“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 ESV
When I read the chapter, “The Speaking Voice,” in A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, a particular passage hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks:
“Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ and still he says it as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.” (39)
Although Tozer wrote nearly 70 years ago, he saw what I see today in my own life and in the life of the church. I desire to draw near to God, but my tactics for doing so are misguided. I want to hear the voice of God, but the decisions that I make reveal that I want other things more.
When God desired to speak to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13, he spoke to him in the sound of a whisper:
“And God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
If God’s voice is often a soft whisper or a still small voice, can we hear him if our life is full of distraction and noise?
About a year ago, I began buying large, hardcover notebooks. I take one everywhere I go. I write everything down in them: lists of things to do, journal entries, prayer requests, notes, everything. Seeing myself depending on technology, I began buying these notebooks which were intended to keep me focused. As great as technology is, I try to use it as little as possible. Others may have a better grasp on it, but I find that technology uses me rather than the other way around. Sadly, my personality tends towards becoming engrossed in trivial matters. I can pay attention. All too often, the unimportant or insignificant draws my attention. Hence the notebook.
The notebook provides an imperfect system, but it helps. It helps me feel present. I slow down. I ponder. I even daydream. When I write, my thoughts don’t flow as quickly as when I type, but I enjoy the process more when I put the pen to paper. I also use a fountain pen. Mysteriously, there something in the way a fountain pen writes that makes the process so much more enjoyable.
Silence rarely invades my life. Although my four children are often a culprit, they are not always the reason. Truthfully, I don’t have enough silence because I don’t desire it. I want a relationship with God and I long to hear his voice, but I am not eager to be still before him. Psalm 46 reveals that being still is linked to knowing that God is God. How? Being still heightens our senses. We see more. We hear more. We taste and touch more. We feel more. We notice that God is present, and we experience him. Knowing that he is God takes observation which takes concentrated time. With no time to be still, we miss God. We become ignorant of him rather than knowing him.
Recently, a friend observed how a bowl of cereal showed him the power and goodness of God. As he was eating, he considered everything which went into that bowl of cereal sitting before him: a farmer growing grain, harvesting the grain, getting the grain to a manufacturer, making the cereal, sending it to the store, him buying it from the store. The same things had to happen with the milk. By using a bowl of cereal, God showed him how he worked all of these things together produce a simple bowl of cereal. Being still—even with a bowl of cereal—leads us to know that he is God.
Silence can be frightening. Thinking of being still before God creates a picture in my head of two people sitting in a coffee shop, looking at each other across their lattes, but not saying anything. When someone looks at me makes like that, it makes me incredibly self-conscious. Things that I don’t often consider come bubbling to the surface. This is a feeling I avoid, not one I seek out.
When I am still, my mind quickly jumps to consider myself more, and I critique who I am. Stillness affords me time to think. Naturally, I consider my faults and shortcomings. To put it bluntly, being still leads me to ponder my sin. But this also leads me to know that God is God. One of my favorite verses is Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV) In my self-conscious state, God tells me that he knows me. He is more aware of all my faults and shortcomings than I am. My ugliness doesn’t cause him to push me away. Drawing me close, he embraces me as a daddy hugs his child.
When the God calls us to “be still and know,” I perceive he is calling us to slow down and be present with him. Fully engaging with God and being fully present with him is a glorious gift. I feel fully alive when I am fully present and engaged with him. I am more apt to hear his voice. Satan loves to divert my attention with noise and activity.
Being still and knowing that he is God takes effort. It requires practice. It requires making tough decisions and sacrifice. But hearing the voice of God as he speaks, hearing his voice in the sound of a low whisper, or being fully engaged and present with him makes it absolutely worth it.