I talk too much. I know that, and those who know me know it all too well. It’s an occupational hazard for a preacher. I pontificate, I preach, I lecture, I dump the latest contents of my head on anyone who will listen, even if they aren’t listening. People come seeking a sip of wise words; I turn on a fire hydrant. Conversation with me is the verbal equivalent of being waterboarded.
People think that I like to hear myself talk, but I really don’t. I talk because I’m afraid of silence. I fear silence the way radio people fear dead air. I fear what the silence might reveal – my inadequacies, my ignorance, my sin, the truth. In silence, I lose control and become vulnerable to the next sentence in the mouth of another. Talking is a defensive strategy, a wall of sound to keep others at a safe distance.
The more we speak, the greater opportunity for our tongues to sin. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). Loose lips not only sink ships, they destroy reputations, diminish others, rob people of joy. Words hurt and cut to the soul. As James notes, the tongue is an untamed beast, a fire and restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:6-8). Far easier to tame a tiger than tame the tongue. My tongue could be registered as a lethal weapon in all fifty states.
Silence is a gift of grace. It is the prelude to listening. Wisdom begins in silence. The disciple is silent before his teacher. Worship begins in silence. The creation began not with a Big Bang but with a great Silence as the Spirit brooded over the Deep and Darkness, and the formless and empty earth silently waited for the Word to fill it with Light and Life (Genesis 1:1-2).
Compassion for another begins with attentive silence – listening, reflecting, praying. Job’s three friends -Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar – paid a visit on their sick and suffering friend and sat with him for seven days in silence. They were present, blessing Job in silent communion with his suffering. Then they began to speak in tag team soliloquies, and the comfort of their silence became a tortuous flood of words piled on a suffering friend.
“There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). There are certainly times when we must speak, when our voices must be heard, when the call of God demands that we say something even if those words might cost us our heads. And there are times when the most powerful sermon we can preach is silence. Even when we speak, our words need to come out of our hearing of the Word who speaks into the still silence of faith.
Gracious Lord, grant us the wisdom to know when to be silent and when to speak, and grant us faith to speak from the silence of hearts that rest in You.