Loose lips sink ships. This old saying that warns about the destructive power of uncontrolled words remains true in our day. This warning is of particular worth to leaders. We are inundated with news stories of leaders in all spheres in society that have reacted too quickly, shared too much, spoke too harshly, and in doing so, did great harm to themselves and their organizations. How should leaders control their tongues? Christian leaders from all generations counsel us that the discipline of silence is pivotal in the quest to tame our loose lips.
The scriptural witness is clear: Silence is an important part of worship, devotion and prayer. The Psalmist instructs us to “be still, and know” that He is God (Psalm 46, 10, ESV). Jeremiah counsels us to respond to the discipline of the Lord with silence when he writes, “it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:2, ESV). Even Job, at the end of all his struggles and God’s revealing of Himself, understood that the wisest response to suffering and God is often to lay our hands over our mouths (Job 40:4-5). Jesus warned about the misguided belief that many words make good prayers: “and when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7, ESV) .The Apostle John described a period of appropriate silence in Heaven in response to the final judgment of God on the world (Revelation 8:1).
The Christian witness of the ages gives echo to the scriptural call to wait for God in silence (see Psalm 62:1). The early Christian Desert Father, Diadochos of Photiki (fifth century AD) gave the following advice concerning prayer and silence: “spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness, and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and above all, through grace given by God.” The Byzantine Christian leader, Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD) instructed his followers to “sit down alone and in silence” when they pray. The famous missionary to India, Mother Teresa (1910-1997 AD) valued silence as necessary to hear the voice of God. She wrote: “silence gives us a new outlook on everything. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence, He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice.” The wealth of Church history attests to the importance and value of silence in prayer.
There are many reasons why the prayer of silence is of importance to our prayer life. Here are a few Biblical reminders of the purpose of this God-given exercise of stillness:
- Silence provides us with perspective and balance. When we are silent, we provide God with an opportunity to help us see the bigger picture. One of the best examples of the power of this God-drenched silence is found in the advice that David gives for when things do not go our way: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (Psalm 4:4, ESV).
- Silence allows us to place our complete trust in God. When the children of Israel faced certain destruction with the uncrossable Red Sea in front of them and the armies of Pharaoh behind them, Moses encouraged them that “the Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14, ESV). There is nothing more powerful than a firm, silent stand on God’s promise to save.
- Silence can be a form of intercession. When words fail us, we can stand before God in silence knowing that He knows and that He is intimately involved in the unfolding of this world. The Old Testament prophet Amos, when experiencing the ultimate betrayal of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, declared: “he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time” (Amos 5:13, ESV).
- Silence is at times the appropriate response to the presence of God. I have often experienced this kind of “holy silence” when a sacred, hushed presence of the Lord is manifested in a worshipping congregation. This act of standing, kneeling, sitting in silence reminds us of the wonderful exhortation in the Old Testament book of Zephaniah: “Be silent all flesh, before the Lord, for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling” (Zephaniah 2:13, ESV).
How does one practice the prayer of silence? As always, the sacred Scriptures point the way:
- Find a secluded place where you will not be disturbed. Like Jesus, you might need to rise early: “and rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35, ESV).
- Settle in a relaxed posture that will help you stay in silence. For most of us, this will simply mean, as Isaiah puts it, to “sit in silence” (Isaiah 47:5, ESV).
- Place all your cares on Him and rest in His love. It is precisely because of His great concern and love that we can find true peace and calm: “He will quiet you by His love” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV).
- Listen for His voice. Like Elijah, we will learn that He often speaks with the “sound of a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12, ESV). Make the firm decision to obey His voice.
- Offer your silence as worship to Him. As Habakkuk declares, “the Lord is in His holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20, ESV).
The prayer of silence does not replace all the other forms of Biblical prayer. But in times of trouble, this form of silent trust is one of the most powerful ways that leaders can find perspective, control their tongues and regain their strength. May we once again heed the Word of God: “in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV).