The Discipline Of SilenceErwin W. Lutzer | January 26, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
Our lives are filled with clamor and noise, and we often prefer it that way. We rarely can go anywhere without music playing.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer explains why it’s necessary to settle down and be silent before God. In His presence, our hurried and wandering souls can finally find rest and renewal. And in these quiet moments, we find that our lives must be lived from the inside out.
Silence! How can we have silence in a world that is addicted to noise? We have to have some input into our lives. We can’t be in a quiet room. We have to turn on the T.V., the radio, read a newspaper. But whatever you do, don’t leave me just alone with my own thoughts. Some people, left alone with their own thoughts are very, very lonely.
In fact, there are many people who can’t be silent for a moment. They can’t be silent in church. They come and they’re not silent, and they’re thinking about other things and they can’t focus on God because the centrifugal force of their lives lies in an entirely different direction. They have never been taught silence and focus.
Back in the little country church that my parents took us to when we were just little children, whenever my parents went into the church they would bow and they would pray. They would just simply bow their heads and have a brief prayer. This was their common practice. It’s a wonderful practice that all of us should do. But I remember 20 or 30 people perhaps present in this small church. My father had just bowed his head and had finished his prayer and lifted up his head, and there was a man behind him who kind of put his arm on his shoulder and said to him, “Well, how many acres have you been able to combine this week?”
You see, even in the house of God we’ve not learned focus. We’ve not learned silence. You know the monks left the world for the wilderness because they wanted to do two things. First, the monks were very interested in trying to find God within the depths of their souls. Now, in this they were both right and wrong. First of all, God, however, is not found in the depths of our souls, by looking within and by contemplation. He is found by coming to Him through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and what Jesus did for us. But that said, once they understood that, the idea of getting to know God and contemplating God was very biblical. And some of those monks, after they spent a lot of time in the monasteries, came out and had marvelous transforming ministries.
But there was a second reason that they went to the monastery, and that is that they wanted to prove that God was sufficient for the human soul. And you and I need to prove that, though we’ll never go into a monastery except for a visit, because let me explain to you that all of life, as one writer says, we are, as it were, being evaluated on a score board. Our wins and our losses are there for everyone to see, and the more public ministries, or the more public people we are, the more those wins and losses become apparent to us. And soon our sense of self-worth is tied to our performance so tightly that we fear old age because once we are in that nursing home and we are of no value to anybody anymore, then we begin to think to ourselves, “Now what? Now that the mask is over and the charade has been completed, who are we really in the depths of our souls?” So even though we can’t follow the monks into the monasteries, we do have to learn their most important lessons, and that’s the purpose of this message.
Why a message on silence? Well, what is important is that you and I learn to live our lives from the center, so to speak. We have to live our lives from the inside out. We have to have those resources down deep within so that we can cope and we can even be at rest in the turmoil and the tensions and the pressures and the expectations of life where we are constantly being graded. And here’s our problem. Our minds are like restless wanderers that go to and fro about the earth. They flit around. I hope there’s a word like that. I think there is. They flit around.
And so if we follow our souls, our minds, from one anxiety to another, from one insecurity to another, from one jealous thought to another, from one idea to another, and if we just simply follow our minds wherever they lead us, they will not be centered on God. We must be composed, and what we’ll discover is resources within to cope with the world without—living life from the center.
There’s a second reason. The Bible, by the way, does say, “In quietness and confidence will be your strength.” But there’s a second reason that I speak about this, and that is that it’s been my discovery, and I’m sure that it’s been yours too, that it is in those quiet moments that perhaps we do our best worship of God. “Oh,” you say, “I thought that we worship God best when we come to church.” Yes, most assuredly, we’ve had marvelous music here today that has lifted our souls to God. But it’s been my experience that we should be silent before we sing, and we should pause before we pray.
I’m talking about an idea, a biblical idea—silence, that is capable of transforming us into a different people. I know that I sometimes may be given to exaggeration when I speak about God’s power and His grace, but I really do think that that is true. I believe that there are some of you suffering from addictions and hang-ups and problems and anger and bitterness, and the whole bit, and that it is possible for your life to be permanently changed through the precious gift of silence in the presence of God.
So with that introduction I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Psalm 62. Most scholars believe that this Psalm was written when David was fleeing from Absalom, and they believe that because of its similarity to another Psalm where David was fleeing from Absalom. If that is true, and we have reason to believe that it is, imagine the conditions under which Psalm 62 was written.
David, you remember, the great king of Israel, had this son by the name of Absalom who begins to steal the hearts of the people by criticism—subtle criticism—of his own father. Now, David has committed adultery, and it’s well-known. It’s known throughout Israel. It’s also known throughout the whole country, and so his moral authority has been severely compromised. And then Absalom begins to get some of the leadership of David around him, saying, “You know, my father is old, and I’m next in line for the kingdom, and I prefer the kingdom now rather than later,” and so Absalom foments a rebellion which turns out to be a civil war.
Now it is enough, I think all of us would agree, for David to have to put up with fear because he’s being stalked. I mean he is running from cave to cave as Absalom’s men are trying to find him. But add to that something else that takes place, and that is that it’s his own son, so it’s a double-edged sword, is it not? The sword of fear and shame and humiliation, and the sword of betrayal! Some of you parents who are listening can identify with that, can’t you? Maybe you have a son or daughter who has risen up against you, who has attacked you, and the hurt runs deep. So David writes Psalm 62.
I want you to notice today that I am reading from the New American Standard translation, and I do that because some of the translations translate verse 1 of Psalm 62… They say, “May my soul rest in the Lord.” Well, I want you to know that the Hebrew word really is be silent, and that’s the way in which it is translated here in the NASB, so I’m reading from my translation. Yours might be different.
“My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation.”
The Psalm is sometimes referred to as the “only” Psalm because the word only occurs five or six times. In fact, we could say that it has three paragraphs of four verses each. Each paragraph has within it in the opening line the word only. For example, you’ll notice as we now go to verse 5: “My soul, wait in silence for God only.” Verse 9: “Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie.” So the word only occurs there as well, as you begin the last stanza of the Psalm.
But my first question today is why do we wait in silence before the Lord anyway? What difference does it make? Well, first of all because of who God is. You’ll notice as we read it. He says in verse 2: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold.” What do you think of with that word stronghold?
Those of you who have been to Israel, and you’ve gone to Masada… Now that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking of a stronghold, a huge mountain, and on the top of that mountain there was a fortress. Huge slopes! Only one small trail leads to the top of the mountain. And it is there that the Jews were able to hide out, and the Romans couldn’t get to them for three years, even though they tried to starve them out. That’s a stronghold. A stronghold is, first of all, a place of refuge, a place that you can run to, and you know that your enemy can’t get to you unless he gets to the stronghold first. He has to be able to get up the slopes. He has to be able to tear down the doors because you are hidden. You are kept. You are protected. And David says, “That’s what God is when my son rebels against me and when his armies are trying to find me.” It’s a place of refuge.
It’s also a place of stability because the stronghold was there before you showed up, and it will be there long after you are gone. And does not God unite the generations because of His stability and because of His connectedness?
It’s also a place of rest. God is our refuge and our strength, and it is in God that we rest because you can have all of these things taking place outside of you and around you, and you can be at peace.
Now, of course, we’re not thinking of a stronghold literally as a mountain. We are speaking of a stronghold—namely God, and in God we find the resources that we need to cope. And that’s why David says, “My soul waits only before God in silence.” First of all, because of who God is.
There’s a second reason that we wait in silence before the Lord, and that is because of our need. David was very vulnerable. You’ll notice it says in verses 3 and 4: “How long will you assail a man, that you may murder him, all of you, Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence? They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;
they delight in falsehood; they bless with their mouth,
But inwardly they curse.”
David is talking about the armies that are trying to get him, and he’s likening himself, if I interpret this correctly, as the tottering wall, as a fence that is about to collapse. And so what you have is these armies coming against David, and David knows how vulnerable he is. Without God he’s not going to be able to make it. Without God he’s not going to be able to return back to Jerusalem because it is true that Absalom’s armies are stronger at this point than David’s armies. And so what David is saying is, “I need God like I have never needed Him before. My soul, wait in silence before God.”
Also, during this period of time I think David was tempted, and I think we have a hint in the Psalm about how he was tempted. First of all, he was tempted to depend upon people, his own armies, and while they were able to give him some comfort, ultimately human beings disappoint us.
He says in verse 9: “Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie; In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than breath.”
There are some situations in life where we can’t even depend upon people, and we’ve all had the experience of being so disappointed in what people have done, and in people we have depended upon, and we haven’t understood that it is God once again cutting out from under us those props that we might wait in silence before Him alone. So David was tempted to look at other people.
He was also maybe tempted to think, “You know, if I had lots of money I could run, and I could do something,” because you’ll notice what he says in verse 10: “Do not trust in oppression and do not vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.” They won’t help you either.
I’m always reminded of a couple that, in the lottery, won 20 million dollars. Imagine winning 20 million dollars in a lottery, and yet the woman died of cancer six months later. When wealth increases don’t set your heart on it. You’d better flee to God because all of these things are temporary.
So David says that, within this context now, “I’m going to wait on God, and I’m going to do it in silence.” Why? It’s because he has to renew his inner life with God. Remember that what a man is in the presence of God is all that he is and nothing more. Who we are is who we are before God. So David says, “I’m shutting out the world as I’m in this cave,” as perhaps this is where the Psalm was written. “I’m shutting out dependence upon people, upon even my wealth. My soul waits silently before God alone.”
Well, you say, “How is this done?” We’ll get to that in a moment, but before that, what are we waiting for when we wait in silence before God? First of all, we are waiting to listen to God’s voice. We’re waiting for God’s voice. The Bible says in Isaiah 28:23: “Give ear and hear my voice.” Listen to hear my words. And at this point we all become very, very nervous because there are some people who are listening who are going to say, “Are you telling me that if we’re really silent before God, He’s going to give us a new revelation, and He’s going to come and speak to us?”
Well, as you know, I’m opposed to those folks who think that revelation continues, who think that we can have a word from the Lord and we can say, “Oh, guess what the Lord just told me. Do you know what he said to me?” And then people roll off things like that, and that is distressing.
You know, one day a man wrote a letter to me and said, “I can’t believe that you believe ‘thus and so,’” and he quoted me. And he said that he heard it in a message over the radio. I knew that I had not said that because it was something with which I disagree. And so I even listened to the message just to make sure, and I discovered that he took something about what I said and connected it with another idea, and came up with a quote with which I did not agree.
But here’s my point, folks. If I, as a fallible human being, do not like it when people put words in my mouth, think of how serious it must be to put words into the mouth of Almighty God. Be careful! We’re not listening for some new revelation, but let me tell you what we are listening for. We’re listening for God to reveal in the stillness our sins and our anxieties that are sometimes even hidden from us. That’s been my experience.
Silence in the presence of the Lord! I begin to think about this matter that is not under God’s sovereignty and control, and this sin that needs to be confessed, and this anxiety that has never really been given over to the Lord. And all these things are revealed in the silence. I cannot hear them in the din of the noise. I can’t hear the voice of God with the television set on, or even the radio on, or while reading the newspaper, and sometimes not even by reading my Bible, unless I am silent and say, “Lord, come and search me and show me what You find.” That’s what we do in the silence. Our secret sins!
Sometimes also God may give us direction. There are ideas that come to mind if we’re seeking leading. It could well be that ideas are put into our minds by God to help give us some direction. But even then we have to be careful. It is much better to say, “I believe that the Lord is leading me this way,” or “I think,” because sometimes it is difficult to distinguish our own thoughts and desires from the thoughts and the desires of God. But there in the silence God can meet us and do a work in our hearts that He could never possibly do just because we are in church, however important that is.
So, first of all, we wait to listen. Secondly, we wait to rest. It says in Psalm 37:7, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Fret not yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.” It is in silence that we rest, and because we rest in God, we don’t have to become a part of the pushes and the pulls and the dynamics of life with all of its distractions. We can live differently.
You know, it’s almost as if God wanted to give me a sermon illustration yesterday about this. I met with my prayer partners, and after I met with them I went up to the study, and I spent 15 minutes in silence before God. Now, I’ve been doing this for years, but not every day. I do it a couple of times a week. Just 15 minutes! I just get down and verses of Scripture come to me. Maybe a hymn comes to me, but I just simply say, “God, this time is for You.” This is God’s time.
Alright, so I left the church to go home, feeling as if my soul had been at rest, and I decided to get my car washed. And I was in a wash where you have to buy a ticket, and then, you know, you have to punch the machine. I mean, they don’t even want to pay human beings now to take money in these car washes, and you have to punch the number that you get after you purchase your ticket. Well, wouldn’t you know it? I was car number 9 in the line-up, and the person who was at the head of the line either A, didn’t know that he needed a ticket; B, had a ticket but didn’t know how to punch the machine; C, had nothing to do all day and wanted to make sure that the rest of us also had nothing to do all day. You know, I mean you have all of these thoughts going through your mind, and you’re just waiting, and you are waiting.
Now remember I had spent 15 minutes of silence in God’s presence. I had a choice to make. What do I do in a situation like this? Do I sit on the horn like the man behind me was doing? (laughter) I mean that was one option. Do I just fret and say, “Well, you know this is the way life is? I’ve got so much to do and here I sit as if I had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon than to sit here.” There’s another alternative. It’s to simply say, “Father, I want to thank You for this additional time of silence before God.”
You know, I sometimes have gotten early to places where you are waiting and you have an extra ten minutes. What do you do? Do you grab a magazine, look at this, do this? Fret?” No! What you simple do is you say, “Father, I am here early so this time is Your time.” And even in the midst of noise you can communicate with God, but I don’t think that you can do that until you have learned the value of silence in the solitary place.
And Jesus is the one here who instructs us, is He not? The Bible says that He would get up early, even before the sunrise, and He would go to a solitary place and be there alone. Why? It’s because we’re to live out life from the center, and when we live out life from the center, and we are quiet before the Lord, and we rest in the Lord, and we are silent before God, we can handle all of these other things, because our souls can be at rest. Our souls have the opportunity finally of being able to catch up with our bodies. And together there’s that sense of wholeness and that sense of peace and that sense of tranquility because we’ve been in the presence of God.
Why silence before God? First of all, we are silent to listen. We are silent to rest. We are silent to worship. I’ve already said that these are some of the most special times of worship that we can have in God’s presence. I can’t worship if I am distracted, if I’ve got this going on and that going on, and this anxiety and this matter that hasn’t been taken care of. What I’m asking us to do today is to say, “Can we compose our souls in such a way that we can worship in quietness and in solitude?”
The Bible says that David sat before the Lord. I love that. What he was doing was saying, “God, these moments are for you. These moments are to enjoy Your presence—just You and me. And I’m sitting here before the Lord in silence.” I don’t think he was reading a newspaper. He didn’t have the television set on. There was just him and God.
Isn’t that wonderful? And you know if all of us do that, you know, when we come together to worship, imagine the different worship experience. This message has to be tied with the preceding one that I preached on worship. As you know, this is a series titled The Disciplines of the Soul.
There was a mother who always, whenever she took her little child (her little girl) to church, said, “Now you have to be quiet because this is God’s house.” She said, “You have to be quiet because this is God’s house.” One day the little girl looked up and said, “Well, Mommy, why is He never home?” (chuckles) I trust that here at Moody Church when people come in here they will say, “This is God’s house, and He is at home.” We’ve been silent. Now we can sing. We’ve paused. Now we can praise.
Now I want you to look at the text because what I’m asking you for… And here now we come to the transforming part of all of this because so far this is words unless we do it. You’ll notice in Psalm 62, David begins in verse 1 saying: “My soul waits in silence for God only.” He’s describing what happens. But by the time he gets to verse 5 he’s talking to his soul, and bringing his soul into line. He says, “My soul, wait in silence for God only.” He’s speaking to his soul and saying, “Soul, you’re going to be silent.”
Now, he wasn’t schizophrenic, but what he realized was that he had to take control over his soul. I already mentioned that if we follow our souls just wherever they lead, if we take just everything that comes into our mind, then we’ll never worship. We’ll never focus. We’ll never be at rest because our souls are those wandering spirits that we talked about. And so David says, “Soul, you be silent before God only.”
Here’s what I’m asking you to do. Begin with about 10 minutes. You say, “Well, does this 10 minutes have to be added on to the prayers that you taught us to pray, and the meditation?” I can’t answer that for you. Every person has to answer that question for his or herself, but I do need to say take out 10 minutes when you simply say, “This is for God.” Perhaps take a verse of Scripture, the words of a song, and come into God’s presence, and say, “God, this is for you. Now my mind and my heart have to be focused on the Lord and I want to be perfectly still before You.”
You don’t empty your mind like transcendental meditation, which leads oftentimes to demonic experiences. That’s not what we’re doing. We have our minds focused on Scripture. We have our minds focused on God, but we don’t come to pray, we don’t come to speak, we don’t come with an agenda. We simply say, “God, I’m here,” and we wait before the Lord in silent meditation. “What sins have I committed that I’ve not received forgiveness for? What anxieties are there within my soul that have not been laid to rest? Reveal all that to me.” And what you will discover is in the presence of God you will be renewed, you will restrengthened, you’ll be recharged, and you’ll not only be able to go into your closet and close the door, as Jesus said that we should, but you’ll also be able to close out all of the distractions of the world. And I need to tell you that there are times when I need to simply do this because of the hassles of life. And you come away saying, “I’ve connected with God, and my strength is renewed.” “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Life lived out from the center worshipping God!
You’ll notice that David, in his distress, discovered that God met him. And you know the end of the story. Absalom was put to death. David was restored to the city of Jerusalem, and God was with him the whole way.
“My soul be silent only before God.” My expectation is from Him.
Cleland McAfee wrote:
There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart of God.
The Christian life can only grow in solitude.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your grace and mercy. And today, Father, in this world with so much clamor and so much noise and with so much activity, make us believers who can rest in the Lord to wait silently in His presence. Grant us, oh God, to be people who are transforming, first of all because You have transformed us, and therefore, we can impact others because of Your Holy Word. And for those who have never trusted Christ, we pray that they also in silence might seek You through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and be changed. Teach us these things, Father, because we are slow learners. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.