Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stillness

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46.10)

A New Series

Today we start a new series on stillness, exploring numerous ways of being “still,” a word with a wide variety of connotations dependent on its usage. I pray when we’re through, we’ll have a sharper awareness of how important stillness—or “still-ness”—is to our faith and daily lives.

Being convinced all forms of stillness affect each of us in unique ways, I’m doing something I’ve never done: pressing for dialogue here, as well as contributions from Straight-Friendly’s email subscribers and Facebook readers. I’ll take responsibility for combining and distributing your comments via the three channels so we all can benefit from them. We have much to teach and learn from each other, and our shared understanding will be of great help to us all.

Where Did Time Go?

Our spinning planet has become a world of spinning people. Life is now one endless day, with each night’s slumber being little more than an extended nap between ongoing tasks. ‘Round-the-clock communication has made time obsolete. Not only have we lost our willingness to wait for tomorrow, our sense of tomorrow as a clean slate has vanished. Each of us arises with plans for today based on yesterday’s expectations. This blog is a fine example. Every post ends with the next day’s topic, and while most of you sleep, I—being a lifelong night owl—try my best to see the promised post is up before you’re up. I can do this since the ‘Net never closes. If you like, you’re able to read the post first thing in the morning because you don’t have to wait for the mail to receive it.

Where did time go? New conveniences are supposed to redeem time. And, yes, things once hampered by delays now happen within seconds. Yet we won’t slow down to use the added time to rest, recreate, and reflect. We’ve become a woefully agitated species burdened by tasks we won’t let wait. We no longer appreciate of what’s gained by the wait. The worst casualty of our techno-fed impatience is our reluctance to abandon “24/7 connectivity” to carve out daily time for stillness. And it's there, in the silent repose that absorbs our thoughts and cares, that we maintain our connection to God.

Living Beneath Our Privilege

“Be still, and know that I am God,” He tells us in Psalm 46.10. And He sternly reminds us His supremacy automatically ranks Him as our first priority: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” He will be exalted. His place in our lives is not contingent on our consent. He will come first, whether or not we acknowledge it, accept it, or like it. We’ll never know this without taking time to be still, however. If we devote all of our time to staying in touch, meeting expectations and deadlines, scurrying between commitments, all we’ll ever know is what we learn and experience among ourselves. As rich and marvelous as that may be, it’s not enough. It ends with what a friend calls “living beneath our privilege.” That’s what knowing God is—our privilege.

When stillness gets away from us, the privilege of knowing God goes with it. Our lives turn topsy-turvy; our priorities get screwed up. We get so busy with what we’re doing awareness of what God can do fades rapidly. We start assuming responsibility for things that stillness invites us to entrust to Him. And here’s the truth of it: He’s going to do as He wills, regardless how well we know and trust Him. Many self-propelled efforts will end favorably, inadvertently aligning with God’s work in us. Others will lead to disappointment or flat-out disaster by clashing with His will. Yet even our most successful solo efforts fall beneath our privilege because they’re conceived within our limitations. Ephesians 3.20 tells us God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us.” Knowing God's power comes through knowing God. Knowing God comes through stillness.

Safety

Shutting down gizmos and distractions creates silence. But true stillness only occurs when we shut down. We empty our minds of what matters to us and ponder what matters to God. We clear emotions and desires from our hearts to make room for His presence. We subdue responses to our environment to create a realm of infinite possibility within physically finite space. This isn’t natural. In fact, stillness very well may be the most unnatural behavior there is, because it immediately blocks fears and worries that produce anxiety. It insists on complete faith in the safety of God’s presence. It practices His presence to instill confidence we can rely on it during times of doubt and turmoil.

Because stillness requires us to override natural instincts, it entails discipline. Unless we conscientiously set aside daily time to be still, we’ll never master the skills to experience the privilege it provides. We won’t know God as fully. His supremacy won’t become as vividly real. Our confidence His power transcends anything we can ask or think won’t be as sure. Our trust in His protection won’t be as secure. Stillness anchors our knowledge that God is, He is in all, and He is over all. Instead of spending all our time on what we need to do, we’re much wiser to invest a portion of it in stillness. The most we’ll gain from ‘round-the-clock busywork will never amount to the unimaginable things we’ll do and privilege we’ll find by disciplining ourselves to be still.

Please comment: What keeps us from experiencing daily, disciplined stillness?

(Email subscribers, please forward your thoughts to straight.friendly@yahoo.com. Facebook readers, please post your responses as a link comment or on the Straight-Friendly page's message board. Thank you.)

Stillness removes us from a world of fear and worries to enter a safe place of infinite possibilities. It’s how we know God.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: “And Yet”)

6 comments:

Gary Lewis said...

A couple immediate thoughts...

I'm 44 now, and it is still far too easy to remember back to my first work as a graphic artist with the heads of GM and GMAC in 1996 when they would fax me their material. 13 Years later, I have a half dozen programs to take their electronic files and turn them into something I can present. It took one step out and saved some time, but I had to learn a lot to fix that missing step!

The other thought is that I always feel fine when we go into "Show Mode" before an event and I hear over the headset that we should all set our electronic devices to silent or turn them off. It becomes a few hours "off the leash." Honestly... If it can't wait three hours, then it means someone has been in a car crash, had a heart attack, or I hit the PowerBall.

We all need that walk away time. If it's to be closer to God, our kids, our wives or husbands or chosen ones... It's not just good for the soul, but it's great for the personal energy to remember why you do what you do every day :)

Tim said...

Walking away is essential, Gary, because while we're away (whether off headsets or sitting in silence), the refreshment and insights we receive can alter our entire picture of what we just left. We come back with new thoughts and renewed vigor. We find God in stillness and we leave it knowing He's with us.

Thanks for this!

Blessings,
Tim

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

First, I have to say this is an excellent post and a very important principle, so thanks again for doing what you do (and so well!), Tim.

My gauge for how well-written your posts are has nothing to do with grammar, spelling, or keyword searches. It has everything to with how much you step on my toes while I'm here visiting. Today, it was like sitting in the front row of a revival with a Pentecostal preacher on too much Red Bull charging back and forth in front of me!

That's not a bad thing; that's just a difficult thing.

As to what keeps me from experiencing daily, disciplined stillness, that's a no-brainer. It's me.

I put my own selfish needs and desires ahead of what I know in my heart I need to do. I can justify it so quickly and thoroughly that if my words were a car, I'd set the land speed record.

If only I'd spend as much time with God or focusing on the things of God as I do justifying why I don't, I'd be set.

Truths? I'm selfish. I need to be entertained and stimulated by "shiny" things. I'm lazy. I'm out of practice. I'm scared.

I've spent over 7 years running from quiet time with God for fear of what He'll say. Fear of what He'll ask.

Glad I skipped ahead to today's post. Thanks for the heads-up about it, Tim!

Mike Collins said...

Tim,

It use to be weekends were a time for Stillness. This is no longer true. While technology is wonderful your article reminded me that taking time for still thoughts is a very important part of our lives or should be. With BB, cell phones, TIVO, and all types of social media we have to stop and rethink our priorities.

Thanks for the message, all so important.

Mike C

Tim said...

Jake, I think a lot of us run from stillness for fear of what we'll find out--you're not alone, my friend! Being alone in stillness with God is a very revealing time, not always comfortable, but ever safe and secure. That's why we need that time, to learn more about ourselves through God's presence, in a harm-free environment. (Now, put your shiny toys down and find some time for stillness!)

Mike, welcome to the blog! It's a great joy to see you here. And thanks for your comment. Linking to Jake's comment, all those shiny toys--the remotes and keypads and whatnot--have destroyed our weekends! Over the summer, I went with a buddy to watch his son play Little League. The entire time we were there, he couldn't put his BlackBerry down. I don't think he saw one inning uninterrupted. If finding time to spend with our families is that impossible, we've got a lot of undoing to get done to find true Stillness.

Jake and Mike, I truly appreciate your thoughts here. They add much to our discussion--giving us even more to think about!

Blessings to you both,
Tim

Tim said...

From Michelle on FB:

Stillness is something we work on doing! Amazing that is doesn't come naturally to many of us.

TW's response:

Thanks for the comment, Michelle. I really think stillness is antithetical to our nature, just because "shutting down" as it were includes ignoring threats and worries for a while--it makes our natures feel vulnerable, even though we're perfectly safe. You're right, we really have to work on it!