God created three institutions this side of heaven—family, church and government. Family was the first institution He created in Genesis 1-2, and it has been under assault since Genesis 3. Family is the basic unit of society. If you weaken the family, you weaken society; if you destroy the family, you destroy society. Edward Gibbon, in his book entitled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, lists five reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. His top ranked cause was the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home as the basis of human society. That is, the Roman family unit was destroyed, and Rome consequently fell.
Pew Research Center recently published an article entitled “7 facts about American dads.” Although much can be said about each of the facts presented, I want to focus on the article’s opening paragraph:
Fatherhood in America is changing … more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.
To be sure, God’s design for the family unit is under rapid decay in our present society. America is following the trajectory of the fall of Rome. One of the symptoms of the decay is the increase in fatherlessness.
Fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America according to 72.2 percent of the U.S. population. The increase in fatherlessness over a short time period is staggering, as these statistics demonstrate:
- The percentage of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, jumping from 13 percent to 32 percent in 2017.
- About one in five children (21 percent) are living with a solo mother, up from 12 percent in 1968.
- Some 7 percent of children are living with cohabiting parents, about double the share that were doing so in 1997.
According to the National Center for Fathering,
More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.
The consequences of fatherlessness are a clear and present danger to God’s design for family. The removal of fathers from the family unit is ripping apart the fabric of society—not a small teasing of the fabric, but a deep, ragged rip. For a sobering review of the social consequences of fatherlessness, view here and here.
Yes, suicide, crime, drug abuse, sexual perversion, poverty, etc. are heart-breaking consequences. However, the penultimate consequence of fatherlessness is the distortion of one’s view of God the Father.
God intended the family unit to be a visible word picture of the Trinity. There is no more critical aspect as a believer than to learn who God the Father is. One cannot truly understand the depth of His love in giving us His Son and the gift of His Spirit without first understanding Him as Father. How can a boy or girl or man or woman begin to understand God the Father if they have no earthly father? When I witness to folks who have experienced fatherlessness, I cannot begin the conversation with “God the Father loves you.” They have no context and typically have a negative reaction to any earthly father figures. Vance Fry, an editor for Focus on the Family, wrote:
Some people may have a difficult time relating to God as a father. Fatherhood is an idea that we’re all very familiar with, and we may project our expectations or experiences of what a father should be, or has been, onto our heavenly Father. A boy who longs for a dad has a hard time seeing God as capable of filling that role. A girl who feels she has to succeed in sports and school to earn her father’s approval may see her relationship with God in a similar way. For others, the word father may bring up memories of abuse or neglect. How tragic that such a beautiful facet of God’s character—that He is not a distant, impersonal ruler, but a warm and welcoming papa—is often tainted by the weaknesses of human fathers!
I am the first demonstration of father my four children see as they begin to conceive who God the Father is. This is a wonderful responsibility, but also a weighty responsibility, and one in which I fall short many times. I consistently pray that I demonstrate God the Father’s wisdom, lovingkindness, righteousness, provision and protection to my children and to the watching world.
Men, on this upcoming Father’s Day, consider the following:
- Assess how you are doing in reflecting the word picture of God the Father to your children and to others. Pray that you first of all can relate to God as Abba Father. Then pray that God works in you so that you demonstrate His fatherly characteristics and not that of the world’s.
- If you have experienced fatherlessness, know that God can heal all wounds. He is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). In addition, your past experience does not have to be repeated. We are made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we are to put off our old selves and don our new selves (Ephesians 4:22-24).
- Mentor younger dads. The body of Christ has a responsibility to train and equip the next generation. Help younger dads learn from your mistakes and help them grow closer to God the Father. In doing this, you will be having a lasting impact on the dads, their children and their grandchildren.
- Help teach in the preschool and children’s ministry at your church. Children need to see godly father figures in their lives. Children need to see men in the classroom. Far too many of our children and preschoolers have no adult male role model at home.
- Ensure that your family and church have mechanisms to help solo mothers.
Not long ago I traveled to a closed country to serve pastors and elders. Their hunger for God’s Word and for insights on local church ministry gave me energy that whipped the jetlag that should have swamped me. The time of serving, teaching, answering questions, engaging in dialogue, and getting to see firsthand local church ministry in a persecution setting, left me filled with joy at the grace of God at work and the power of the gospel.
On my last night in the country, I had dinner with a young couple from the church where the meetings took place. Earlier that Sunday, the congregation set apart the husband as an elder. Despite not understanding scarcely a word spoken, I thoroughly enjoyed the ordination service. Observing the seriousness of how they considered elder ministry and the careful, yet joyous way that they set apart this young man and another, reminded me of just how important it was for them to make sure that they had their leadership well structured. Persecution looms so leadership mustn’t be left dangling.
As I sat across from this man and his wife, I asked how they came to faith in Christ. Both attended a local university where they received a substantial education, with the husband holding advanced degrees. That study set them apart from some of their peers, so that they were invited to participate in an academic fellowship in a major Western city. Although that city needs lots of gospel work, thank God, there are faithful congregations preaching Christ and doing evangelism in their city. Some believers struck up relationships with this couple. After a period of interaction that built trust, they invited them to visit their church. God began to work.
Now, keep in mind that this couple lives in a region that regularly persecutes believers and tries to shut down churches. Additionally, they had no previous involvement with any church in their country. They were essentially atheists centered on academics and career. But that never stops the Holy Spirit from working.
As they visited a church they saw something different about the people. They experienced a healthy congregation where the body cared for one another, served in the community, and regularly studied God’s Word together. That church, whether intentionally or not, developed what Mack Stiles calls a “culture of evangelism.” He describes this as churches that are “loving communities committed to sharing the gospel as part of an ongoing way of life, not by the occasional evangelistic raid event” (Stiles, Evangelism, 47). A healthy church with a culture of evangelism partnered with those in the orbit of this young couple’s lives, so that hearing the gospel clearly, coming under conviction, they repented and believed the gospel of Christ.
Then they returned to their home country. Policy toward churches had not changed in their two-year absence. But they didn’t go underground. They began to take a stand for Christ. They testified to their families that they were Christians. Despite the push back, they didn’t hesitate to continue in their faith. They found some local believers, began to attend an “illegal” church, became members, and got seriously involved with the body. Several years later, as they’ve grown in Christ, the congregation recognized the husband’s qualifications to serve as an elder, and overwhelmingly approved of him to this biblical office. While he continues in his very impressive job in the city, he also preaches, teaches, and shepherds the flock where he is a member.
How did it happen? Obviously, God graciously worked in the lives of this young family—from blessing them with good minds, providentially directing their paths in an education and career track that landed them in a Western city where they would hear the gospel, and then return to proclaim Christ. But the instruments that the Lord used were just ordinary believers loving them, sharing their lives with them, inviting them to this odd thing called a Christian worship service, and opening their mouths to teach them the gospel.Missions Is Moving Next Door
Mission is not monolithic. It doesn’t just happen when we cross an ocean. While the Lord is using thousands of workers deployed among thousands of unreached people groups (and some not in that category) to do gospel work, he is also bringing the nations to our doorsteps. Our universities regularly have students from all over the globe coming to the United States to receive an excellent education. Others come to train for particular business or mechanical skills. Still others come to be part of U.S. companies, while an endless stream of tourists visit sights familiar to us.
I sat next to a young man from Saudi Arabia a few years ago that had been attending a U.S. university. I couldn’t just waltz into his country and talk to him about Christ. But I could engage him while seated next to him. He warmly received my words and accepted a gift of a gospel e-book card that he slipped into his bag that would be unnoticed by security when he returned. Perhaps the Lord brought him to our country for that very purpose, to download a book on his cellphone so that he might practice English, and in doing so, read the good news of Christ.
My niece told me about a friend at her university from a country unfriendly to gospel work, coming to faith in Christ. For four years students and others loved her, exemplified Christian living, brought her to church, took time to listen to her, mirrored the gospel, and patiently explained the good news. Just a couple of weeks ago she professed Christ publicly through baptism. International mission came local. When she graduates, a new “missionary” will return to her home country with the ability to communicate Christ to her people.
International mission work has moved next door. While gave last year-end to the work of global missions (my SBC church gladly gives to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering)— and we must, while we’re training people to send to the field—and we must, let’s see with open eyes those the Lord has dropped in our midst. International mission work, by God’s providence, is no longer just international. It’s in our communities.
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I can’t count the times he said to me, “I like you, Robinson, but I can certainly do without your religion”—“religion” meaning my commitment to Christ. He held a particular disdain for claims that the Bible is the Word of God.
One day, my friend and fellow newspaper reporter showed up at my desk with a sardonic grin on his face and an open Bible in his hands. This was going to be one of those conversations I enjoyed much less than our debates over the greatest all-time college football player (it’s Herschel Walker).
“I found something that proves the Bible contradicts itself,” he said. “Jesus is supposed to be all about love and peace, right? Well, listen to this.” He slowly read Luke 14:26, verbally underscoring one word:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
No doubt, it is one of the most staggering phrases to come from Jesus’s lips. I don’t recall my response, but my colleague raised a valid question. What does Jesus mean by “hate” here?Hate speech?
After all, this is gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The Jesus who summons us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–46); the one Isaiah calls the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6); the Jesus who promised the world will know his followers by their love (John 13:35). And yet this Jesus is asking me to hate my wife, my children, and my parents? Elsewhere, Scripture commands me to love my wife (Eph. 5:25), my children (Eph. 6:4), my parents (Exod. 20:12). What could our Savior possibly mean by this incendiary—and seemingly contradictory—ultimatum?
If we take a closer look at the surrounding context, the nutshell meaning of his distressing words is as clear and concise as it is radical and revolutionary. Jesus is telling his followers: “If you would be a Christian, I must have it all.” We may be scandalized by the “hate” speech, but I suspect in stumbling over Jesus’s plain talk, we can miss the real scandal of this text: There will be rivals warring for supremacy over the throne of our hearts, but our love for King Jesus must defeat every one.
Matthew 10:37 may provide the interpretational key to unlock what Jesus means by “hate” here: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Yes, we are to exhibit deep affections for our closest earthly kin, but Jesus is saying we must love even them less than we do him if we would prove to be genuine disciples. Of course, it’s also true that I will love my family and friends well in direct to proportion to the depth of my love for Jesus.Sell all and buy Christ
Jesus is not demanding that you literally hate your family. He is using hyperbole to illustrate the steep cost of following him. Any prospective follower must be glad to give up everything, to love him unreservedly—to sell all in order to have him as your highest treasure (Matt. 13:44–46). Our affections for Christ must be of such an intensity and quality that, by comparison, all other loves seem like hate.
This is the first of three sobering warnings in Luke 14:26-33 against making a hasty decision to follow Jesus. A genuine disciple must:
Love Jesus even more than your earthly family (v. 26).
Take up your cross and follow him (v. 27).
Be willing to lay down everything—even your life—and go hard after him (v. 33).
As a skilled expositor, the Lord illustrates his point with two pictures: A wise builder won’t construct a tower unless he’s first made certain he has enough materials to complete it. A wise king won’t go to war unless he knows his army possesses enough firepower to have a fighting chance at repelling the enemy.
God gives us a vivid application or illustration—perhaps even more shocking than Jesus’s words—of the potential cost of discipleship in Genesis 22.Gift or giver?
God gave Abraham and Sarah their first son when they were senior citizens. The long-awaited son was the one through whom God would bring a greater son to rescue his people from sin and death. But God did something that must have stretched Abraham’s faith to a breaking point: He told the patriarch to take the boy to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as an act of worship.
It’s a test none of us would want to endure. Would Abraham love the gift more than the Giver? Of course, we know how it turned out. Abraham trusted God, who provided a substitute—a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s place, giving us one of the clearest gospel pictures in the Old Testament.
Abraham’s faith, displayed in his obedience, powerfully illustrates what our Lord is driving at in Luke 14:26: “Yes, your spouse and kids and relatives are good gifts from my hands, but to which will you give your heart: them or me?”
That’s what Jesus is driving at in Luke 14:26. But how, then, should we live in light of it?What does it apply to us?
It means at least four things for us.1. In speaking the gospel, tell them to count the cost.
Three times, Jesus uses a conditional “if . . . cannot” formula, concluding in verse 33: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In other words, “If I do not have all of you, you will have none of me.” When we proclaim the gospel, we must avoid communicating cheap grace. Following Jesus demands our life, our soul, our all—otherwise, Jesus said, “you cannot be my disciple.”
We must explain the cost as Jesus explained it to the rich young ruler. It was love that drove Jesus to unmask the young man’s hypocrisy: he hadn’t kept God’s law because he was guilty of loving his wealth more than his neighbor (Mark 10:21).2. Following Jesus may not make your life easier.
Much popular preaching promises that believing in Jesus will make your life easier. Perhaps a desire to see as many people as possible converted to Christ drives such preaching, I hope so. And there is profound joy in following Christ; there are pleasures forevermore at his right hand (Ps. 16:10). But if we would hear the message of Luke 14, we must admit there’s a real sense in which your trouble may be just beginning when you follow Jesus.
For one thing, it may not make your family life better. “I came not to bring peace but a sword,” Jesus declared. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34–36). As J. C. Ryle put it, a Christian must be willing to offend his family rather than offend his King. Think of the many who’ve been disowned by parents after spurning Allah, Buddha, or the Watchtower Society in favor of Christ. On his way to Moriah, it’s doubtful Abraham thought, My best life is now.3. Clinging to Christ loosens our grip on even our most intimate earthly relations.
Losing close family members and friends is heartbreaking; but even so, we can rejoice in Christ. My father died 27 years ago. My mother died in January. I think of dad daily, and the wounds are still fresh from saying goodbye to mom. Even so, I will always have Christ—and he must be enough.4. They who trust him wholly, find him wholly true.
Can you imagine Abraham’s journey up that mountain? He was no supersaint. The obedience must have been agonizing. Yet he trusted God when it seemed impossible. And God provided a lamb, just as he has for us.
I’m not sure how my former colleague would respond to the answer I’ve given here nearly three decades later. But I know Luke 14:26 is a deliberately unsettling way for my Savior to call me to love him supremely—even if it costs my life. No matter what, it’s worth it.
This article was originally published at TGC.
In Matthew 13:10-17, in the midst of his parables of the kingdom, Jesus explained something of the purpose of the parables to his disciples. The answer is problematic, however, because it goes against our common assumption that the purpose of the parables was to simplify and clarify. Consider the following:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And Jesus answered them in a way we might find disturbing:
To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
This raises a couple of questions.Is the purpose of the parables to reveal truth?
This seems to be one of the most obvious things in the world at first glance. My guess is that if you asked most regular church attenders what the purpose of the parables was, you would hear something like “stories that illustrate truths or principles from Jesus.” And for good reason.
The word “parable” actually comes from a compound Greek word parabola meaning “to throw alongside.” In other words, a parable is meant to be a story thrown alongside a more abstract idea to illustrate it in familiar terms. Parables are earthly stories illustrating heavenly truths. For example, has ever a better illustration been given of what it means to love one’s neighbor than the story of the Good Samaritan; or, of the forgiving love of the Father than the story of the Prodigal Son?
So the parables exist to reveal, clarify, illustrate truth.
But, if this is the case, why did Jesus have to explain his parables so many times? This leads us to our next question.Is the purpose of the parables to conceal truth?
In verse 10, Jesus is asked by his disciples the precise question that we are considering this morning. This what we want to know. “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus’ answer is as pointed as it is shocking. Rather than to reveal his teaching, Jesus says his parables are meant to conceal truth.
First, he says, it distinguishes between his disciples and the unbelieving crowd. Verse 11: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This highlights the necessity of supernatural revelation for us to know divine truth. Divine revelation is necessary because humans naturally do not understand God’s truth.
First Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Scriptre clearly teaches human inability to attain any saving knowledge of God apart from an exercise of his grace. For example, in John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The word “can” is a word of ability.
While all are invited to come and all “may” (a word of permission) come to Christ, the biblical reality is that no one can apart from God’s gracious drawing of that individual to himself. This fulfills Isaiah 6:9-10 quoted in verses 14-15. We see here the nature of human ability. It is not the lacking of some physical faculty, but a moral inability. They see, but will not see. This means they are morally responsible, because it is not lack of physical ability that hinders them from coming to Christ. This is why Jesus could say in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Their guilt is their own.Human inability, God’s ability
This reality of human inability makes divine initiative an absolute necessity if anyone is ever to be saved. Thankfully, God graciously reveals himself to some. To his disciples, Jesus said in verse 11, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:25-27:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
These verses highlight the divine prerogative that God has to reveal truth to some and conceal it from others. We don’t understand this fully, but we are committed to believing what Scripture teaches and rejoice that God in his grace has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is exactly what Jesus says we should do (verses 16-17). Marvel at divine grace to you! The doctrine of election is never in Scripture something to be argued over and debated, but something to wonder over in amazement at God’s grace. If we truly understand human sinfulness and rebellion, our question will never be, “Why does God not reveal himself to some?”, but “Why, oh why, has God revealed himself to me?”The answer is “yes”
So, the answer to the question, “Did Jesus teach in parables to reveal or conceal truth?”, is an unequivocal “Yes!” Jesus taught in parables to illustrate and clarify abstract spiritual truths with physical illustrations with which everyone could identify. However, he did so in such a way that those truths would actually be unclear to those in rebellion against him and clear only to those committed to following him.
Though Jesus spoke these parables in public to large crowds, they mostly only heard a good story. They didn’t understand the spiritual meaning. When Jesus was alone with his disciples, he would explain the heavenly meaning. In this way, Jesus made it more difficult for his opponents to have accusations against him, but he also used this method to fulfill his divine prerogative of revealing truth to some and concealing it from others. The same sun that hardens the clay, also melts the wax. In a similar way, the same parables which concealed the truth to some, revealed it to others.
At the end of the day, our response should be gratitude to God for his gracious revelation of himself to us.Produces gratitude
The primary response of believers should be gratefulness! We who were spiritually dead and totally unable to come to God have been awakened by divine grace and made to see the glories of Christ to which we have gladly responded in repentance and faith. To God alone be the glory!
This teaching should also lead us to compassion for the lost. That we would weep for them as Jesus did and plead with them to come to Christ (as Jesus did). We should pray to God that the same God who opened our eyes would open their eyes to the gospel. This is their only hope. If we truly believed this, we would be people of prayer!
Finally, we should be grateful that we have in Scripture Christ’s own explanation of many of these parables. These teachings have been preserved for us by the work of the Holy Spirit who inspired biblical writers to record this information. We also have the presence of this very same Holy Spirit in our lives as believers to lead us in our study of Scripture. The Spirit of Christ himself lives within every believer guiding in our understanding of God’s Word. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!
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I’ve spent most of my adult life hating silence—and didn’t know it. It was a major blind spot. I always dismissed my desire to be with people and avoid being alone as being an extrovert and loving people. I excused my talkative nature to my heightened relational instincts. These qualities also seemed to help my interactions with people as a pastor, so I thought nothing more of it. It wasn’t until I began my own counseling journey out of a personal crisis where I was confronted with this long-held deception in my life.
My counselor observed some behavior in my life that went unnoticed by most, but became flags of concern for him. He saw that I ran from being alone. He realized I was uncomfortable in silence and didn’t know what to do with it. He experienced the way I often dominated conversations with my words. This also exposed my terrible listening skills, which he was wise and winsome enough to connect to my silence issues. So, he began to press me in this area and it was difficult. In fact, it led to an implosion of my soul and began the process of healing it desperately needed.Silence exposes the soul
It was through this journey that I learned if my emotions are the gateway to my soul, then it is silence that exposes the soul. I was not ready to face the ugly things that got exposed. But God in his amazing grace met me in a sweet, powerful way and began a healing journey that has brought a consistent peace in my soul. It was through silence in a quiet place, meditating on truth, and prayerfully asking the Lord’s help that I experienced this deeper level of God’s grace and presence within my soul. It is the same place that every pastor must expose and reach with the power of God’s grace for us to experience his love deeply and, as a result, have a long ministry.
This silence I am advocating for in the pastor’s life is not some form of secular meditation, but a biblical silence and solitude. Don Whitney considers it a significant spiritual discipline of the Christian life. It is a stillness that allows us to grow more aware of our soul’s activity as the Holy Spirit lives and works in us. It is a discipline by which we commune with Jesus, become more powerfully aware of his truth and presence, and more receptive to his unending grace. Puritan scholar and longtime pastor Joel Beeke articulates well the kind of meditation that fosters this experience:
Puritan meditation engages the mind with God’s revealed truth in order to inflame the heart with affections towards God and transform the life unto obedience. Thomas Hooker defined it like this: ‘Meditation is a serious intention of the mind whereby we come to search out the truth, and settle it effectually upon the heart.’ The direction of our minds reveals the truest love of our hearts, and so, Hooker said, he who loves God’s Word meditates on it regularly (Ps. 119:97). Therefore, Puritan meditation is not repeating a sound, emptying the mind, or imagining physical sights and sensations, but a focused exercise of thought and faith upon the Word of God.
God commands that we be still and know he is God (Ps. 46:10). The Psalmist reminds us our souls are to go into silence and wait on God alone (Ps. 62:1-5). Jesus regularly went off to a solitary place to pray and be still (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; Matt. 14:13). Silence and solitude is a biblical discipline of the Christian life every Christian needs. Pastors are no different.
This article seeks to not only call every pastor to the discipline of regular silence and solitude in his life, but to see this is an essential piece to the care of a pastor’s soul. First, let’s consider the reasons for silence in our life, then turn to the practical of how to begin to embrace it amidst a busy and noisy ministry.Reasons for silence
Most of us can agree on some obvious reasons for silence, such as we all need quiet, time to get refocused, time alone with God, time to pray and read God’s word, and less distractions. However, I would like to give four reasons that are less obvious and connect more so to silence being a catalyst to care for one’s soul.1. Silence exposes the soul
A common defense mechanism is to use busyness and noise to avoid pain in our lives. It could be unresolved pain and abuse from the past, or it could be a current suffering. Regardless, noise and distraction can give the illusion it isn’t there, or that it has no power. Silence can expose that deep pain and demonstrate its undeniable presence in our souls. It is when we are still and silent that we become more aware of our emotions, what our minds obsess over, and the physical pain we feel that could be related to stress and anxiety.2. Silence confronts the voices.
The voices to which I refer are the messages we hear about ourselves. We all have them. They are voices from those throughout our life. They are the messages the enemy loves to whisper in our ears. They are the interpretive messages of those presently in our life. When those voices are harsh, abusive, and lie about our value and identity in Christ, they become very unpleasant to hear and we do what we must to run from them.
These voices tormented me. Abusive voices from my past, lies from the enemy, and painful words of criticisms in the present all created these messages of failure and self-loathing that were loudest when I was alone in silence. So, I ran from silence to try and escape these voices. I needed silence to confront these voices and speak powerful, gospel truth against the lies I heard and had believed for so long. Martyn Lloyd Jones has famously addressed these voices in the context of depression, stating:
The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?
Silence allows us to confront the reality when we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves and consequently say harsh, soul-crushing words.3. Silence teaches us to listen.
It was a troubling discovery when I realized how long I had been a pastor yet was still a poor listener. I listened, but it was to prepare to respond. I needed to learn to listen without a need to respond. Just listen and empathize. As I began to embrace silence, I realized I was learning to listen also. I heard sounds around me I never noticed before. I felt more receptive to the message of God’s word. It is amazing what happens when you are not so pre-occupied with trying to figure out what to say or do next. Just listen.4. Silence tests our need for noise.
I thought I just loved people and activity. I had no idea that I needed noise because my soul was tormented in silence. Silence exposes the soul and can test how much we have grown to depend on noise to block out the pain of our lives. This is one of the many reasons why we all need blocks of time away from our phone, email, social media, and every electronic device that creates much of the constant source of noise in our life. Pastors do not have to make much effort to find noise and distraction in their life. But silence is another matter. We must fight for it. Silence challenges us to face that pain and allow the power of the gospel to penetrate deep in our souls and begin to find healing. And yet, how does a pastor begin to embrace silence out of care for his soul?Embrace the quiet
While away on a silent retreat, I was reminded of these words found in a room dedicated to silence and solitude:
The role of silence was deemed to be important here, as a means of ensuring that one did not fritter away precious but demanding leisure through acedia and small talk. Communities which respect human growth probably need to make explicit provision for solitude, otherwise a potential source of enrichment is lost.
Although I hated silence, I slowly came to realize I needed to make “explicit provision for solitude” for the sake of my soul. As a result, I was led through a three-step process that helped me come to not just realize I needed silence, but caused me to eventually long for it. That three-step process is daily practice, extended times of silence, and scheduled retreats.
First, a pastor must begin by establishing a short daily silence. The Psalmist writes for us to be still and know God is God (Ps. 46:10). Small, but regular goals are the key. Don’t underestimate the value of carving out five to ten minutes a day where you sit in silence with no music playing, no phone ringing, and no people talking. Just sit and take in the quiet. Be aware of God’s presence. Know he is God. Pray. Listen to what is around you.
Next, a pastor needs to find more extended times of silence. The Psalmist reminds us our souls are to go into silence and wait on God alone (Ps. 62:1-5). We cannot rush waiting. It takes more time. This could be one hour a week where you are away from all noise and people to be alone with God. As the short, daily silence helps keep you centered for the day, this more extended time is what I find more restful and restorative for my soul. This typically happens in my life on Monday mornings when I go on a run on a hiking trail away from people. After my run, I just sit in the quite with God, aware of his glory in Creation all around me in the woods or near a pond. I remain still and know he is God and I am not (Ps. 46:10). And I wait for God alone (Ps. 62:1-5).
Finally, a pastor should move to scheduling one to two silent retreats each year. It is here where you will discover how you truly feel about silence. I did. This could be an overnight trip somewhere, but doesn’t have to be. I have scheduled my silent retreats to be during the day where I will leave early in the morning and return for dinner with my family.
This pursuit of silence takes the care of your soul to another level, for it exposes how much you need noise, people, busyness, and distraction. An all-day silent retreat will expose much, including what you use noise to run from in your life. My silent retreats have become a gut-check of things hidden in my soul from which I try to run by busyness in my life. Every pastor needs something that will press those hidden things, causing him to be confronted with them before God, and time to stop and receive his grace and forgiveness.Set free from the noise
Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, shame, and death, and has rescued us from the wrath of God we deserve. It is all by grace through faith. Our identity is now in Christ and we are eternally adopted children of the One true God. We have the Holy Spirit of God indwelling each of us by faith, making us more like Jesus every day. And yet, so many Christians fail to experience deeply in their souls the power of God’s grace in the gospel. This includes pastors. This was me most of my ministry and it took an awareness of my own soul and how to gain access to it so that powerful grace in the gospel would permeate in those deep, dark places.
Silence is a wonderful tool and gift from God to bring that awareness. We can only shepherd our people to the places to which we have personally gone and experienced. Embrace silence as that peaceful, healing balm for your noisy, restless soul.