Learning Silence

2019 is here! The church platform has been returned to its normal setup after the Christmas programs. The poinsettias have been removed from the sanctuary window sills. At home, the Christmas decorations are packed up again and beginning to settle to the bottom of the Rubbermaid storage bins in the attic. All the tiny New Year’s Eve confetti is vacuumed up from the family room carpet. Well, almost all of it!

It is now that we have a choice to make. We are offered, in the dawn of the new year, the option of a sound we haven’t heard for several months, if we even chose to find it back then. Can you hear it? It seems to be the rarest of sounds in these days of sensory overload and endless social access. The sound I’m referring to is silence. After making a joyful noise as my mode of ministry for 30 years, God called me a few years ago to cherish, of all things, …silence. He has also taught me to not only pursue the silence, but to listen to it and invite God’s whisper of peace and direction to come from it. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m still called to make that joyful noise through writing music, and I still want you to like it and choose it for your music program!

The change of the calendar year is, for most of us, a fresh call to action. We tend to make grandiose resolutions. I’m reminded of a pastor I heard years ago who said, “January: the month we all join a gym, go on a diet, and read the Book of Genesis.” Ambitious new starts are good, but let me challenge you to do something else first. Stop. Rest. Listen. As I began my journey to ordination and pastoral ministry several years ago, it was my Christian doctor who challenged me to make sure I resigned from one of my many volunteer positions for every new task I took on. For too long, I piled working for worthy new causes on my plate without clearing something off to make room. I thought I was the master of multi-tasking, but I was extremely over committed. My doctor said sternly, “Russell, God made the human body to be capable of running from a lion for a bit. But, the human body wasn’t designed to run from a lion for years at a time.” Then he said a word I had long neglected. Balance. For years I had arrogantly kept a “work hard, play hard” pace without regard for its sustainability or eventual toll on my health. So, I’m pursuing balance these days. I’ve finally learned to gracefully say the word “no” to some offers for things that are worthy and good, but that are just not best for my calling in this season and proper balance of life and work schedule.

This concept reminds me of a New Testament story. Like the account of Martha and Mary, found in Luke 10:38-42 (NKJV), faithful servants of Christ are constantly given two options. Let’s look at the story:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore, tell her to help me.”  And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

For the first half of the story, we hard workers who are task-driven immediately want to rally behind poor Martha. For her, serving and hospitality were both a calling and a vital part of their culture. She was doing nothing wrong in serving Jesus with her very best effort. I have no doubt most of us are constantly experiencing the Martha model of serving Christ, especially during seasonal church celebrations. Even today as with Martha, presenting an offering of excellence to the King of Kings requires discipline, organization, and not only practicing until you get it right, but practicing until you can’t get it wrong. And those 16 children’s angel costumes didn’t magically sew themselves! God calls us to strive for excellence and He honors it. Surely Martha wanted to serve the Lord with all she had and wanted her sister to grasp the urgency of the situation. This was an all-hands-on-deck moment to host Jesus and his numerous companions with possibly little notice. There was much work to do and excellence doesn’t happen without great effort. Someone must do the work! Faithful servant Martha was greatly frustrated by the apparent lack of concern her sister, Mary, displayed to join in the preparation. Perhaps she thought of Mary as being downright lazy or, at best, inattentive to the need at hand.

But then the story takes an interesting turn. The writer’s use of the phrase “distracted with much serving” speaks to the heart of the matter. As a friend said recently, let us not be so busy doing the work of the Lord we forget the Lord of the work. The response from Mary (which was confirmed by Jesus) was to seize the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen for as long as she was given the cherished opportunity. Some of us naturally tend to be more like Mary in our Christian walk, while others resemble Martha. It’s a reflection of our personalities and how God uniquely made each of us. It’s also likely we have qualities of both within us and seasons of tending to each make for a balanced Christian life.

As we begin this new year after a Christmas season of working with urgency like Martha, and possibly occasionally being “distracted with much serving,” let us all, as Jesus advised and Mary obeyed, pause to choose “that good part” of sitting at His feet…and listening. It won’t happen if we are not intentional! Too often our lives become cluttered, leaving us distracted and forgetful of the intimacy that Jesus desires with us. There’s always endless tasks we can do, but use the time to reflect and take inventory of your work for Him. As you consider new tasks, ask Him for release to end other positions of service to make room. Both extended times of serving diligently and times of rest while restoring our souls are honored by God and are part of a balanced, sustainable, and admirable walk with the Lord.

Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

Blessings, my friends and Soli Deo Gloria!

About the Author:  Russell Mauldin is a leading arranger for Brentwood Benson and the creator of the Ready To Sing series.  Among Russell’s many achievements in the music industry for over 30 years, is his most recent honor in receiving a Master of Arts in Religion from Lee University in 2018.  In addition to providing the Church with resources in his partnership with Brentwood Benson, Russell currently serves at Seeds Church in Murfreesboro, TN as Associate Pastor.


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