Thursday, January 28, 2016

Deep Silence

The Psalmist prayed, "For God alone my soul waits in silence..."  (Psalms 62:1)  As we immerse ourselves in this stream of silence in which God reveals Himself, hard heart issues began to surface in our inner being.  Why is it that we seek this silence?  Is it because the Psalmist sought it?  Is it because it was a discipline practiced by the some of the early saints who sought God in the deserts?  Is it seen as a way of lifting ourselves to a higher plane, or a deeper level of the spiritual life?  While the questions may not immediately surface as we begin to practically explore this Word from God, if we stay in the stream long enough, we will begin to hear the wonderings of an honest soul.
If we are honest, we might admit that we want to experience this silence described by the Psalmist because we think it will help us to be closer to God.  It will make us feel good about our walk with Him.  It will give us deeper insights, or provide a place to make the deep intercessions we need for God to hear and to which we need Him to respond.  And, again, honesty may eventually bring us to a place of realizing that our seeking this silence described by the Psalmist is an expression of a "it's an all about me faith."
The one who first prayed the prayer takes us to the right reason in the very first words.  "For God alone...For God alone..."   We wait, or as the Psalmist put it, "my soul waits,"  with only one motivation and that is God.  For no other reason than "For God alone"  we are invited to wait.  The invitation to enter the stream of silence is not about us and what we can get from it, but about God and simply being in His presence with no strings attached and no petitions being asked.  Living in the moment for no other reason than "For God alone" is where the first one who prayed this prayer desired to be and to pray it with any other desire is to miss the mark. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Interior Silence

When retirement came some five years ago, it meant leaving several decades of suburban life to a rural setting in the country.  Where as, the next door neighbor used to live within spitting distance, now the nearest house is a half mile away across a five acre hay field, over a branch (creek), and through the woods.  In the winter time, their lights can be seen through the barren trees.  No longer are eyes bombarded by billboards.  No longer are the ears overwhelmed by the noises generated by so many people living so close together.  Life on a farm seems softer in some ways, harder in others, but certainly it is a quieter life.
It would seem that in such a place it would be easy to live with Psalm 62:1 which says, "For God alone my soul waits in silence."  After all, sometimes it is so silent you can hear pecans hitting the ground at the end of their journey from the tree, or grass being torn from the ground by the tongues of grazing cows, or the sound of wings flapping in the air when our resident Canadian Geese make a low flyover.  Certainly, it is a quieter lifestyle around here.  If you want to find some silence, it is not a hard thing to do.
However, the silence mentioned by the Psalmist is not the external silence, but the interior one.  To be waiting in silence for God is not about turning off the television, or putting away the hand held entertaining stuff glued to our hand.  Instead, all these external distractions can be put away and it is still likely that we will miss the kind of silence sought by those who wait for God.  The interior silence may mean no longer listening to the voices which question our value, or the voices which keep us working for more of that which is not really needed, or the voices which tell us we will never be good enough.  When we begin to experience the external silence, the inner voices are likely to get louder.  Getting rid of those noises is often harder than turning off some noisemaker. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sheer Silence

The story of Elijah is one of the Bible's most fascinating stories.  He stands for God on the mountain against 450 prophets who belong to Baal and never flinches.  (I Kings 18)  He is the picture of boldness and courage.  He is the man of God with no fear.  And, then when the battle has been won and all the prophets of Baal are dead, the story takes a strange twist.  Upon hearing of her husband's humiliation on the mountain, Jezebel, the queen, puts Elijah on her "hit list" saying that he will be dead within 24 hours.   And how does this bold and courageous man of God respond?  Full of fear he runs away to hide.  A man who took on 450 prophets of Baal runs for his life when confronted with a woman's fury.
Now, some may think they can understand how such a thing can happen, but given what has just happened, it is still strange.  But, God uses the moment for His purposes.  He directs Elijah to the Mt. Horeb, also known as the mountain of God and also one where Moses walked to see the burning bush.  When told that God was going to pass by the mountain hiding place of Elijah, the prophet goes to the opening to his cave where he witnesses a wind so strong rocks are split, and then an earthquake, and finally fire.  In the past these things had been the medium of divine revelation, but this time there were only a part of the prelude.  When things settled down, the Word says that there was a sound of sheer silence and in that moment the prophet covered his face for he knew he was in the presence of the Almighty.
Sheer silence.  A means of divine revelation.  Sheer silence.  It sounds like the epitome of emptiness.  Silence is one thing; sheer silence is another.  Elijah would have figured that God would show up for him like he did Moses, but it was not to be.  We, too, are often guilty of having our own expectations about how God must come to us.  The ending to the story reminds us that He can and will come in a divinely created silence that can only be heard by those who are willing to put the distractions of life aside and stand fearfully in it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Silence

A few nights ago I used as a centering prayer the first phrase in the 62nd Psalm:  "For God alone my soul waits in silence..."  As most of you know, in a centering prayer, a phrase or word is quietly repeated over and over until some part of it seems to settle into the deep places of your spirit.  The intention is to create a space where the voice of God can be heard.  From my reading about such praying, it seems that it is one of those spiritual disciplines in which the novices must heed the old practical admonition, "If you don't succeed at first, try again." 
As I prayed these words over and over the other night, I discovered that each time the words came slower and I began to hear each single word instead of the whole verse.  The words which settled into my soul were the last two,  "in silence." As I focused my prayer on these two Words from God, I wondered then and now if it was a call to seek the silence of a stilled spirit, or an invitation to step in the stream of a silence already created by the saints who had prayed before me.  Which was it?  Or, was it both?  There is a difference.  One is the silence created out of my own heart's searching and the other is a silence started by others in a mysterious way and continuing on throughout history. 

All the spiritual pondering makes me realize how it is that we are not alone.  Never.  Surely, it is true that God is always with us, but is it not also true that we sometimes stand on the shoulders of those who have prayed before us and sometimes we stand, not on their shoulders, but shoulder to shoulder with them?  The more I struggled with the Word, the more I came to the conclusion that those who stood in the silence before us somehow invite us to join them and even welcome us as we stand on the edge of the stream.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Thick Book

About this time last year I was read several books about some of the spiritual giants from the past.  One of the names which appeared in several of those readings was Charles Spurgeon.  Known as the "Prince of Preachers," he lived and preached in England during the 19th century.  While I knew about this great preacher, I had never read any of the sermons he preached so I decided it was time to get acquainted first hand.  From the bookstore I purchased "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon" which not only contained many of his sermons, but also selections from his autobiography.  The autobiography alone was worth the cost of the book.  A year later I have read about 600 pages of this 1400 page book.  A man can only stand so much preaching especially when he is on the pew side of the altar! 
When I read these sermons which are even good to read, I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear Spurgeon preaching them with the passion that is obvious within the print.  And, as I read, I find myself wondering about my own preaching and the preaching that is a part of contemporary pulpit offerings.  I fear too much of it is about entertainment.  I fear we cop out by selling people short in terms of what they are able and wanting to hear.  Most of all, I fear we are selling the gospel short.  Could it be that we preachers do not really believe the preached gospel can stand alone, but that it must have our humor, our stories, our wit in order to be palatable?  Spurgeon had illustrative materials, but it was the Bible which really took the spotlight in his preaching.
He was what is called an expository preacher, one who took the text and stayed in it throughout the sermon.  Nowadays, we tend to figure out what we think needs to be said and find a text which makes it seem like a Biblical sermon.  There is a vast difference.  I have always remembered one thing my seminary preaching professor told us, "People don't care what you think.  They come to hear the Word of God."  Charles Spurgeon certainly had that one figured out.