“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b
2020 didn’t kick off as many hoped it would. Threat of war between the US and Iran, massive fires in Australia destroying acres of land, wildlife, and people, and the politicizing of tragic events just to win an election. It’s safe to say that what was meant to be a time of looking forward and clinging to hope for a better tomorrow was quickly trounced by the reality of life and the events of our age. We are living in a time that will impact the trajectory of our world going forward and uncertainty is the order of the day.
Now, that presents a very grim outlook as we are wrapping up the first month of 2020 but it doesn’t mean that we should just write this year off and hope for a better 2021. We need to allow ourselves to be here, in this moment, and to reflect on how we can permit God to redeem what we’ve already been given since we have no control over the circumstances that come our way. I believe that this is a great opportunity for us to step back, look at our own lives, and make some adjustments that aim towards better formation in our spiritual lives in 2020. It will be the goal of this post to provide some steps to allow that to happen.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46:1-11
True stillness is a threat to the American way. The reason for this is because it is a practice that acknowledges, in the best way possible, that 1)we are not, and nor should we be, in control, 2)we have serious deficiencies in our ability to trust, and 3)silence, which is necessary for true stillness, is way-of-life threatening. It’s a practice that has been long ignored since the dawn of the industrial age and one that has been all but suffocated by the ushering in of the digital age and the constant availability of media which assaults our sensory capabilities and overloads our ability to reason.
As a culture, we are not very good at being still. Our schedules are packed with activities in the categories of business and leisure. The former is anything we are obligated to take part in for work, school, or community organizations and the latter is anything we choose to fill-in our free time with including vacations and hobbies. None of these things are bad at a superficial level but people use them to avoid the threat of being still. This has resulted in a culture where we are busy from the time we get out of bed to the time we return to it. While many believe that they are making the most out of their days, the truth is, much of it is being wasted and life is being ignored. Now, let’s turn to the three issues of being still listed above.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34
People crave control. There is no getting around this fact and it is one that we must accept. We like to feel as if we are the ones driving our own destiny and making ourselves successful. This lust for power places us in a bind when we arrive at a hurdle on the path to our goal and leaves us with choices that, in many cases, we decide poorly and end up hurting others in our mad dash to the finish line. The problem with this being that when we make one decision that compromises our moral values it becomes easier the next time to do the same thing to a larger degree. It’s a desire that must be put in check.
Stillness is the answer to our lust for control because it acknowledges the fact that we aren’t in charge and we don’t have to be. In the immortal words of Uncle Ben from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and it is uncontested that to be in control means that we must be able to handle great responsibility wisely which we are incapable of doing because of our sin nature. It’s a simple fact that the need to be in control leads to worry and worry, according to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, doesn’t add anything to our lives. It’s actually proven that worry shortens the lifespan of people and for that reason that even Jesus himself needed time away to be still before God.
Trust is tied directly to the previous point about being in control. We are driven to avoid stillness simply because of our lack of trust in God to truly handle situations that are out of our control. Many say that they trust God but refuse to sit and wait on God to move because they just don’t trust Him that much to move as quickly as they want Him to. In Psalm 46, God lays the directive down to “Be still and know that I am God.” This call to people is simple but holds such great meaning as it can be better understood to say “Take a minute to pause, collect yourself, and just trust me.”
Trust is a rare commodity in this day and age. So many people feel hurt and betrayed by meaningful relationships and are unwilling to step out and form new ones out of the fear that it will happen again. This has led to a society which is unwilling to talk about pains and problems with face to face interactions. Our increasingly digital world has brought about a culture of “anonymity” but fails in offering meaningful connections which actually offer healing and support for our pains. No matter what advice you get from a message board or discord server, it does not fill the void of physical interactions with people that are able to sit with you, cry with you, and hug you in a time of pain.
Stillness is a greater measure of trust than people realize. As I think of that point I am reminded of videos I’ve seen of knife throwers. Typically in these situations there is always a volunteer who steps up to be part of the act and the first thing the thrower does is tell the participant to stand very still. This is an enormous act of trust. Any sudden movement in this act puts the volunteer at risk and, no matter how precise the thrower is, they simply can’t prevent injury when their volunteer doesn’t listen and refuses to remain still. The same is true of our relationship with God.
As the “thrower” only God has the expertise necessary to guide the difficulties (knives) that come at us. The knives are what they are. God calls us to be still as they come our way so that he can direct them where they need to go in order to benefit us the most. If we move in a display of mistrust or refuse to stand still, then we have to live with the consequences of that choice. When all is said and done, our stillness is an act of trusting the God who is in control.
As a culture we hate silence. We are so bombarded with noise that it is actually causing us to lose touch with reality and it weigh on our mental health. Studies have been done to prove that because of this assault on our senses that people are losing the ability to block out unnecessary noises which is resulting in more fractures to a person’s mental health. We are a culture that is starved for silence and yet we refuse to allow ourselves to have it as we are constantly listening to music, watching TV, or talking with ourselves.
The struggle in this is that we crave the very thing we fear. Silence is a sentence to death. Death to self and our desire for control. Silence puts us in a place that reminds us that we are not in control and we must rely on the one that is. It takes a great amount of trust to sit in silence as we allow God to do the work that must be done in us so that we may truly surrender and serve Him. Jesus was constantly shown to retreat to lonely places apart and if it was important for Him to do so as the son God, how much more so should it be for us.
It is important for us that we allow ourselves to say no to the status quo of noise saturation. It is vital to our survival that we approach 2020 in a way that permits us to sit in silence as we allow God to form us.
At the core of all of this is the fact that we have no control over the circumstances that life presents us with. Wars, tragedy, and trials will come our way and we need to take advantage of those opportunities when things are going well to strengthen our relationship with God so that in those moments of uncertainty we don’t fall into panic and we can truly “be still and know that [He] is God.”