George Petrie (Broxburn) and former president of the SBLPA
Alone on a bright still day on the top of a Scottish mountain able to see for miles, the silence is almost deafening. On such occasions I have often felt the presence of God.
Has silence a place in corporate worship? My childhood memory of church was a place where silence was expected before the start of the service, no matter how early we arrived. It seemed a forced silence and so as the years passed and the hymn prayer sandwich was superseded by a more lax approach it seemed an improvement. Now silence in church seems to be reserved for visits to ancient Cathedrals and country churches while on holiday.
In 1 Kings ch 18 the prophet Elijah was involved in an incredible encounter with King Ahab. A noisy event with fire and bolts of lightening culminating in a great victory for Elijah. You can almost hear the shouting and the clamour. As Elijah leaves the scene on Mt Carmel he seems invincible, yet within hours the might and majesty of God has evaporated. Vivid words in 1st Kings chapter 19 from verses 11 bring Elijah to a gentle and quiet encounter with God:
“The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:11-12
I would suggest that there is value in having pauses to give space and silence throughout a service. I am sure there is such space, to a lesser or great extent, in most services but noise and clamour can become the norm with silence being marginalised.
Try reading a verse as the Call to Worship then pause to let the assembled congregation absorb and think and reflect on this verse or two from God’s Word as they settle to worship.. Five or even ten seconds can seem a long time, but is it long enough to allow God’s Word to impact? Give a space during intercessory prayer for everyone present to have the opportunity to quietly and silently bring their own prayer before God. Again forty five seconds or even a minute can only be achieved by keeping an eye on the second hand of a watch or ‘time’ is likely to be called before the bowed heads have switched onto, and opened a prayer channel.
Almost thirty years ago I heard a Methodist minister preach (only twice) and on both occasions he had pauses, sometimes over a minute in length, after a point was delivered, or a relevant Scripture verse quoted. At first I found it odd and unsettling but I look back on these sermons and appreciated ‘the sound of silence’.
With the wonder of technology, video clips, power point visuals, sound systems, a wonderful range of worship hymns and songs (ancient and modern) the many different expressions of worship around today are often much more vibrant than in the past. But the welcome busyness can push out the time to be quite, pause and reflect and just encounter God in that way.
A short meditation can be a useful bridge from the noisy and vibrant. A set of power point slides with restful, appropriate pictures progressively looking at the first line of Psalm 46:
Be still, and know that I am God Pause 20 second
Be still, and know that I am Pause 20 second
Be still, and know Pause 20 second
Be still, Pause 20 second
Be. Pause 20 second
The advent of a wide variety of expressions of worship, many of which are vibrant and exciting, is good. But let’s not forget “The sound of silence”
“after the fire came a gentle whisper” 1 Kings 19 :12