Silence is Golden

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

–          Mark 6:30-32


“My eyes and ears and spirit are aware of the immaturities in the so-called evangelicalism of out time.  The more noise we make, the more we advertise, the more bells we jingle, the happier we seem to be.  All of the signs of immaturity are among us.

We are seeing a general abhorrence of being alone, of being silent before the Lord.  We shrink from allowing our souls to be bathed in the healing silence.”

–          Rev. A. W. Tozer, Men Who Met God


If you are as old as I am or older, you may see this essay title and think of a song.  Silence is Golden (1964) was written by Bob Gaudio (of the Four Seasons) with Bob Crewe, a songwriter who wrote several of the Four Seasons hits, including Rag Doll.  In fact, Silence is Golden was the B side for Rag Doll.  It wasn’t a hit itself until recorded by a British band, The Tremeloes, in 1967, still with a falsetto lead singer.


The origin of the phrase “Silence is Golden” is thought to date back to ancient Egypt, but it was first printed in English in 1831, buried within a Thomas Carlyle poem (according to The Phrase Finder).  He concluded the poem with “Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.”  That concept is what A. W. Tozer is considering.  Our job as Christians is to grow in faith.  We should never be satisfied with sneaking in the back door of heaven.  And in considering eternity, it is important to have moments of silence, so that God can talk to us.


Silence has been praised within Christian circles since biblical times for meditation, but most of the Biblical references are as a verb, to silence the crowd.  In Numbers 13:30, Caleb silenced the crowd to exhort them to capture Canaan.  He said that they could do it with God’s help, but the Israelites listened to the other spies and preferred 40 years of wandering in the wilderness instead of the bounty of the Promised Land.


In the New Testament, ‘silence’ appears six times (NIV).  Five times as a verb, but the sixth is noteworthy.  In Revelation 8:1, all of heaven was silent for 30 minutes.  Think about that.  God was preparing everyone for the next step of the end times.  The silence followed the opening of the seventh seal.  What followed the silence was an angel burning incense and lifting the aroma of the incense with the prayers of the people up to God.  Then the seven trumpets were sounded, each bringing horrible devastation upon the earth.  Yes, the 30 minutes of silence was due to everyone anticipating what would come next.


Think of ten seconds of silence on earth today.  Let’s say that someone important, or important to a specific sport, dies.  At the next ballgame, they offer a moment of silence in memory of the person who passed.  Then some drunk gets the idea that his voice will be heard nationwide if he breaks the silence.  It is very rare when the silence lasts more than five seconds.


In the George Carlin album, Class Clown, he suggests that the live audience pop their finger in their mouth.  Then he says to do it again, but try to refrain from laughing.  The first popping was a mess of pops and laughter, missing the point entirely.  The second was 10-15 seconds of thousands of pops before the entire audience erupted in laughter.  It was 10-15 seconds of clownish bliss.  It was a beautiful noise.


Carlin unwittingly pointed to the reason why we can’t hear God.  We pray and fill the silence afterwards with more prayer.  Once we have said our half of the conversation, we say, “Amen.”  Then we turn the radio or television back on.  But if we can refrain from quitting after the ‘amen,’ we should sit there and listen.


I became an accomplished ‘facilitator’ back in the days of ‘team building’ in the 80s.  [Accomplished in that the high-level teams or steering committees {the groups where the lowest level guy is 2-3 levels above you} preferred me.  Sometimes, I preferred anonymity.]  One of my favorite tools was silence.  I’d repeat something that a member of the group had said to get a feel for whether a consensus could be reached on this fine point of the issue at hand.  Most facilitators would change the subject after 10 seconds of silence, because the facilitator became nervous.  But I knew that the ‘team’ was even more nervous than I was.  It might take 30 seconds, but the weakest of those being tortured by the silence was going to say something.  The breaking of the silence became an avalanche of everyone in the room speaking at once.  During the silence, I prayed that the recorder would be able to keep up once the dam broke.  Afterwards, I’d be trying to hold onto the reins and watch the recorder to see if I heard something that the recorder missed.


I just threw that in to illustrate how our preferred response is to fill any moment of silence with some type of noise.  Anything!


We don’t like silence.  Is it because we are afraid God might actually speak to us?


I think that the references to silence being good in various old texts is because it has been a problem since time began.  In a 1340 psalter, there was a sentence added, “Disciplyne of silence is goed.” {The discipline of silence is good.}  In another text from 1382 you would find, “Silence is maad in heuen.” {Silence is made in heaven.}  The last two quotes, and the Thomas Carlyle poem from the on-line ”Phrase Finder.”


I was in a church that performed a Tenebrae service about twenty years ago.  The service marks the events of the first Good Friday and concludes with Jesus being placed in the tomb.  The sanctuary gets progressively darker until the lights go out completely.  Everyone is supposed to file out silently.  Someone fearing that an old lady would fall and break her hip decided that the lights would come back on for the exit, but everyone MUST REMAIN SILENT until completely out of the building.  My part was about two-thirds through the service.  I read some Scripture and then removed the vestments from the pulpit and walked out.  Then a couple of lights went out.  It was that type of thing.  By the end, everything was gone at the front of the church (except those things that were nailed down).  When the last speaker walked out silently, and reverently, the sound of the stone rolling over the tomb was marked by the electrical breaker for the entire church being tripped with a “thud.”  After a few seconds, the breaker was reset.  The lights came back on, but dimly.


Instead of silence, one of the old ladies that the worship team was so afraid of exclaimed, “Oooh!  That was wonderful.  I always wanted to experience one of these ceremonies!”  Of course, the dam burst, and everyone roared with approval while still seated.  Silence?  Reverence?  Do they exist?


I sat in the adjoining hallway and nearly wept.  I was thinking, “No, lady, you still haven’t experienced a Tenebrae service, and you’ve robbed everyone else of it.  You couldn’t be silent and make your comments outside.  That proves you weren’t engaged mentally or spiritually in the process.”  Then I calmed down before shaking hands with the people as they filed out.  That took a while; there were about ten of us in the program.  But over the twenty years since that service, I marvel at how people hate silence.  We can’t just claim it is a problem with the youth.  The woman who broke this silence was probably born during the first world war, or earlier.


Silence is hard, but necessary.  My wife went into the bedroom to pray after lunch today.  She took her Bible and a devotional.  Over the next 30 minutes, her cell phone rang three times.  She usually turns it off, but she had forgotten.


There are times to be loud.  When people tried to get the crowds to be quiet during the Triumphal Entry, Jesus said that if the crowd was quiet, the stones would cry out (Luke 19:40).  Yet, A. W. Tozer preceded the quote above with writing of the many times that Jesus wanted to be silent when He was face-to-face with His Heavenly Father.  He said, “There He would turn the God-ward side of His soul toward heaven and for a long time expose Himself to the face of His Father in heaven.”


Wow!  I’m sure you can read those words, but can you feel those words?  If you love Jesus, how could you not want the same thing?


With those of us with tinnitus, absolute silence is impossible, but we can turn off the noise makers in our home.  If the teen-ager outside is playing his/her music too loud, a running fan can create white noise.  You might have noise cancelling headphones.  (Do they work when there isn’t anything playing?)  Whatever works.  Just find a way to let the noise of the world stop.  The noise is the Devil’s way of preventing you that moment of exposing yourself to the face of God.  For parents, it might be after the children are asleep.


And when you have achieved that moment of pure (as humanly possible) silence, listen.  God has been speaking to you for a long time.  He wants to tell you that He loves you, and He might have a job for you.


And now, for a moment of silence…




Add yours →

  1. and with the coming company—your “quiet” time is going to be drastically shortened 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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