(As a disclaimer, I have been listening to messages by Alistair Begg that inspired me to write this piece, and I may use some of his material here without actually quoting him. This thought came to me yesterday morning while listening to him and I felt it was worthy of sharing with you.)
Silence. Some of us dread it, others rejoice in it. Some will not allow it, talking incessantly just to keep from entering into silence. They can’t stand the quiet moment of wondering who will speak next. The air has to have noise for them to be able to concentrate. They play music in the background, or watch TV while doing other things, or they just talk to themselves when alone. They do not look forward to silent times. I am one of these most of the time. I like to have something going on TV, or the radio in the car, or someone to talk to. Silence is welcome at times, but not too many times.
Then there are those who relish silence. They look forward to the quiet times to pray, or to meditate, or just to reflect and write in their journal. They prefer not to have background noise when they are doing things. I am like this when I write, whether it’s a blog post like this or poetry. I need the silence to hear God speaking. His voice is what guides me to write the things I write, I learned to listen in the silence when I was going through chemo treatments and stem cell transplants during the cancer months. He spoke to me a lot, and the silence helped me to listen. It still does today.
The nation of Israel was waiting for God to speak after almost 400 years of silence when they were in Egypt. They were doing hard labor for Pharaoh and longed for a way of escape from this brutal taskmaster. God had told Abraham that they would face 400 years of captivity and then they would be set free. But they could not believe this would happen under these circumstances. Then came Moses, back from the wilderness after escaping death as in infant under Pharaohs’ rule. God brought ten plagues on Egypt which finally convinced Pharaoh to let them go. 400 years a silence turned into the freedom of a nation.
The prophet Malachi spoke some stirring words at the end of his prophecy. Malachi 4:5 says 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Then there was silence. No prophets, no word from God. Nothing to let the people know God was still with them. For about 400 years the people of Israel waited and waited for God to speak to them again, but nothing came. I am sure they thought God had abandoned them again, just like it was in Egypt. This time they had come under Roman rule. It was not as brutal as Egypt’s subjugation, but it was demeaning. They longed to hear from God.
Zacharias was a priest of the Lord, and it was his honor this day to bring incense before the Lord. He was an older man, and his wife Elizabeth was barren after years of praying for a child. She was past the age of child-bearing now, and I’m sure they had given up hope, but continued to pray anyway. Zacharias was a righteous man, walking in the commandments of the Lord, as any good Levite would do. The task of bringing incense was a solemn task, and only given once a year to a priest of the tribe of Levi. I’m sure he was excited and somber as he entered the Holy Place to burn incense to the Lord on the table of incense. All the people prayed as he entered the temple, and they kept praying all the time he was in there, As he offered up the sweet-smelling savor to God, an angel appeared to him. I am sure he was frightened by this sight because the first thing the angel said was “Fear not.” He told Zacharias Elizabeth would have a son, and they should call his name John. The angel also told him that this child would be great in the sight of the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit would be in him from the time he was in his mother’s womb. Then he quoted words that Zacharias knew from Isaiah the prophet. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Zacharias did not know what to say. These words spoke of the forerunner of the Messiah. This could not be! His wife was too old to have a child, and now the angel was telling him his son would prepare the way for Messiah? Zacharias said to the angel “How will I know this?” The angel replied that Zacharias would not be able to speak until the child was named and then he left. Outside, the people were wondering what was taking so long. Zacharias finally appeared, and I’m sure the people wanted to know what had taken so long. But Zacharias could not speak. He could not explain to them what happened. He could not share with his wife what the angel had said. For nine months, there was silence. Then the day came when the baby was born. On the day of his naming, the usual practice was that he would be given a family name. But Zacharias took something to write on and wrote that his name will be John. Hen suddenly he was able to speak again. The song he sang had much to say about this baby that had just been born,
Silence. What a beautiful thing this can be. How do you feel when God is silent? I often wonder why, during a particular stretch of time, I do not hear God’s voice in the way of poetry and songs. I do not think it was because He was not speaking, but rather because I was not listening. The silence we hear is a silence of our own ears most of the time, because God is always speaking to us these days. His Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of His children, guiding and directing them in the way they should go. But there are times when God is quiet, and these are the times we should relish. I believe God is doing His greatest work in us when He is silent. He tests our faith so that it can become stronger. He teaches us patience as we wait for Him to speak. He watches from afar and sees whether we are true to Him or not. This is all so He can speak once again and draw us closer. He is a loving God, full of grace and truth, and will always draw us to His side.
Listen carefully when you pray. Don’t make it a one-way street. Give God time to speak to you in the silent time of your prayer. The silence is the most precious time, because that is when God will come. In our worship services, we err when we do not give time for silence, to hear God’s voice and to consider His mercy and grace in our lives. He longs to speak to you. He longs for you to listen to His words. Practice time of silence at least as much as you pray. Give God room to speak to you, and I promise you will hear His voice.