October 16, 2006

When to Be Silent
by Pastor George Van Alstine

The prophet Zechariah called on all people to “Be still before the Lord” (2:13). This prophetic “Shush!” is found also in Isaiah (23:2 and 41:1). They recognized the human tendency to fill the mind and heart with “noise” that interferes with our ability to perceive who God is and what he is saying to us. In the words of the familiar psalm, we need to “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

But there are times we shouldn’t be still. David wrote about his anguish in a period of depression: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:3-5) If we are silent when we should be confessing our sins to God, we only increase our suffering.

Job had strong feelings about the injustices he had experienced. God told him not to be silent, but rather to express himself: “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.” (Job 40:7)

And of course, there’s praise. Worthy worship of God requires our expressions of adoration and thanksgiving: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.” (Psalm 146:1-2)

So our problem is not that we speak in the presence of God, too much or too little. Our problem is that we talk when we should be quiet and are silent when we should speak!

Sometimes we’re so busy chattering on about the tiny issues of our lives that we cannot hear God’s voice; we aren’t even aware of his presence. Then we need someone, maybe God himself, to shush us up: “Be still.”

But at other times, when we’re brooding over our hurts, or guilty about our sins, we “suffer in silence.” The Lord encourages us to: “Speak up!”

And most of us need to learn to be liberated in our praise. The heavens declare the glory of the Lord (Psalm 19:1), even the stones cry out (Luke 19:40)—and our lips are sealed.

“There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Our clocks are just off by about 180 degrees.