Silence ... A Tool Of Worship

Featuring Posted on March 15, 2008

We live in a noisy world. From the time the radio alarm clock wakes us up, to the conclusion of the network newscast, our lives are filled with sound. On our way to work or to pick up groceries, we listen to the radio, tape, or CD. While in high school our oldest son, Chris, claimed that he couldn’t really concentrate on his studies unless he was in front of the TV or was listening to music. Things have changed since I had high school homework! Even at night – while our three grown children were still living at home – Gayle and I would often go to bed with “trance”, “break-beat”, and “house” music emanating through our bedroom walls from our oldest son’s computer music compositions.

In our modern, noisy world we’re not used to silence at most any time. A couple of years ago we went back to the farm for a vacation and had a hard time going to sleep because it was so quiet! We finally borrowed my brother-in-law’s fan so that we could at least have some “white noise” just so we could fall asleep!

Yet the noise is more than just a product of our technological and machine orientated society. Noise helps take away the pain and discomfort of silence. We want to fill up the silence with sound or activity. We are so used to noise that we have to have background noise. When we are alone at home, we turn on the TV or radio – even if we’re not watching or listening – just to fill the house with sound.

Silence scares us. It doesn’t seem natural. Sometimes I wonder if we are so afraid of what we might hear in the silence that we refuse to allow it. Or perhaps, we are afraid that we will hear nothing at all.

The Psalmist says “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The suggestion is that we must pause in our very busy, very noisy life so that we can hear God.

Our desire of “no dead air” has changed our worship. We want the program to be fast, efficient, and keep our attention. We are a generation that was raised on 2 minute sound-bites. Sesame Street was brilliant at it!

Our churches have slowly evolved to exclude silence as well. Even the tiny breaks of silence while we waited for the next person to come up to the podium for Scripture reading or announcements or a song have been replaced with people waiting “in the wings” so that no time is “wasted” waiting in silence.

There was a time when silence and reflection was a part of a church worship experience. There was time for meditation on a Scripture passage, time for silent prayer, time to allow God to speak. That’s becoming a rarity. I think it’s mostly because we really don’t know how to use silence.

Actually, I’m uncomfortable with silence.

But can our propensity to fill every waking moment with sound and activity mitigate against our ability to find a place of worship within the silence? Does our “noise” interfere with something God desires for us that can only be found within silence? Can our worship include inactivity, solitude, quietness, reflection, meditation, listening?

More than anything else, silence gives us the chance to hear God. Remember Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11 – 13 being instructed to go stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord? From this passage we begin to understand, intellectually at least, the importance of silence in hearing the Lord’s voice. Elijah looked for the Lord in the power of the storm, in the might of the earthquake and in the consuming heat of the fire. But God was not in these powerful forces. He came in a whisper, a breath barely perceivable – a still, small voice.

Silence is not a comfortable part of our world. We are pressured to keep up with our culture and the norms of our society. The glitz and professionalism of the movies and entertainment is being absorbed by our churches. And it’s a dilemma. Why would someone come to church if the entertainment isn’t as good as at our entertainment centers?

Well, the obvious answer would be to find God.  But let’s refuse sarcasm for a moment. The pressure to entertain people by programs is huge. Our little church, planted in the middle of a high immigrant, low income area, is struggling to understand what it means to be a church. We talk in circles about becoming a part of the community. But we are still tempted to put on one more program so that the people will come to us – even though we know that our calling is to go and live among the people so that they too will know the glory of our God as we work alongside of them in the community.

As Christians, we feel that we are competing against the world for air time.  Naturally, our logic is the church should be giving them something that can compare with the world’s entertainment.

But we have it wrong!


And that might just be the opportunity for silence.

We seldom give ourselves the opportunity to “center down,” to quiet our busy lives, to sit patiently waiting for the Lord to draw near and speak in his “still, small voice”. That’s something that seems best left for our private times of devotion – if we can actually do so without falling asleep.

When I walk into the cathedrals of Europe, I am drawn to the echoing silence of the stone walls. There are many factors that give the feeling of awesomeness, the age of the building, the height of the ceilings, the architecture, the art work and the stained glass. But more than that, there is a sense of silence, of quiet reflection. People who walk into the building, talk in hushed whispers.

While I love the excited voices in our church on Sunday morning, sometimes I wonder if we need to make a public place where those who need to listen to God can just come and be quiet. Where there is an expectation of silence.

God used silence in the past to speak to his people. He uses silence today to speak to us. Are we taking time to become silent before him so we might more clearly hear and understand his voice? Sometimes our best worship starts when we become silent and wait for his still small voice to speak.