On a recent Sunday, my son was sprawled next to me, counting the minutes until he could have the tablet he plays on during the sermon. His behavioral therapist recommended we gradually lengthen this wait time each week, a process of “increasing tolerance”—by exposing our son to environments and stimuli that are challenging for him, we increase his ability to tolerate those challenges. This week “tablet time” wouldn't begin until several minutes into the message.
I was nervous.
The ordinary sounds of Sunday morning help mask some of his repetitive outbursts, but the quiet of the sermon is a struggle. Admittedly, even typically developing 8-year-old boys struggle with the sermon. It's just more of an issue for my child.
When our pastor began his message by announcing a period of silence, my stomach plummeted. Now we wouldn’t even have one voice to cover our disruptions.
The hush fell gradually upon our congregation, as the whisper of bulletins and cough drop wrappers slowly faded. I could feel my heart thumping as I looked at my son. Exactly at the point of total absence of sound, my son sat up, looked around at the congregation, but didn’t say a word. As he sat motionless, his blue-gray eyes scanned the room. At one point, after the pastor had started his preaching, my son leaned over to me and whispered—whispered!—“I have never heard a sermon about silence in my whole entire life!” He didn’t even ask for his tablet. He wanted to hear the message.
I could feel my heart thumping as I looked at my son.
The whole experience has led me to ask some questions: What do we lose when we fail to make this space? What part of our spirits must atrophy—overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of too much sound? Consider Habakkuk 2:20, which says, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” So why are so many churches today so noisy?
My own church is many things—dynamic, reverent, worshipful, exuberant—yet we are rarely ever silent. But by making space for silence in worship that morning, the leadership had also, unwittingly, made space for my son. Stripping away the routine noise allowed him to see God in a new way, giving him access to a portion of our corporate worship where usually he has none.
I have to ask: How many of us would benefit from the same?
“Be still, and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46:10 (NIV), linking our stillness in worship with God’s exaltation. This quietude runs counter to much of our worship and our tendency toward “joyful noise.” But when we worship God in the absence of sound, everything we bring is stripped away. The pretense that our offering is somehow about us and what we can give to the Lord falls noiselessly to the ground. Wordless, we realize the truth of Augustus Toplady’s hymn: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
When we worship God in the absence of sound, everything we bring is stripped away.
Believe me, I understand. The absence of sound can be uncomfortable. Our days are flooded with aural input, from the moment we awaken until we close our eyes again. It’s what we’re accustomed to, the norm of everyday life. But pressing pause on this kind of input frees our minds to perceive things differently, fully inhabit each passing breath, and experience the weight of God’s glory in new and different ways.
The Hebrew word commonly translated “glory” is kabod, which originates from a word that means “weight” or “heaviness.” As I sat beside my son in a time of corporate worship, the way I experienced silence, it had a similar, visceral feel: 250 people sitting in total silence felt heavy, as if the air itself had taken on a stronger quality when devoid of all sound.
Perhaps it is only in this kind of stillness that we can experience certain facets of God’s glorious presence—the gifts of perception He created (sight, touch, smell) on higher alert when one of our senses is lulled. God created us to know His presence in every fiber of our being. In our sound-saturated world, may we seek out places of quiet that allow us to become more attuned to His presence, His glory, and His continuing work in our heart.