My house is rarely quiet. So when I can sneak away from the four kids and barking dog to run an errand alone, I sometimes sit in a parking lot for an extra five minutes. But too often, instead of savoring the silence, I add noise. I check messages, finish listening to a podcast episode, or answer emails.
Silence can be awkward. And it feels painfully unproductive. I don’t want to miss out on the chance to catch up with people or check something off my to-do list. I certainly don’t want to deal with the underlying worries and fears plaguing my own soul, so I shove those down, using digital content like a Whac-A-Mole hammer to keep my angst from rising to the surface.
Taking in information isn’t bad. But in our content-saturated culture, it’s too easy to fill every moment or numb every uncomfortable feeling with some form of noise. As the prophet Habakkuk demonstrates, though, sometimes what our minds and souls really need is to practice being silent before God. Here are three reasons why.
1. Silence can be an act of worship.
In the book of Habakkuk, we find the prophet distraught over the wickedness and violence he witnessed. Judah and its leaders were corrupt, and Habakkuk cried out to God, complaining that God wasn’t doing anything about it. The prophet went back and forth with God, bringing questions and complaints about God’s apparent silence. Then in Habakkuk 2:20 God said, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
We can be quick to give God a piece of our minds, and sometimes it’s OK to bring our uncensored thoughts to him. Habakkuk’s story demonstrates that God can take our frustration and grief, our anger and questions. But there comes a point when we have to recognize that God is God and we are not. Silence before him acknowledges our rightful place. He gets the last word, and he gets our worship.
God is God and we are not. Silence before him acknowledges our rightful place.
Time and again, the Old Testament prophets called the people to be silent in God’s presence (Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13), and the Preacher in Ecclesiastes put it this way: “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Eccles. 5:2).
We can worship God in silence when we look out at creation and contemplate the grandeur of our Creator. We can take a walk outside, choosing to forgo headphones once in a while so we can lift our eyes and tune our ears to the One who made all we see and hear. We can build silence into our worship services and corporate prayer times, letting our words be few as we revere our good and sovereign God.
2. Silence can reveal our idolatry.
Habakkuk declares “woes” on those who carve images of wood and stone. Right before the command for the earth to be silent before God, Habakkuk 2:18–19 says,
What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.
Maybe we don’t carve images of wood and stone. Yet too many of us (including me) are prone to worship the god of the glowing rectangle. We seek answers to our apprehension and solace in our sorrow from the plastic and metal devices displayed like graven images around our homes. The comfort of screens requires only a click, and Alexa and Siri offer answers now, so it can be all too easy for us to make idols of technology. The idols in Habakkuk’s day didn’t talk back (2:18–19). I wonder if ours can be even more dangerous because they do.
The idols in Habakkuk’s day didn’t talk back. I wonder if ours can be even more dangerous because they do.
Our idols, whatever their shape and size, can’t teach us what we most need to know. They don’t have in them the very breath of God (2:19), and they can’t respond to the deepest cries of our souls. Regularly practicing silence with our technology and putting our digital tools in their proper place can reveal our tendency to idolize them and help us reorient our attention to the true God.
3. Silence can be an act of trust.
After Habakkuk offered his complaints to God in chapter 1, he declared, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me” (Hab. 2:1). It can be easy to complain to God. But it’s often much more difficult to wait patiently for his answer.
Many times, we can be quick to seek solutions from friends, experts, and search engines. And they can be helpful and necessary resources. But before we run to someone else, have we first run to God? Before we attempt whatever solution we’ve devised for our problems, what would it look like to calm and quiet ourselves before the Lord?
Silent waiting can look like spending extended time meditating on God’s Word, listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can sit in God’s presence in prayer, practicing the posture of David when he wrote,
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother. (Ps. 131:1–2)
Waiting silently before God is an act of trust, requiring us to surrender our will to him. At the end of chapter 3, Habakkuk finally utters the words familiar to many of us: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, . . . yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17–18). Habakkuk likely wouldn’t have come to this place of trust without first waiting before God in silence.
So let us be quiet. Let us wait and listen for the LORD, the only true God, the One who hears and answers and offers the very salvation and rest we desperately need.