The Sound of Silence

Last week, I wrote about how the spoken word has great power for good or evil, depending on whether we choose to be wise and think first.  Oddly enough today in my Bible study time, the subject of silence caught my ear! (Yes, ear. I have been doing an audio devotional on the YouVersion Bible App on Proverbs.)  Today’s chapter was Proverbs 18, and one comment stood out – how not listening is folly and shame.

As I began looking into what God has to say about listening and silence, it seems to me that there are two areas relating to silence.  I’m sure there are many more, but these two topics or focuses seem to be tops.  The first is in how silence or listening relates to wisdom.  The second is how it relates to God and our relationship with Him. Let’s look at the former first.

(Proverbs 18:13) If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 17:27) Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
(Proverbs 17:28) Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
(Proverbs 19:20) Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

There is an adage that says the reason God gave us two ears but only one mouth was so that we would listen twice as much as we speak.  Listening is hard.  And active listening is a learned skill.  We need to train ourselves to focus on the other person and what they say.  We need to understand what they mean, and if necessary ask for clarification.  We need to show them that we are listening.  We need to remember what they said.  Google ‘active listening” and you will find any number of websites that will walk you through the process.  But why is it important?

As we can see in these proverbs, to answer without hearing is “folly and shame.”  And isn’t amazing that a fool can be considered as wise when he keeps his mouth closed? But what these and many other passages say is that being quiet, listening, hearing, leads us to wisdom. In being silent, we can learn and understand more than when we are speaking.  Who among us doesn’t want to become wiser or learn more?

The second area centering on silence or listening is how we relate to or encounter God. We are told to be still before His holiness, but also when confronted by His judgments. When faced with the Creator of all things, the Almighty, the Holy One, God says “BE STILL”

(Psalms 46:10) “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

And just imagine if tells you to be quiet as watch what Him in action as the Israelites were told at the edge of the Red Sea:

(Exodus 14:13) And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  (14:14) The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

God’s got it, and you “only have to be silent.”  And while God may have needed to tell the people to quiet their mouths and spirits before He acted, I imagine that they were dumbstruck afterwards! To see all that awesome power and might must have been indescribable!

Have you ever been speechless when meeting a celebrity or someone you admires? It happened to me twice. The first was when I got Rudolph Nureyev’s autograph at the stage door of the Metropolitan Opera House after seeing him perform in Sleeping Beauty. The second time was in Lancaster when my sweet friend took me backstage to meet her son, Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys!  I couldn’t even say hello at first!  Wow!  If we get into that state just meeting another human being, imagine coming face to face with the God of the Universe!  Isaiah did and reacted this way:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”(Isaiah 6:5)

I am lost!  Unworthy.  Incapable.  In the Old Testament, there are many times when the people are told to be silent or quiet or still before the presence of the LORD or His judgments, such as Zechariah 2:13Micah 7:16, and Habakkuk 2:20, just to name a few.  But the Old Testament is not the only place where things are silent before the Lord. And it is not only mankind that is silenced before the might of God.  

(Mark 4:39) And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4 39

The forces of nature itself must submit to the LORD when He commands.  The apostles were terrified of the raging storm, but Jesus slept until they awoke Him in fear.  Jesus merely rebuked the storm and “there was a great calm!”  Can you imagine being in that boat just then, fighting to keep upright in the midst of a sudden and terrible storm, only to have Jesus say “Be still,” and it is?  As they say these days, “Mind blown!”

Often we need to still ourselves and our surroundings in order to approach God, to hear His still, small voice, and to worship and honor Him.  There is so much noise in the world around us now that it takes considerable effort sometimes to do that.  But make the effort.  You will be glad you did.



Saturday Smiles

While Ogden Nash entitled this poem “A Word to Husbands,” I think that it could safely be renamed “A Word to All” especially in light of my last article, A Word Fitly Spoken. While it makes us smile, let us hope it also makes us think!

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

A word fitly spoken

How powerful are words? To answer that, just look back at the playground teasing you endured (or inflicted) –what effect did the words of scorn, derision, or contempt have? Conversely, how did positive words impact people?

In Proverbs, Chapter 15, the writer talks about the way our words, our tongues influence others. In this one chapter, a third of the proverbs are concerned with what we say and how we say it, about our attitudes that affect our words, and what we listen to. While there are many other verses in Proverbs about our words, the high percentage of them in this chapter makes us pause and ask why the emphasis is needed. So let’s look at the results of our words.

Consider the results of unguarded, or angry, or wrong words:

  • they stir up anger (verse 1)
  • they pour out folly (verse 2)
  • they break the spirit (verse 4)
  • they are an abomination to God (verse 26)
  • they pour out evil things (verse 28)

Wow! Not good! Even in the New Testament, James calls the tongue a “fire, a world of unrighteousness.” James goes on to say that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

So what to do?  Look at the alternative to rash speech:  First, Proverbs 15:1 says “a soft word turns away wrath.”  Have  you ever tried to argue with someone who won’t argue back, or answers you with kind words?  Who meets your harshness with understanding and patience?  You end up in a one person argument, and we all know how useless that gets!

Next, Proverbs 15:4 tells us that “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.”  It nourishes the spirit and soul.  It encourages and lifts you up.  Think about a time when someone came to you and told you how much they liked or appreciated you.  How did you feel?  I’ll just bet you were on top of the world, full of life and energy!  That’s what gentle words do for us.

So, gentle, pure, soft, appropriate words are our goal – to speak them and to mean them.  But how?  What is the secret to being able to do this consistently?  Proverbs 15:28 may show us part of the answer:

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

The righteous heart ponders how to answer.  Ponder – a verb – to think about carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.  Some synonyms are “think about,” “consider,” “mull over.”  Or as my mother would sometimes say “Put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion!”

Sometimes we are so busy on our own heads thinking up a reply, rebuttal, or smart aleck answer that we don’t take the time to consider the world of  hurt our answer could cause.  We don’t ponder what effect our words will have on the listener.  We need to be mindful, to take a breath, to ponder our reply first then speak.

Good advice in the first century AD, good advice now in an age when much of our “speech” is on social media and is pejorative, hurtful, even hateful.

So THINK, MAN, THINK! Ponder your words, consider their effect, become the person that people want to listen to and to hang out with.  Be the positive influence in the negative world we live in!

A musical question

In my last post, I told you how music affects my life, especially recently. And it continues to do so! So far this winter, I have been to hear Danny Eyer and Ernie Trionfo play at Third State Brewng, our old friends, Kinderhook, in Asbury Park to celebrate the release of their first CD, and in 2 weeks, I get to go to Englewood, NJ, to see my Boys, The Oak Ridge Boys! Love it! Then April brings the MDA Eats N Beats Food Truck and Music fundraiser in Roebling! 12 food trucks, 6 bands, (hard work for those of us on the committee, but worth it to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.) By the way, if you are in New Jersey on April 20, please visit the fundraiser festival from noon until 6pm, at the Roebling Museum grounds- information is on Facebook under MDA Eat N’ Beats Food Truck and Music Festival!

So my question to you, dear readers, is ‘How do you react to and relate to music?’ Is it a part of your life, what effect does it have on you, what do you listen to? What’s your favorite piece of music, or favorite musician?

Let’s get talking!

On That Note

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Dad and Mom had a ton of vinyl albums. Any family gathering of Dad’s family usually involved music and dancing. And I inherited their old cabinet stereo when Dad built the Heath Kit system for the living room, and began collecting my own albums. Music nearly always evokes an emotional response in me: I feel the joy of a happy song, sympathize with the blues singer, cry over the sad songs. And whenever things happened, even bad things, I would put on my music and feel better. It always worked. Until my friend Vitie died.

I met Vitie in the women’s Bible study I started attending. Our initial connection was over a shared love for Jesus and for a certain musical group. (More on that in a minute!) Over the next 10 years or so, Vitie and I would go to lunch or talk on the phone, enjoying each other’s company. Vitie often shared her joy and pride in the achievements and milestones in the lives of her children, Joe, Susan, and Richard, and in her grandchildren. I learned about a positive attitude from her example, because she was a very positive person, and never had a bad word for anyone. Well, maybe once. She was speaking about someone’s ex-wife, and all she said was “All she wanted was his MONEY!” You could practically hear the capital letters! And it was clear that this fact was the ultimate insult in Vitie’s eyes – the lady wanted the money and not the man!

But what part did music play in our connection, and in my journey? Well, Vitie was Victoria Sterban, and her son Richard is the bass singer in the Oak Ridge Boys. Vitie loved her Boys, all of them, and some of our time together was spent on road trips to see the Boys perform and to visit with Richard after the show. It was so much fun to see Vitie enjoy the show and,boy, was she hard to keep up with! But in 2014, Vitie went home to her LORD and Savior. My sweet friend was gone and I missed her gentle spirit so much. And her feistiness! So I turned to music as usual. And naturally, I turned to the music we had shared a love for, the Oak Ridge Boys. But something was wrong – I found I couldn’t listen to the the Boys! Every time I heard their voices, especially Richard’s, the loss and grief poured over me anew. It took almost a year until I could listen to the Boys again. But worse was to come.

Two years and a few weeks later, my husband Steve died very suddenly and unexpectedly. I sought refuge in music again. But this time it was even worse than when Vitie died. I could not listen to any music with WORDS! Didn’t matter if it was a happy song or not – Couldn’t bear it! So I switched my radios to the classical music station, and my albums and CD’s sat around collecting dust for nearly a year and a half. I gradually started listening to my music, including the Boys, but still could not listen to most praise or gospel music, except in church. Until —

The Oak Ridge Boys released a new album late in 2018, 17th Avenue Revival. I bought it in December and popped it in the player, started to listen and turned it off. The very first track, “Brand New Star,” went “There’s a brand new star up in heaven tonight…” Oh boy, here we go, I thought, here comes the grief and loss again. But, a day or so later, I decided I was being really silly so decided to try again. And when the song was over, I felt different somehow. Yes, I miss Steve and Vitie, and everyone else I have lost, but I did not feel overwhelmed with the grief anymore. I was okay.

That song, that album, was the the final piece in the puzzle, the last step on the road to recovery. And it seems incredibly sweet to me that my trouble with grief and music began with the Oak Ridge Boys and ended with the Boys!

Recovery from a devastating loss is a process. No everyone experiences it in the same way, or for the same duration. But for everyone, there are markers and milestones. I am very blessed to look back and see that my markers are my dear friend Vitie’s Boys!

So, I would like to thank Richard, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, and William Lee Golden, The Oak Ridge Boys, for this album. Thank you for recording it, and thank you for releasing it in God’s perfect time, at a time when I was ready to listen and to hear!