Have you noticed how noisy it has become lately? It isn’t simply the noise and din of traffic, the roar of jet engines, and the blare of radio, TV, and stereo players. There’s the noise of people, the endless chatter of meaningless conversation, and the weariness of small talk. Someone noticed that the average person has at least 30 conversations a day, spends one-fifth of his life talking, and speaks enough words in a year to fill 66 books, each containing some 800 pages. Yet at the end of the day, it is seldom when we can look back and remember a really meaningful conversation. Most of what consumes our lives are trivia—non-threatening, not very important, exchanges.
Another observation is that we are using noise as insulation against loneliness and in some cases relationships. People listen to the radio or television with no thought of absorbing what is being said. It’s like a security blanket or envelope. As soon as you get into the car, you turn on the radio or play a CD. We avoid facing issues because it is too noisy to talk.
We’re missing something, too–something creative and meaningful. It is stillness. Absolute quiet gives time to think, to listen, to ponder, and to plan. I’m thinking of the powerful words found in Psalm 46:10 where God—not the psalmist—said, “Be still, and know that I am God….” I like the way a modern paraphrase puts it: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything” (The Message).
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15
For a few moments ponder that first injunction: “Be still.” This means you shut off your engine. Don’t just turn down the volume. Shut it off entirely. If you have little noisemakers in your house, put them down for a nap or put them to bed and go out in the back yard and look at the stars. Solitude is not easily bought. It’s amazing how difficult it is to find a quiet place. Nature has a different kind of noise, one that is restorative rather than numbing. The person who thinks that forests or oceans are quiet has never been on or in either.
But the whisper of the wind in the trees or the chirping of a bird, or even the noisy conversation of squirrels is different from the din of traffic and the grinding of gears—whether it is a semi-truck or the chatter of the hard disk on your computer, or the clack of the keys on the keyboard.
You hear things that you never will observe apart from being quiet. But being still isn’t all that God wants us to learn. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Frankly, the voice of God is a still one, and we hear His voice most clearly when we silence our hearts before Him.
A generation ago when people came to church on Sunday, they came to worship, and in preparing their hearts, they usually sat in silence for a few minutes as the organ played a prelude. Then at the conclusion of the hour, they sat there, presumably thinking about what they had heard and how it could be applied to their lives.
You will never learn the benefits of being still without reprogramming yourself. Try turning off your radio or TV for an evening. See how difficult it is—at least for most of us—to maintain an hour of absolute silence.
A final thought: There is strength in quiet and solitude. In Isaiah 30 there is an interesting phrase. He says, “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). Yet the prophet notes that the people would not quiet their hearts before God. May we learn a lesson from their failure.
Resource reading: Psalm 46.