds in its gloved hand the wild hoc of the mind." The Lord tells us to take captive every thought (2 Cor. 10:5). Too often, it is the reverse. Every thought takes us captive. Just try it. Sit in silence. You'll end up getting MAD at people, stressing out, being bored or feeling guilty, as things boil to the surface. Silence is God's first language. The rest is a bad translation. Standing still, learning to be astonished before Him - Psalm 4:3-5.
I made the mistake last week of trying to do all the yard work I had missed in the last five years in one week. There was this gigantic vine covering the back of my house. It had it's own ecosystem. I was on the roof hacking it with a hatchet. And now, I'm still sore. I was thinking of John 15 while I did it and saying to myself, "Man, this should have been pruned LONG ago." If we're not careful, we can let things build up in our lives like that until it becomes a lot of work to get rid of it. Things are easy to miss, creeping into the cracks of our heart, like overgrown vines. If we stopped trying to serve God externally and payed 1% of attention to what He is doing within us, we'd be so much better off. We're missing it.
Silence puts you in dangerous territory. It makes you question life and the injustices that go on. You have to see the broken parts of you and face them, find what parts of you, broken, are contributing to the brokenness in the world. But the really comforting thing is that you'll find the Lord is there already, in the rubble of your soul, waiting for you saying, "I was waiting for you here. I already knew all about this. And I already have been loving you all along anyway. Will you let me heal it?"
If you're afraid to look deeply at yourself, you'll be just as afraid to look deeply at God. You cannot have success while your center is scattered. In Psalms 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God," - the word know is an experiential knowing, an intimate knowing. It's the same word as in Genesis 4:1 that says, "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived..." (This is true - I double checked here in Strong's Concordance - click on the highlighted word in Genesis and in Psalm 46:10 for a comparison.) It's not just believing God. The devils believe that He is real and tremble (James 2:19). This is being intimately involved with God - a vulnerability and surrender - a personal knowing based upon experience.
Too often, we expect God to act like WE would if we were God. We need to let Him be Him, rather than projecting onto Him what we would be. (Perhaps this is why God is always so surprising.) God is not like us. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-11) - they don't come naturally to us - He is completely Other.
Some talk about worshiping God at worship rallies and are like, "Oh yeah! God just wants to be FAMOUS!" Does He? Or does He want to be known - and you think He wants to be famous, because you want to be famous? Or when a natural disaster like a hurricane strikes and people say, "It's because God is judging those sinful people!" Is He? That goes against everything Jesus represented to us about Him (see Luke 13:1-5). Or is it that that is what YOU would do if you were Him? Someone once said, "God made man in His image and man returned the favor." God is nothing like you would be like if you were God. He is wholly different. Sometimes, we think we have God figured out - but not even close. What you find is that God is way better. You find an overflowing love - a heart that beats for every nation.
God being exalted does not mean some ego boost for Him, some mastery of things, Imperialism or some such. Where He is exalted, life flourishes and things get better. Overflowing love pours out. At the foundation of the throne of God is righteousness and justice. I want Him to be exalted in every country, because when He is, life explodes and the suffering of people that's so rampant goes away. He brings light and justice - do you want to be a part of that?
Too often, talking about salvation, we ask if you want to "invite the Lord into your heart." What about God inviting US? That's what it's really about. We're not inviting Him so much as He is inviting us into HIS heart, to be involved in His mission, His heart for the nations.
If computer hard drives need margin, how about our hearts? The story of Jesus began and really, ended, in silence. When He was brought before Pilate and accused, He said nothing (see Mark 15:3-5). He told them that if He wanted to, He could ask the Father and He would send twelve legions of angels to rescue Him (Matt. 26:52-54). But, He chose not to. Perhaps you could say that we are saved as much by the Lord's silence as by His Word - by the word He didn't say.
Set aside time for silence in your life - you won't regret it - and such time is never wasted. If you want, you can use the meditations I've written up for next week as a place to start.
Meditations for the Week
Tuesday: Habakkuk 2:20 says, "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." Practice 5 minutes of silence with God; take long, slow breaths. Sit up straight and relax. Wiggle your fingers and toes; thank God for the health you enjoy.
Wednesday: Jesus says in John 15:5, "I am the Vine, you are the branches." Reflect on this image, how the vine and branch are one. In the same verse, Jesus goes on to say, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Note our tendency to act as if apart from us, God could do nothing. Surrender your day to letting His life, His words and His nature flow into you, producing fruit in time."
Thursday: Listen to the song, "O Magnum Mysterium," as performed by Morten Lauridsen and The Kings College. (It's easy to find on Youtube.) This is a choral piece about the great mystery of God becoming incarnate in Jesus. Reflect on John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." Consider again the wonder of our Immanuel, God with us. If God's glory was on display in a manger and a cross, what might that mean about His view of His glory, and ours?
Friday: Acts 17:28 says, "In Him we live and move and have our being." Picture a sponge, floating in the ocean. If the sponge could look out from itself, it'd see ocean; if the sponge could look within, it'd see ocean. It's completely immersed in that which fills it. Consider today that in Him, you live; in Him, you move; in Him, you have your being.
Note/Clarification: Understanding That the Lord Is In Us
Scripture tells us that the Lord put His seed within us - literally "sperm" in the ancient Greek. 1 John 3:9, "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." This is how He makes our dead spirits alive and restores our connection to Him.
This is the source of our new life in Christ - we literally have the Lord Himself in us - that is an astounding thing to meditate upon. This is why we can hear Him speaking.
John 10:1-6, "'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.' 6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them."
One might ask, then why do we still sin, if we have the Lord Himself in us? It is because we also still have "the flesh" - our bodies - and sin in our bodies - our old master.
Romans 8:10-11, "10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
Thus, we can CHOOSE to obey either the Spirit or our old master, sin. Since the Lord birthed this new life within us - Himself - we are free from the control of the old sinful flesh. We cannot overcome sin and the flesh ourselves - trying to willfully do right on our own - that won't have any more success than doing that apart from the Lord, yet that is what a lot of Christian try to do. Instead, we must ask for His help and He will overcome sin for us; He will act through us, with His Spirit. We can do nothing of ourselves. As Jesus says in John 15:5, "Without me, you can do nothing."
Therefore, we can either surrender to the Lord, letting Him act through us and overcome the sin in us, or we can try to do good on our own and/or obey the sin inside of us (which basically amounts to the same thing in the end, since if we try to do good by ourselves, we will fail and fall to the sin in us). It depends a lot on where we set our mind and how we renew ourselves - the Word refreshes and feeds us.
Romans 8:12-14, "12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
Romans 8:5-7, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
The more we abide, rest and meditate on the Lord and His Word, the more He transforms our hearts to be like Him and the more of His spirit gets into and transforms our flesh. This is the transformative process of sanctification and probably has a lot to do with how we grow more deeply into knowing His better, as well.
If you want a really in-depth discussion of this topic out of Scripture and what the different part of man are - body, soul, spirit and mind - and what the heart of man is - then I encourage you to read Witness Lee's The Ecoconomy of God. He explains it in the most Scriptural, clear and practical way I have ever read - it's incredibly, beautifully clear, in this book. This was not his real name - he was a Chinese believer and disciple of Watchman Nee - both of them chose American names, as you see written. You can find this book here on Amazon or for free online as an ebook here. Scroll down to "Economy of God, The." Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee wrote an unbelievable quantity of things on Scripture all of which tend to be incredibly deep. Watchman Nee is most famous for writing The Normal Christian Life.
Why do I write this clarification? Because it took me the better part of my life to finally understand this point in Scripture - what happens at salvation, where the Lord resides in us, why we still sin after we're saved and how we surrender to Him and take part in the new life He gave to us. It takes a long time to understand, and is famously often left unexplained or made more confusing. When I was writing these notes, I felt compelled to write this clarification. He wanted it in here.
Before the message, I was incredibly troubled, uncertain what I was supposed to do. Before we left, I was talking with John and he was worrying about something, and I had an attack of worry. I was feeling shooting pains down my shoulder and neck and they seemed to be threatening to freeze up again. But now, I have peace, because I know what He wants. And my shoulder hurt worse. I was wondering why this should be and why I have been seemingly stressed and tense, when I had rested so much. John said probably, all the stress built up in me throughout the year was finding it's way out, now that I was in stillness. I'm guessing he's right. This is likely what the Lord wants to remove from me, in part.
What I'm Going to Do About It
I'm already used to spending time with the Lord in the mornings. I think He wants a little more from me than that. Either way, I'm determined to do the most of what He wants that I can, until He shows me what I need to see.
It's hard to be in silence in the house. I'm going to go down to the Lawrenceville library tomorrow and every day this week, to sit in their quiet rooms. I'll bring a bag with my Bible and a few things. I plan on sitting 15 min in total silence, then spending time reading Scripture, asking Him to show me what He wants, and just see what happens - give Him a chance to remove all the stress and junk I've been carrying around so long. I have no idea what He wants outside of being in silence before Him. I guess, I shall see. I'll leave when I feel He's told me it's enough.
So, it's not that reading science articles are bad. It's not any of that. But sometimes, we have to get away from piling even what we enjoy on ourselves, get rid of some of the rubbish and baggage that has built up in ourselves, so that we can actually hear Him properly. The Lord's voice is small and still - quiet as a whisper. Look at the example of Elijah and when and how he heard the Lord's voice.
1 Kings 19:5-18, "5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel[a] touched him, and said to him, 'Arise and eat.' 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel[b] of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.' 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'
10 So he said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.'
11 Then He said, 'Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'
14 And he said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.'
15 Then the Lord said to him: 'Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.'”
What I Plan to Do for the Next Year
I am planning on making being in silence before the Lord a lot bigger part of my time - once a week - on one of the weekend days - I'll do something similar as I'm planning for next week. Also, every day in the morning, like Aaron Keyes talks about in his meditations, it's good to be in silence at least 5-10 minutes, as part of morning readings. That is something I have no always paid attention to, I think.
Pray that as I sit in silence before Him in this next week, that He shows me what I need to see, clears my life of stress and clutter - which sad to say, is truly considerable - and refreshes me with strength for the new year. I know I need this. Pray I can really hear Him. Pray He takes me deeper into a better knowledge of Him. Finally, I understand.