We Protestants are wordy people. We are known for our emphasis on the Bible, the Word of God, and also for our preaching and evangelism.
Words are our strength. But they are also our weakness.
Often, in our prayers, we subject God to tedious monologues without listening for His response. Our worship services are full of words, but most of us are uncomfortable with even a brief silence.
We are not very good at honoring God with a silence that expresses awe and humility, as the Scriptures enjoin (see Habakkuk 2:20, Psalms 46:10, Psalms 4:4).
Beyond this, we face the same tongue-related sins that tempt all people, sins with devastating consequences (see James 3:3-8).
According to James, a person who can tame his or her speech is a person of monumental self-control (James 3:2).
This is why silence is one of the essential topics in the core course on the spiritual disciplines, which is team-taught by the student affairs team and Barbel Griffeon to all second- and third-year students at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
Once again this year, our dean of students, Bassem Melki, presented the class eye-opening and mouth-closing teaching from the Scriptures.
But talking about silence is not enough! Each student was required to refrain from talking for one full day, one ordinary day with extraordinary power.
Here are some of our students’ reflections on their day of silence:
â— Nature is speaking, God is speaking, our hearts are speaking. But we are too busy talking to hear.
â— This was a big challenge for me. I had a lot to do on the Day of Silence, but I found that when my mouth stopped, I needed to be still and I put it all aside to pray.
â— This was my first day of total silence. I had to learn to listen in a new way.
â— Silence is a kind of spiritual strength.
â— I’m thinking of having a day of silence in our training in my home country.
â— I did a second day. I tend to speak up and answer quickly, but I realized that if I answer quickly, the words lack power.
â— It was a great day for me.
â— I learned that much of what is said is useless, tasteless. For me, fasting from speech led to fasting from food: I didn’t feel like eating.
â— The biggest difference [new thing] for me was the silence. As ministers, we have to talk all the time. Through silence I learned to listen so that I could help in a correct way. The Bible passages Bassem showed at the retreat really opened my eyes. Through the day of fasting [from speech], I realize how much we exaggerate when we speak. When I was silent, I was saved from participating in this exaggeration.
â— What a challenge! On the Day of Silence, I felt the cry of the poor person who has no voice. I felt so strongly but I knew that feeling wasn’t enough. I had to take a step: speaking up for the oppressed.
â— I had heard of silence before as a spiritual discipline, but this was my first experience.
â— It’s my mind that needs to be silent more than my mouth. Even when my mouth stops, my thoughts don’t stop easily.
â— It’s the first time I tried this, but I found it hard, especially because of the children. They pleaded with me to speak. I realized how much my children value my speaking with them. I also realized that even in silence my husband and I understood each other and that we have something shared in our marriage. It made me realize how much we talk and how much of our talk is empty talk.
â— I felt I would burst at the beginning. I found my mouth quiet by midday, but my mind still hadn’t submitted – it was talking, talking fast. By the second half of the day, I didn’t want to talk. I learned that half of what I say isn’t edifying, doesn’t build up.
â— I have experience in prayer and fasting, but silence? But this day, I did it! I don’t think I talk a lot, but a whole day! I thought of people who can’t talk [deaf/mute people] – how do they express themselves? And how do you get the message of the gospel to the person who cannot hear? I’ve been thinking about this: it concerns me because they need to know the gospel, but I don’t know how.
â— Silence is the best response to silly talk. When I am silent, God talks to me. I’ve decided to take five minutes of my devotion time every day to be silent.
Karen Shaw is the assistant professor of cross-cultural ministry at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. This column first appeared in the ABTS January e-newsletter and is used with permission. Visit Arab Baptist Theological Seminary on Facebook.