The Sounds of Silence (Mar 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jeff Nelson
March, 1993

10No talking for three weeks! Those were the doctor’s words when I visited him for an examination of my vocal cords. The demand on my voice over the last year had “done me in.” After three weeks of miserable silence (including Christmas), the doctor laid out my prognosis. Vocal rest for my whole life wouldn’t rid me of my dilemma. Surgery was the only path to a “renewed” voice. The doctor assured me the surgery was not complicated and if I behaved and signed on for therapy I could sing again in six weeks. The surgery was flawless (Praise the Lord!) and I was back to new. Not quite! Two more weeks of silence and four weeks of minimal talking and therapy.

What a turn in the road! Me not talk or sing? I am the annoying person who has a song after every thought. I have been squirming through assemblies, gesticulating through conversations and have scribbled messages on at least a dozen legal pads. I hope some rocks have cried out praise in my place, because I have hated forced silence … but I am learning.

Without a voice I had no control over many situations. I saw that much of life is seeking momentary gratification. I noticed that what happens short-term is miniscule to what happens long-term. I began comparing short-term gratification vs. long-term benefits.

The most obvious abuse of seeking short-term gratification was observing and critiquing worship I had planned but was not leading. I was bothered when someone didn’t carry something out as I would have. I wanted to tell them immediately, “You’re not doing that right,” but I couldn’t. By not being able to speak I had time to think. There was nothing wrong with what was being done, so maybe it was just my customary desire to “have it my way” getting in the way. Eternity was still happening and God was still enthroned.

What about you? Can you relate? Have you ever had to leave right in the middle of an exciting football game to attend a Sunday evening service or a small group meeting? “I can go to church any Sunday but this game is only on today.” Ever thought you just had to have a certain new car but you realized your income just wouldn’t support the monthly payments? “Well, I didn’t get the car I really wanted, but I did get a new car.” If this reflects our response we have catered to short-term gratification. We try to control life’s situations so that we constantly receive self-gratification. We tend to live from one gratifying movement to the next.

Short-term gratification too often defines the standard of personal success. Moods are gauged by how many moments of gratification we have experienced. If our gratification bank has a nice healthy deposit, we’re headed for a good forecast. But watch out when the ungratifying storms blow through.

Long-term benefits are the realities of eternity. When caught up in the moment of disappointment, the brief period of rejection dissipates as the long-term benefit comes into focus. Which would you rather claim – a moment’s gratification to add to your collection, or a view of eternity? The more we choose to dwell on eternity, the less the petty interruptions seem to affect us.

So, I suggest we begin replacing many sought-after moments of gratification with anything that brings a view of eternity closer. Worship places us in the middle of the throneroom where reality is defined. “Just one glimpse of him in glory will the toils of life repay.” Those glimpses of glory are found in worship today. The worship assembly is not the entirety of our spiritual responsibilities, but a pathway to maintain our perspective. When worship precedes and proceeds every activity of life, a proper perspective is constantly nurtured. This perspective becomes second nature and tripping over brief injustice no longer matters. So what if you get a low blow? The big picture remains: God is God and eternity is eternity.

During this period I saw many other self-gratification choices staring me in the face. Not being able to speak, I was passive much of the time. There’s not much a speechless person can do, right? Wrong. I chose to wait out the storm, but I believe God intended for me to walk through it, possibly because there were listening lessons I needed to learn. As my thoughts turned to a positive view of my situation, my disposition also changed. I longed for worship. At first, my desire was to physically enter into worship. Being speechless, I used my heart in silence but it didn’t replace my desire to participate.

In Psalm 51, David had plenty of words, but nothing to express. He was at the bottom, expressionless. I can relate to that, because I had plenty of words to express and no way to express them. I can identify with stroke victims and others, who one day find their verbal communication a sudden physical impossibility. What a humiliating, yet humbling experience.

I became keenly aware of the other sense of worship when the most obvious one was taken away from me. Yes, plenty can happen in the heart of a silent worshipper, but when serving a God like ours, it is difficult to contain the desire to respond in a physical sense. Even thought clapping in worship may be unwelcome in some circles, it was the only outward sacrifice of praise I had to offer. I experienced many things differently. I heard expression in voices that I had not heard before. I was ministered to in song. I saw things come to life in a new way as I observed a drama that touched my heart. I heard a sermon more clearly and the message rang true. Taking away my crutch of speaking, I saw more clearly others’ gifts at work. God was being honored in big and small ways that I had not noticed before.

Joining my heart with other worshippers is my favorite pastime. At one very meaningful, yet frustrating gathering, Jane, a woman who sat right behind me, spoke to me afterwards in a way that was spiritually powerful. I had never met her, but she told me she sensed a great level of frustration churning in me and that God could use this for his good. She said I should pay attention to all of thee small obstacles because God would use them as lessons to prepare me for something much greater in the future. She spoke a word of scripture to me, and a blessing, and encouraged me to study several passages that would prepare me for God’s use. This is not a common practice in our fellowship but when I had been praying to get quiet enough to listen, the words from a godly woman matched the yearnings in my heart and I worshipped.

I cam to the conclusion that anything that honors God and transforms spiritual life, whether it is modeled in the Scriptures or not, is true worship. Scripture and the Spirit prepare the heart so there is discernment. Scripture paints more of a picture for the heart to engage rather than a list of worship rules to implement. God gives birth to new creativity every day.

Spoken words found a new dimension in my silent pilgrimage. I realized how many words are wasted, but I also saw the profound impact that words can have. I hear words of hate that stung. I heard words of hypocrisy that saddened me. I heard words of love for God that warmed my heart. I felt so much better after hearing the words of love that I wondered why I even subject myself to the bad when I can choose the good. Why even go near the words of darkness (bad song lyrics, questionable movies, etc.)? Why not run to words of light? Not just good words – words of worship. Plenty of good words sound right, but God is not interested in them. He is interested in words from the heart, honest words.

As I sat through many assemblies I observed body language. I wondered if the worship atmosphere was invading the heart, or if the mouths were just moving with given words. We’re afraid to expose our hearts in worship even though that’s where and when transformation takes place. It is possible to be involved in an entire worship service without ever engaging the heart. If hearts were more engaged there would be more joy expressed. There would be more obvious celebration, more tears, more everything. As the heart goes deeper, the harder it becomes to control the surfaces. Don’t try to protect the surface. Expose the heart. Only the real heart can see the real Jesus.

My responsibility as a worship leader is to do and say what will help you see Jesus. That’s why I want to wear my heart. I want others to wear theirs, too. My first words when I return to leading will matter, at least to me and to God There is no more time to “play church.” The church needs to minister to hearts – broken hearts, happy hearts, honest hearts. The assembly time needs to be planned and prayed over to engage and minister to the heart so worship pours freely. A missed opportunity for the heart to meet with its Maker is a death blow from Satan.

This period of waiting has made me appreciate the voiceless ones who can never shout praise. I have fresh perspectives from this silence, but I can’t wait for the day that I reengage every once of my energy to worship with fellow worshippers. “I waited patiently for the Lord … He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:1,3). I’m ready to sing several new songs.

Someone reminded me yesterday to be jealous of my time with God. Time can be your worst enemy if God is not dominant. God rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). If he wants to be my audience, these lyrics by Dennis Jernigan express my sentiment … for God:
If I could just sit with You awhile;
if You could just hold me.
Nothing could touch me.
If I could just sit with You awhile;
I need You to hold me,
moment by moment,
’til forever passes by.

And for Jesus:
Put your arms around me and hold me.
Sing me a melody holding me near.
Put your arms around me and hold me.
Sing to me the words I’m longing to hear –
“It’s true. I love you.”

I am renewing my vow to “quiet time” because I know the need; it continually shapes my life, my ministry, my worship, and my perspective of the long-term benefit – eternity.

I’m more than ready to sing again, but I’m grateful too, for the lessons I’ve learned in silence.Wineskins Magazine

Jeff Nelson

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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