SILENCE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
For more than Seven Years I was blessed to minister and worship at the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
The Cathedral is visited by hundreds every day, who in addition to admiring its ornate interior, simply want to sit quietly and pray – to enjoy the stillness and silence of being in the presence of God. God calls us to be still in his presence, so that we might hear his voice and respond to his instruction. Yet there are times when cannot be silent, indeed we must not be silent? There are times, and we live in them right now, when God is depending on our mouths, God needs us to be vocal Christians as well as visual Christians … and what comes out of our mouths must be what God has spoken; we dare not be silent.
In Psalm 115, the Psalmist paints a grave picture, saying, “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence” (Psalms 115:17). In the original Hebrew, “any that go down into silence” means those who are dumb; who cannot speak. Earlier the psalmist said of the heathen, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: …” and so on (v4–7). In other words, the heathen make idols that have mouths, but they can’t speak, and those who trust in them become like them. The idols of those who are outside of the kingdom of God leave them powerless, and speechless.
Along with the heathen, people of another kind come into a strange silence, even though they are in the presence of God. It is as if they lose their speech, their song, their testimony, their sense of wonder at who God is. The story we read earlier in the Service, from the Gospel of Luke gives a clear illustration of this type of strange silence:
It’s the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke Chapter 1.
Zacharias was a righteous and obedient man. He was appointed as a priest and given the privilege of going into the temple to burn incense, which is a type of prayer. As those on the outside could see the incense wafting out from under the curtain, they might have concluded, “This is an incredible man of God. He knows so much more about God than we do. We are only here on the outside praying, but he really has an inside track!”
The Bible tells us that … “there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11). Note the significance of “the right side,” which symbolizes the side of strength, for it is at the right hand of God that Christ sits. This speaks of God’s willingness to give Zacharias what he could not attain through all of his own obedience and religious observances. It is as if God was saying, “I am going to do something in your life that you cannot do for yourself.” In the same way, you and I can be as righteous as possible—attending every prayer meeting, reading the Bible until our eyes are crossed. But there is still something that only God can do in our lives, something supernatural, far beyond our human limitations. Have you asked God recently to do something supernatural in your life – something that is beyond your doing?
In Zacharias’ case, his wife was barren. He and Elizabeth were both past childbearing age, yet it was at this point of hopelessness that God appeared through the angel and said, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard” (Luke 1:13). Zacharias must have been taken aback, wondering, “My prayer is heard? I am 80 years old now! I prayed that prayer back when I was about 35!” But God is an on-time God! He is always on time, but Not our time—His time.
“Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” the angel says (v13–17). What a phenomenal promise!
God essentially told Zacharias, “I am going to do something supernatural through you and Elizabeth. In spite of your personal and corporate lack of ability, I am going to do something sovereign, and it is going to turn many people back
“And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? And, (the angel said) behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless” (Luke 1:18–22). Now take note of this, it is very important – Unbelief closed his mouth!
Sadly, many in the Church, even many so called Evangelicals, have “closed mouths” today, simply because they do not really believe God. Yes, they go to the Prayer meetings, yes, they read their Bibles, and yes, they attend regularly at Worship, but for many of them its all only “an act”? When it comes to speaking up about what they believe in, or speaking up for the Saviour, or speaking up for their own testimony, their lips are sealed – they are full of unbelief. We must all examine ourselves today.
In each of our lives, there are moments when God begins to speak something so deep and so profound to us that it would be impossible unless God Himself performed it. That is when we come to a road of decision. Am I going to believe God, or am I going to believe in the frailties of my own heart, or the difficulties in the circumstances of my own life?
Sadly, many Christians end up standing at the shores of incredible promise, only to look in and say, “God, I hope whoever You send has great success.” They understand what God is saying and even believe His Word to be true…its just not for them personally. It is almost as if they conclude that God has finally arrived at the one person in history through whom He cannot do anything! And so what happens is that unbelief closes their mouth, just as in Zacharias’ case.
I have witnessed this time and again in the life of the Church -people coming in with great fervency and zeal, singing and shouting in the presence of God. Yet as they delve into the Bible and gain more knowledge, reading of all the incredible things God has done in the past, they begin to have a hard time believing it for their own lives. Suddenly their song starts growing fainter, until eventually they are left sitting in silence. Although they deceive themselves into thinking that they have somehow come into a holy place, – in reality, unbelief has gripped their hearts.
But, just as the angel said, Elizabeth does get pregnant, and Zacharias still cannot speak. To add insult to injury in Zacharias’ life, one day Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, comes to visit. Mary (who we know) was a young virgin, pregnant with the very Son of God and Elizabeth, who was past childbearing age, was pregnant with a prophet who was going to announce the arrival of the Son of God. Now bear in mind that Zacharias had more Godly knowledge than the two of them put together. He had experience with God and he was closer to the altar than either of them had ever been. Yet I can picture him peering down from his balcony into the courtyard as Mary rushes in with excitement.
We read …“Mary entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:40–43). What revelation! Not only is Elizabeth pregnant and filled with the Holy Ghost, but the mother of the Messiah has come to visit her, and she knows it!
Imagine what it must have been like at the dinner table later on -Mary sitting on one side, Elizabeth on the other, and Zacharias perhaps in the middle. “Isn’t it exciting what the Lord is doing?” Mary exclaims. “How amazing when God speaks! When the angel Gabriel came to me, I believed him, and there was a fulfilment of those things which he had promised in my life!” Elizabeth would be able to say the same, “I believed God for forty-five years, and suddenly there was a stirring in my heart. I knew that God had answered our prayer. Oh, let’s magnify the Lord! What do you say, Zacharias?” … and from him, … there was only Silence.
I cannot help but wonder if Zacharias finally got tired of people passing him by! To those who have known the Lord for a season, have you gotten to the point where you are tired of being passed up by the young—those who do not have nearly as much learning as you? You have biblical knowledge, you know the Hebrew or the Greek meanings of words, and you have a history with God. But next to you is an excited, young Christian who simply believes that all things are possible with God. He has perhaps only a quarter of your knowledge yet is pressing into something that has long eluded you—something that God told you but you had a hard time believing. This is what God is doing right now, he is by-passing many of us who have too many “hang-ups” over religion, and using those who have simple childlike faith. God make us like children again, trusting, confident, simply believing.
Did you know that you can hide unbelief in theology? You can study and dazzle people with your incredible brilliance, yet still not be growing one ounce in the miraculous faith of God. Nothing in your life causes people to say, “Surely there is a God, how else could this have ever happened?”
As the Scriptures remind us, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1–3). By faith we understand that what God speaks, He can create. It does not matter if you are barren or if this place in your life has been empty from generations past. It does not matter what others have called you or what the unbelieving say.
All that matters is what God says. Begin saying what God says, and you’ll being seeing what God sees.
Soon the baby was born, and it came time for Zacharias and Elizabeth to dedicate him. We read …“And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father” (Luke 1:59). This is exactly what the world will do—call you after the name of your father. They will call you a drunk, or a loser, someone who is going nowhere. In other words, “You are just like your father. You are just like your mother. The history that was created in your family is just going to carry on through your life, and you will never be any different.” Some people can never get beyond your past, they can never see anything more than what you were, they are never able to see what you are.
“And his mother answered and said, Not so; .. he shall be called John” (Luke 1:60). No! This child has a name different from any name that has ever been named in this family! “And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing pad, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all” (v61–63).
Zacharias finally agreed with God! He finally came to the place of saying, “Whatever God calls it, that’s what it is.” His name is John!
“And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God” (v64). Thank God that it is never too late! No matter how long we have been living in unbelief or how long we have made peace with powerlessness,
it is never too late to finally get to the point where we agree with what God has spoken to us.
“Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied” (v67). When Zacharias finally agreed with God, not only was his tongue loosed, but he was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied! It is just like those 120 disciples in the Book of Acts who agreed with God and had their tongues suddenly loosed. They were failures when they went into the Upper Room, but they were empowered by God when they came out, speaking of the wonders of God!
It is time for us to REFUSE TO GO DOWN INTO SILENCE.
All throughout the Scriptures, we have been given a marvellous demonstration of God’s miraculous power through a people of faith. And now that we have come to the very threshold of His return, shall we be found going down into silence?
I don’t know about you, but I choose to live and die on the side of faith. I choose to believe that God can do exceedingly abundantly and above all that we can ask or think when we pray to Him. I choose to believe that if we will walk humbly before God, He will do something in and through us that will touch this generation!
So my question for you today is: What is the name of the thing that God has planted inside of you? What has the Holy Spirit been whispering to your heart? The Lord has told you something—something that He desires to do through your life. You know it, God knows it, and now is the time to agree with it. After all, there comes a point in our walk with God when there are no longer any excuses for unbelief. There comes a point when we must trust God, determined not to sit on the sidelines in silence and unbelief. Instead, we must allow God to be God in us – doing what only He can do, leading us where only He can take us, bringing honour to His name. That is how the Church started, and that is how the Church must finish before Christ comes to take us home!
NOW THIS FINAL WORD.
One evening a Preacher who was visiting the United States wanted to make a telephone call. (This was in the days before Mobile Phones) He entered a phone box, but found it to be different from those in his own country. It was beginning to get dark, so he had difficulty finding the number in the directory. He noticed that there was a light in the ceiling, but he didn’t know how to turn it on. As he tried again to find the number in the fading twilight, a passer-by noted his plight and said, “Sir, if you want to turn the light on, you have to shut the door.” To the visitor’s amazement and satisfaction, when he closed the door, the phone box was filled with light. He soon located the number and completed the call.
In a similar way, there are times when you and I draw aside in a quiet place to pray, we must close the door and block out our busy world and open our hearts to the Father. Our darkened world of disappointments and trials will then be illuminated. We will enter into communion with God, we will sense His presence, and we will be assured of His provision for us. This is being “Still” in the presence of God. Our Saviour often went to be alone with the Heavenly Father, and if he needed those silent times, then we need them too. So there is a time to be SILENT in the presence of God.
Silence may be ‘golden’, but more often it is guilty. For the normal thing for a Christian is to speak of what he knows, to speak frankly against error, and to maintain freedom of discussion whenever challenged by the facts. But to shut up like a clam, is sin by omission. It is failure to study God’s Word or fear of the cost of voicing unpopular testimony.
Spirit-led use of truth can only ever help those who are ‘approved’ of God. How can we be right when we are so fearful, evasive and unwilling to investigate? Why fear to be a witness when one knows the facts? But if one has only hearsay, supposition and self-reasoning—one should remain silent, confess it and ask God for help.
Silence will not be ‘golden’ at the judgment of our words, if to speak was our duty and we left it undone for any reason.
God Bless You, – Amen.