A Time to be Silent

Written by Norm Henry
From his column A Sound Mind

To speak or not to speak, that is the question. Ecclesiastes says there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak,” and wisdom is knowing the difference. Peter struggled with this issue just like many of us. Being uncomfortable with silence, people fill in pauses by saying something. Maybe speaking is easier than listening? Genuine listening requires effort and focused attention.

We really need to be silent at times and must have times of silence to truly listen. Finding those times are hard. We live in a noisy world. In the midst of crowd noise, voices lose their distinctiveness. We have to listen hard to hear the voice of someone speaking to us that we know. Computers tell us the news or sports results, whether we want to know them or not. We hear the “ping” of a message coming in, so we automatically check our cellphones to make sure we do not miss something “important.” We find it hard to tolerate silence, so we fill in the quiet with something. And life lived without some significant silence leaves us irritable, drained, and “deaf.”

In the midst of the noise, how do we make sure we can still hear God’s voice? I know we can hear Him through music and scripture and preaching (even our own). But what if He is speaking to us in a whisper, that still small voice from within? Like the sound of a gentle blowing that Elijah heard? How do we hear His voice in the midst of so many other voices?

Silence and solitude.

Jesus does seem to be saying that spending time with Him is more important than what we do for Him.

Times of silence and solitude allow other voices to quiet down so that we can hear His voice. The Psalmist said “Be still and know that I am God.” That is hard to do without times of silence and solitude. Even Jesus often withdrew by Himself into a solitary, quiet place to spend time with the Father. Saints over the centuries have embraced silence and solitude as ways of responding to God’s invitation to spend time with Him. And saints over the centuries have discovered that being silent and alone with God really helps to discern His voice from all others. Tozier wrote, “Quietness of soul, the fruit of truly seeking God, is seldom found in twentieth-century Christians. Far too many…have ceased to seek God with their whole hearts.”1 Oh my, I really want to know Christ!

My life of ministry with Christ has been a really good journey. I am so grateful. So here is the challenging scripture. You know it. Luke offers a glimpse of the relationship of Mary and Martha and Jesus. Martha had invited Jesus into her home. Martha was feeling the pressure of preparations. She had become “distracted” and irritable because of the pressure she was putting on herself, and Mary was doing nothing to help. So Martha complained to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” Mary, as you know, was “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His Word.” So the Lord replied to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part.” Only one thing?!

Too often I am like Martha. I think I need to finish my work, then sit at His feet. But Jesus says Mary’s attention to Him is The Only Necessary Thing?2 I think Jesus probably enjoyed the meal Martha provided for Him out of love. But I am sure He enjoyed time with Mary when she was sitting at His feet listening. And I know He enjoys it when we spend time with Him listening. When we sit and listen first, ministry then flows out of our relationship with God. Jesus does seem to be saying that spending time with Him is more important than what we do for Him. I need to remember that!

So find “a time to be silent”—a time to listen. Enjoy some silence and solitude with Jesus. Meditate on what He says to you. I know He has something to say to you. And it will be good!

Dr. Norm Henry has served the Church of the Nazarene in numerous capacities as both psychologist and minister.

1 Tozier, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1982.

2 Nouwen, Henri J.M. The Only Necessary Thing. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999.