“You never learn anything when you’re talking,” some sage has observed wryly. Surely, this is almost universally true; the lone exception that comes to mind is that sometimes when we speak we do learn how little we know or how wrong we are. Otherwise, we teach ourselves nothing when we talk. Modern society seems to believe that loud, belligerent, persistent stating of demands is a virtue. And the same sorts of people are often quick to drown out the voices with which they disagree by shouting mantras or cliches. The bold and demanding get the headlines; the quiet and retiring are largely ignored, if not scorned. Calvin Coolidge may well have been one of the better Presidents during the Twentieth Century, but he was mocked, as much for his laconic nature as for his conservative policies.
Yet with wisdom given by God, Solomon observed that, although there is “a time to speak,” there is also “a time to be silent” (Eccl. 3:7). And during His incarnation, the Lord Jesus condemned the Gentiles, “for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7). Another wise man, Job, said, “Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred” (Job 6:24).
There is much to be said for silence. It is often more an expression of faith and confidence in the Lord than is verbal petitioning. Yes, we are instructed to pray—even to do so importunately. But how often are our importunate prayers more an expression of unbelief than faith? How often do we repeat our requests almost as though we must inform God of our situation or remind Him of our need? That sort of importunity is not a manifestation of faith—fear, ignorance, and impatience, perhaps, but certainly not faith.
Jeremiah strikes the proper balance. “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him,” he observes (Lam. 3:25). Certainly, part of seeking the Lord involves bringing Him our requests. Yet Jeremiah continues: “It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord” (v. 26). It is quite possible that we often talk so much that we cannot “hear” the Lord’s answer. And sometimes it may be that He will not interrupt us, waiting until we have stopped talking before He’ll answer. He won’t talk over us.
Whether our need is material, such as a health need or a financial need, or whether it is immaterial, such as the need for wisdom, peace, or joy, there is a time to speak, and there is a time to be silent. In the throes of oppression from his enemies, David began a psalm with this statement of faith: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation” (62:1). But like the rest of us, he experienced the urge to continue talking, or doing, and so, a few verses later, we find him exhorting himself to continue in what he had mentioned in the first verse: “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (v. 5). In the same passage from Matthew’s Gospel referenced in the second paragraph, the Lord assured the disciples that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8).
In addition to manifesting faith, silence that is guided by the Holy Spirit provides opportunity to meditate, a discipline largely abandoned by our noisy, modern world. But in order to understand God’s Word and commune with Him, we must be silent and allow Him talk to us, so to speak. The psalmist tells us that the blessed man “meditates day and night” on the Word of God (1:2), which is an impossible task if we are talking incessantly. We cannot hope to understand the Lord as He desires us to unless we close our mouths and ponder the truths He has given us in His Word. Again, while we should and must pray, God does not need to hear from us (in order to know what’s happening, that is), but we need to hear from Him. We should all take heed to some of the words which close out, so to speak, the Old Testament. “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him” (Hab. 2:20). “Be silent before the Lord God!” (Zeph. 1:7). “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord” (Zech. 2:13). We will learn to be silent before Him, or He will bring us to the place where we cannot speak. The former will be altogether blessed; the latter will prove to be unpleasant chastening. Silence truly is golden.
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