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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We Must Be Still to Know

"Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10)

Our fathers had much to say about stillness, and by stillness they meant the absence of motion or the absence of noise or both.

They felt that they must be still for at least a part of the day, or that day would be wasted. God can be known in the tumult of the world if His providence has for the time placed us there, but He is known best in the silence. So they held, and so the sacred Scriptures declare. Inward assurance comes out of the stillness. We must be still to know.

There has hardly been another time in the history of the world when stillness was needed more than it is today, and there has surely not been another time when there was so little of it or when it was so hard to find.

Christ is every man's contemporary. His presence and His power are offered to us in this time of mad activity and mechanical noises as certainly as to fishermen on the quiet lake of Galilee or to shepherds on the plains of Judea. The only condition is that we get still enough to hear His voice and that we believe and heed what we hear.

Some things can be learned in the din of modern life. Amid the noises we may become engineers or scientists or architects. In the humdrum we may learn how to fly a jet plane or to manage a department store. We may win an athletic contest, conduct an orchestra, earn a degree or get ourselves elected to public office. We do these things by accepting civilization at its face value and getting adjusted to it. Thus we become children of the twentieth century and our psychology takes its complexion from the times. We move as gracefully as we are able through the complicated steps of the dance of circumstance, the noise actually aiding our motion; or, not knowing where we are headed, we march with the multitude to booming music that keeps us in step and adds a bit of pleasure to the effort.

These things men can do and are doing. But when we begin to doubt the validity of a philosophy built on physical science and to question the soundness of a civilization that produced the H-bomb, and especially when we begin to grope after God if perchance we may find Him, something strange and wonderful happens. As we draw nearer to the ancient Source of our being, we find that we are no longer learned or ignorant, modern or old-fashioned, crude or cultured, white or black; in that awesome Presence we are just men and women. Artificial distinctions fade away. Thousands of years of educations disappear in a moment and we stand again where Adam and eve stood after the Fall, where Cain stood, and Abel, outside the Garden, frightened and undone and fugitive from the terror of the broken law.

There before the judgment seat which suddenly becomes as real to the trembling sinner as if it were the very last judgment itself, no modern religious techniques avail; none of the carefully thought-out methods work. The civilized man or woman surrounded by his lately invented and noisy gadgets passes back in his heart through the centuries of "progress" and becomes again a terrified, whimpering human thing desperately in need of a Saviour.

Because this is true, any evangelism which by appeal to common interests and chatter about current events seeks to establish a common ground where the sinner can feel at home is as false as the altars of Baal ever were. Every effort to smooth out the road for men and to take away the guilt and the embarrassment is worse than wasted; it is evil and dangerous to the souls of men.

One of the most popular current errors, and the one out of which springs most of the noisy, blustering religious activity being carried on in evangelical circles these days, is the notion that as times change the church must change with them. Christians must adapt their methods by the demands of the people. If they want ten-minute sermons, give them ten-minute sermons. If they want truth in capsule form, give it to them. If they want pictures, give them plenty of pictures. If they like stories, tell them stories. If they prefer to absorb their  religious instruction through drama, go along with them - give them what they want. "The message is the same, only the method changes," say the advocates of compromise.

"Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad," the old Greeks said, and they were wiser than they knew. That mentality which mistakes Sodom for Jerusalem and Hollywood for the Holy City is too gravely astray to be explained otherwise than as a judicial madness visited upon professed Christians for affronts committed against the Spirit of God.

"Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10).

But, some earnest persons reason, since there is not stillness in this mechanized world we must learn to get along without it. We cannot hope to bring back the still waters and the quiet pastures where David once led his sheep. This rat race of civilization is too noisy for us to hear the still, small Voice, so we must learn to hear God speak in the earthquake and the storm. And if modern evangelism is geared to the tumult and the agitation of the times, why should anyone complain? Does it not represent an honest effort to be all things to all men that by any means some should be saved?

The answer is that the soul of man does not change fundamentally, no matter how external conditions may change. The aborigine in his hut, the college professor in his study, the truck driver in the bedlam of city traffic have all the same basic needs: to be rid of their sins, to obtain eternal life and to be  brought into communion with God. Civilized noises and activities are surface phenomena, a temporary rash on the epidermis of the human race. To attribute sound values to them and then try to bring religion into harmony with them is to commit a moral blunder so huge as to stagger the imagination, and one for which we shall surely be paying long after this frenetic extravaganza we call civilization has ended in tragedy and everlasting grief!

What certain religious teachers fail to understand is that true Christian experience takes place in the human spirit, far in and beneath the changing surface of things. It is only the surface that responds to noise and agitation. The deep-in part of the man lies in primeval silence waiting that quickening word that shall give it second birth. Because this far-in spirit of the man is separated from God the whole life is out of order; so the flesh and the imagination take over and direct the thinking, the willing and the doing of the individual man and the race of which he is a part. These create the dance macabre, the dance of death we know as society and in which as natural men we find ourselves.

Popular Christianity parrots the language of New Testament theology, but it accepts the world's opinion of itself and sedulously apes its ways (except for a few evil practices which even the world itself admits are wrong). Then Christ is offered as something added, a Friend Up There, a Guarantor against the time when the tumult and the shouting defies and we are called in from the playground and forced to go to sleep.

Be it remembered that the great essential facts have not changed. Men are still what they were and the Son of Man is forever who and what He was. He calls to the eternal in us. Deep calls unto deep and the call, if it is heard at all, is heard by that in us which is neither savage nor civilized, old nor young, Western nor Oriental, but simply human and once made in the image of God.

It is significant that psalm in which the words "Be still" occur is filled with noise and commotion. The earth shakes, the waters roar and are troubled, the mountains threaten to tumble into the midst of the sea, the nations rage, the kingdoms are moved and the sound of war is heard throughout the land. Then a voice is heard out of the silence saying, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

So today we must listen till our inner ears hear the words of God. When the Voice is heard, it will not be as the excited shouting of the nervous world; rather it will be the reassuring call of One of whom it was said, "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street" (Isaiah 42:2).

It cannot be heard in the street, but it may be heard plainly enough in the heart. And that is all that matters at last.

~A. W. Tozer~

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