Listening to God in silence
19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
This was JuElle’s one of favorite toys. This doll is called “Hello Kitty” which was created in Japan in 1974 by a Japanese female designer, Yuko Shimizu. According to Hello Kitty’s history, this cute kitty doll came to USA in 1976 and became a world-famous doll. When JuElle cried, I used to rock this Hello Kitty in front of her, and it worked very well. So, Hello Kitty was a magic doll not only for JuElle, but also for me.
Anyway, I bring this doll because this Hello Kitty has a something special that we need to recognize. Can you find the something special from Kitty? (It might be a something strange.) I can give you a few second to find the special thing.
Yes, the special thing is that Kitty does not have mouth. Kitty has eyes, nose and ears, but not mouth. When Yuko designed Hello Kitty, she tried to create a doll for pre-adolescence girl and their need. So, she had spent so much time on observing little girls when they play with their doll in order to know their need. She found the need of little girls; and their need is to talk to their dolls. Little girls spend much time to talk to their dolls, and this play helps their development of healthy sociality and creativity.
In other word, Hello Kitty’s purpose of creation is to listen to the little girls. Hello Kitty’s advertising slogan was, “I am going to listen to you, friend. Tell me your story.” Kitty’s mission is to listen to little girls’ stories.
But we know that just to listen to others without any reaction or comment is not easy. We are familiar with talking something to others. Many times, we have tried to give advice to our children and spouses when they talk to us something.
Listening to others is not easy. Being silent seems not our job.
How about when we pray to God?
Through the times of prayer, we usually ask God to do something for us. But we rarely listen to God.
Let’s look back ourselves. What have we usually done when we sit or kneel down to pray? Have we given to God a time, so God can speak to us? We usually have the answer to our prayers in mind and ask God to give us the answer we desire.
But that is not the way Jesus taught us about prayer nor the way God wants us to pray.
II. In Psalm 46, there is God’s commandment when people are excited by God’s works in their life.
Let’s look at today’s first scripture reading that comes from Psalm 46. The author praised about what God did in times of great trouble. What was the great trouble to the author? We can assume that it was a war through verse 9. Verse 9 says: “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”
The Israelite won the war by God’s help as the author says, “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near.” This writer of Psalm 46 praises to God in verses 1 through 9 which comes from his/her thankful heart to God. This might be the author’s purpose to write this Psalm. But this Psalm does not end at the verse 9 which is the praise for God’s works from Israelite. There is a verse 10 that is God’s Word. (God says in verse 10.) Let’s see verse 10 together.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.” This means that the world knows that God’s awesomeness not through our praise, but through the results of God’s works. Therefore, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” God is making God’s people calm down by saying, “be still.”
Common English Bible translates this verse, “That’s enough!” In this verse, God commands to God’s people speak no more, because the world knows God is God through God’s deeds. God’s presence can be experienced mostly when we are still in silence, because sometimes our word or deed would make God’s works very humanized. In other word, marvelous and mystical divine works would be diminished to a human level when we try to express within our comprehensible level.
In John 1:46, Nathanael doubted when people talked about Jesus to him. He asked, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” Then Philip said, “Come and see.” This answer is very impressive, isn’t it? There was no need for any explanation. Come and see, because I cannot express all things Jesus has done so far. Come and see and then you will see clearly by your eyes not by my word. Come and see. Philip knew that he did not need to say any more, because people would know that Jesus is their Savior through His own words and deeds.
In many times, we are required to be silent for the relationship with God and for the ministry of Jesus among and through us.
“Be still and know that God is God” and “Come and see” tell us a lot about the mysterious works of God in our lives.
III. Sixth Sense and silence
Do you remember the movie entitled “Sixth Sense?” This movie was so famous because of its ending. Right? Do you remember the plot twist of this movie? Yes, it was shocking to everybody... but not to me. Do you know why? One of my friends told me the whole story about the movie including the final reversal. He stole my chance to enjoy the movie’s ending.
Sometimes, we need to learn how to be silent. But as I mentioned above, it is not easy to be silent, and it seems not our job.
IV. Lamentations and silence.
Nonetheless, we should be reminded that silence is essential for the spiritual life. It is one of the first steps toward a deeper relationship with God. Many Scriptural authors knew that they needed to be silent in front of God when they were in difficulty, such as war, accusation, conflict or trouble. They could find their break through by being silent in front of God. Moses met God in the silence on Mt. Sinai; and Elijah discovered that God was not found in noise and activity, but in “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV). Jesus, too, knew the power God found in the silence. He prepared for his ministry in the quiet of the desert and regularly found sustenance in quiet places where he rested in God.
Today’s second scripture’s writer also knew that waiting God in silence was the answer for their suffering.
Lamentations is a concentrated and intense biblical witness to suffering. Suffering is a huge and unavoidable element in the human condition. To be human is to suffer. No one gets an exemption.
There are two polar events in the history of the Hebrew people: The Exodus from Egypt and the Exile into Babylon. Exodus is the definitive story of salvation into a free life. God delivered his people from Egyptian slavery. It is a story of freedom. On the other hand, Exile is the definitive story of judgment accompanied by immense suffering. Lamentations’ author wrote this to give their broken heart, disappointment, and petition to God. In Lamentations 3:2-3, he/she says, “He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light, against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.”
It sounds like there is no hope in his days. Yes, it seems there was no breakthrough.
But we can find some verses in Lamentations telling about their deliverance by God. One of them is in our today’s passage and this tells us the truth that we are looking for. Verse 26 says, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” during the difficult times.
I would like to share with you the different translations of this verse: One is from Common English Bible and the other one is from Message Bible. Common English Bible translates it: “It’s good to wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance,” and Message Bible translates it like this, “It’s good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope of help from God.”
Quietly hope! What a beautiful Word. Hope quietly. Even though Israel was taken captive by Babylon, they hoped quietly the Lord’s deliverance. Lamentations’ author knew that their hope would come from God quietly.
V. Contemporary silence
Sometimes we forget that worship is not about us, it is about God. In our forgetfulness, we tend to fill the silence with our creations, our words, our music, and our needs. Perhaps another reason why the contemporary worship leaders do not include the practice of silence in worship is because silence feels much like doing nothing, and we are a culture of “doers.” In our media filled culture, there is increasing pressure for worship to entertain, and silence is sometimes viewed as empty airtime.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Silence is not easy; it is not part of contemporary culture, but the Bible teaches us that silence leads us to the living presence of God. Silence allows us to listen to God. Silence helps us to see God’s will, not our will in our times.
William Barclay once said, “Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God’s voice to us.”
Hearing requires silence as Hello Kitty does. Some of us may be afraid of what we will hear if we become still. But the Bible tells us that silence has the ability to reveal to us God’s plan for our real concerns and anxiety for tomorrow. In silence, we can find the answers from God.
God loves us as we are and yearns to relate to us at the core of our being. If we would speak too much to God, we can’t listen to God, and we can’t know what God wants us to do. The Divine Lover waits patiently for us to hear and respond to the invitation to move deeper into relationship with the one who created us.
Quietly hope for the help from God. It is truth and ultimate place we have to stand for our spiritual life. As we see through Psalm 46, hope quietly of help from God when you are in joy; and as we see through Lamentations 3, hope quietly of help from God when you are in sorrow and difficult challenge. Then God will work through our life as God has done for us. Amen.