Following Jesus has its share of challenges. The Lord may call you to give when you’re nervous about your bank account. Or, He may direct you to show kindness to a bully. You may gripe, but at least you get what He’s thinking.
But sometimes the Lord’s instructions appear paradoxical, even contradictory. How do you respond then?
For example the psalmist David advised God’s people to “be angry and do not sin; meditate in your heart on your bed and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). The word “meditate” means “speak.” It’s not a mistranslation; back in ancient Israel, people commonly read aloud and thought aloud. Have you ever tried to work through a problem by talking to yourself? If so, then you know what he’s referring to.
But David seems to recommend that you speak wordlessly. Maybe he means talk under your breath or in your head. Or perhaps he’s proposing a sequence: first, express your thoughts to yourself and to God, and when you’re done, be quiet. Makes sense.
But I noticed this idea of “silent speech” in the New Testament, too. Luke records in Acts 21 that several Christians had been warning Paul not to travel to Jerusalem. The apostle kept rebuffing their advice; he was determined to visit that city. According to verse 14, “since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’”
They fell silent and remarked. You can’t do both at the same time; at best, the order is backwards! Make your final pitch and then clam up.
I suppose that Paul’s friends had merely given up arguing with him. But what if something deeper lurks here? Let me illustrate it this way.
Years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, my friend (also named Bob) visited me from Arizona. He wanted to go snorkeling (which I’d never done), so we rented some gear and headed out for the Pacific surf.
Cold and choppy! Not what I had in mind! But, what lay beneath the surface surprised me. It was beautiful: rocks, seaweed, and I think corals. It was serene. I don’t recall seeing any fish, but I distinctly remember not being very adept at snorkeling. I had trouble with the breathing routine and chilled real quickly. Staying on the surface, I started getting pounded into the rocks by the waves.
Bob saw my distress and dragged me back to shore. Dazed, scraped, and bruised (and maybe in shock, too), I just sat there for a while and tried to figure out, unsuccessfully, what went wrong.
I realize now that I’d stayed at the top too long. Rather than getting tossed around, I’d have been better off diving down and staying below for a little while. True, the water was cold, but it at least was still down there. Sometimes, it pays to go deep!
Our words resemble waves. Arguments and debates can threaten and agitate. But beneath that roiling surface, there’s a serenity to which Jesus calls us. The ocean can be simultaneously placid and turbulent; so also can we. If our hearts are peaceful in God, even silent, then we’re free to communicate properly, decently, and beneficially. For us. For others.
This is the silent speech which God advocates. Are you up for it? Then grab your snorkel and head to the beach!