The Importance of Sheer Silence
By Steve Brubaker
How often when we think of “worship” do we think of “silence?” If you are like me, I tend to picture worshiping God as an active event – a time of verbal praise. However, over the years, I have realized worship does not always mean activity. In fact, I have learned that silence is equally important – and often, more so. I am convinced that God is honored and worshipped when I spend time with Him in silence.
Let us look at “silence” in scripture:
- Most of us will immediately think of Psalm 46:10, “Be still (silent), and know that I am God.” Our silence honors His holiness.
- Likewise, most of us are familiar with Habbukuk 2:20, “The Lord is in His Holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Often used as a call to corporate worship.
- Jeremiah reminds us of the importance of silence in Lamentations 3:28, “Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.” A call to obedience by sitting in silence.
- Of course, one of the most quoted Bible references about silence is Elijah’s encounter with God as he was hiding from Queen Jezebel after killing her 300 prophets of Baal. 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NKJV) “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…”
While we agree a “small still voice” is not silence…we often think that is how God speaks to us. Interestingly, Biblical scholars recognize this Biblical translation, here in the New King James Version, is inaccurate or at best, “lazy.” Other versions use, “whisper,” “gentle blowing,” etc., still less than accurate.
The original Hebrew is קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַּקָּה, pronounced phonetically in English as: «kol d’ma•ma da•ka». And the Hebrew word actually translates as “SHEER SILENCE.” Now I think there is a big difference between a “small still voice” and “sheer silence.” What did Elijah hear?! Nothing – it was absolute silence! That would make me take notice also. Most people react uncomfortably to silence. When the pastor says, “We’ll have a minute of silent prayer,” we typically make it about 13 seconds before we become uneasy.
Interestingly, the more complete Hebrew meaning is “a thin silence.” And those who sew will easily recognize the additional English meaning of “sheer.” My wife hangs “sheers” in the front window. So, while I tend to think of something “sheer” as enormous – the “sheer magnitude of the issue,” it also means “thin silence.” What is “thin silence?”
What I like about “thin silence” is it speaks to silencing two senses – auditory and visual. In the 21st century, I think we deal with as much “visual noise” as audible noise. And in many respects, today’s visual noise is probably more onerous, damaging, and dangerous than what we hear. There are far more biblical references to sins of seeing than those of hearing:
- “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Matt 6:22, Luke 11:34)
- “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” (Psalm 101:3)
- “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3)
- “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29)
To achieve visual and auditory silence means I need to “unplug” from the variety of devices that bombard us. If I want to achieve sheer silence, I must turn off my mobile phone and shut off the television and computer. While I may appreciate the convenience of scripture on my iPhone, it is too easy for it to become a distraction – an old-school, printed Bible presents far fewer distractions.
Picture Elijah in a dark cave after witnessing a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire, and I suspect most of us would be as frightened as he was – but we need to reflect on his response. He went immediately to the mouth of the cave so the Lord could speak directly to him with specific instructions. And isn’t that what we all are seeking from God?
Of course, the perfect example of someone who always desired to hear from God, His Father, was Jesus. He sought solitary silence with His Father daily and often more than once per day. Let us learn from Jesus. He modeled the spiritual disciplines of Relax, Detach, and Listening.
I suggest it is in the solitude of sheer silence we are best able to follow Jesus’ example. There we can relax because it is just the two of us. We can detach from the world around us. And once relaxed and detached we are available to listen to what He has to say to us and only us.
In my March article, “Reflections on a Secret Place,” I wrote, “In 2011, I was blessed to hear “Mama Maggie Gobran,” founder of Eygpt’s Stephen’s Children, and often referred to as the “Mother Teresa of Cairo,” speak.” She closed her message that morning by sharing her steps to help experience sheer silence, and she admitted, “It is not easy!” I agree, while it is relatively easy to find solitude and a quiet atmosphere, it is far more difficult to experience “sheer silence.” That morning I wrote down the steps she shared, and I still find them helpful:
- Silent your body – to listen to your words.
- Silent your tongue – to listen to your thoughts.
- Silent your thoughts – to listen to your heart beating.
- Silent your heart – to listen to your spirit.
- And silent your spirit – to listen to His Spirit.
- In silence, you leave many – to be with the One.
My prayer is you, too, can experience the Secret of Sheer Silence. Be blessed
* Morganton CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Connection) meets every Tuesday,
Noon -1 p.m., Morganton Community House, for Lunch, Bible study, and Fellowship. Join us.
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