Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
“For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength…”
Isaiah 30:15with its noise, the world is too much with us. There is the noise of the street, the noise of people talking and calling out to one another, the noise of chatter on cell phones. There is the noise of horns honking and sirens wailing. There is the noise of the media, television with oh-so-many channels, radio, newscasts, broadcasts. There is the noise of the Internet, YouTube and Facebook and MySpace, news and information websites. There is the noise of MP3’s, CD’s and DVD’s, of iPods and iPhones. Our latest technology has an inherent irony to it. With all its digital clarity, the end result is more noise.
With all this noise going on, I propose a few tests. First, count all the devices that you have that are capable of making any kind of noise. Second, count how much time one or more are making noise. How many of your waking hours are spent with this noise? Is it a good proportion or a bad proportion? Third, sometime when you are in the middle of noise, turn it all off. How comfortable do you feel? Do you feel uncomfortable? Awkward? Listless? Bored?
There are two points we need to consider about noise.
The first point is about the distracting power of noise. You can try to cover up a lack of focus or attention by noise. Some kind of noise can make a task that seems boring more interesting. Do you have the kind of job that seems tolerable only because you have music playing? Can you do homework only if you have some noise in the background, whether music or a television program? Do you walk, jog, run, or bike with ear buds in your ears? Why? You must ask yourself whether that noise is distracting you from God. Is it keeping you from thinking about Him, His word, and about your heart that must be filled with Him and His word? That is why the world is interested in so much noise: the world does not want to think about its own misery and poverty. It blocks out the truth about itself and about God with its blaring, discordant cacophony.
The second point we need to consider about noise comes from God’s word, “which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people” (Ps. 65:7). The noise of the world is the sound of rebellion against God. The nations rage in their fury against God. They shout and cry out to one another to encourage each other in their rebellion. They try, to no avail, to break their bands and cast off their cords (Ps. 2:1-3). Here we must especially understand the great evil of this noise. Wishing no part of the world’s rebellion against God, we must strenuously avoid its noise. Our first thought ought to be shutting it off or tuning it out. How far from losing ourselves in this noise we must be!
Having turned down our noise, we can then look at the wonderful virtue of silence. Silence is stillness and quietness. That silence begins by shutting off, turning down. That silence begins by finding a place of quiet. But that itself is not silence. Silence is also a matter of the heart. Your silence must be that deep—in your heart. Your heart must be made to desire and to anticipate silence. Therefore strive to bring silence down into your heart. Work to drive from your heart and mind distracting thoughts. Don’t give in to attractions to noise, no matter how strong they can be. Instead seek silence. Find silence golden!
Make that silence last a moment, from a minute to ten, perhaps to half an hour. Psalm 4:4: “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” If you begin to feel some anxiety during this time, that you need some kind of noise or stimulation, you need to work all the harder to keep your silence and appreciate it. See that your heart clings to silent times.
So far, so good. However, you may not be silent for the sake only of silence. Silence, like emptiness, never exists for its own sake. Silence is merely a means to a most blessed end. Your silence must be directed toward God. You are quiet for the sake of His voice. In your silence you make room very specifically for His word. You are silent so that the voice of God might fill your ears. You empty your heart of all other sounds so that it might be filled with the only thing worth hearing: the great and glorious word of God to you. “Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from him cometh my salvation” (Ps. 62:1). “I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints” (Ps. 85:8).
Further, your silence must be directed toward the precious and beautiful sound of the gospel. That gospel is the gospel of peace. It is the word of reconciliation. It is a word that God has designed to fill all the silence of your heart. All the room you can possibly make in your heart—that gospel will fill it in the most blessed way. Your heart will not remain empty, but it will be filled with the presence of the triune God. It will be filled with the blessings of His fellowship and friendship. Your heart will resound and reverberate with blessed echoes of solid joy and rejoicing in God!
You will see, having your heart so filled with the word of God, that there is no longer any room for the noise of the world. The gospel’s sweet harmony will make the world’s noise more and more discordant, strident, and grating. The world’s siren call becomes more and more only an obnoxious din.
This way of silence will form your approach to God’s word. When you open the Scriptures to read them or to study them or when you prepare for catechism or Bible study, practice silence. Settle yourself down. Put yourself in a proper frame of mind. Cast out distracting thoughts. Frame your heart in an attitude of awe and reverence before the word of God. In the same way of silence prepare yourself for worship on Sunday. You have much room to make in your heart for that word of God you plan to hear! As much as you desire to receive the word of God preached, make room for it in your heart. As you worship among God’s people, you will have to maintain this silence. Where noise arises (more from yourself than the baby crying over there!), you will need to push that noise out of your consciousness. There is no room for it. You have room only for the word you are hearing.
Keeping this kind of silence will cause you to treasure this word more and more. The reading of Scripture and doctrinal materials (including the Standard Bearer!) will become more enjoyable and desirable. The hearing of the preaching of the word will become more and more a delight. You will get more and more out of sermons. You will find yourself much stronger spiritually, more filled with the word of God.
This way of silence will help you find comfort in the troubles of this earthly life. The Lord will sometimes bring you trials. Persecutions, loss, sorrows, and pains will be heavy burdens. They will be troublesome noises, disturbing your peace. Sometimes their sound will fill your ears, making it difficult to hear the word of God’s comfort in those trials. But you will be practiced in silence. You will be able to turn your attention from those troubles to fill your heart and soul with the strength of the word of the gospel. In the midst of such trials you will enjoy a peace that makes you strong to carry on through those trials. You will hear in effect the same word that Daniel heard, “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me” (Dan. 10:19).
In these trials you will also deal with temptations. Those temptations will be callings to despair of peace and to give up. They may become very loud and urgent: “Surrender! Lay down your weapons! There is no sense in trying!” In other temptations you will hear the noise of the world reveling in its earthly, fading pleasures. That noise may sound pleasant in your ears according to the flesh. But in those temptations you will be equipped to put them to silence and shut them out of your heart. You know by experience the powerful sweetness of the sound of the gospel. By the word of God you receive strength to fight against those temptations and keep them far from your heart.
This way of silence for God’s word will also keep you from being pushed and pulled around by false teachings. In the world you will hear all kinds of noise about evolution and free will and so-called freedom of choice. Those sounds will fill your ears in the classroom. That noise will be great from the mouths of professors and fellow students in academic settings. That noise will become penetrating through debates with co-workers, acquaintances, or even family members. Your opponents are the majority, having many mouths. But you will be able to keep all their noise from your heart. Let them clamor: their voices are feeble and vain! For there already is a mighty word in your heart, so rich and full that there is room for none else.
In silence is your strength: the strength of the word of God!