This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Ferenc Visky (Mr. Visky and his wife, both Romanian, write in a moving way about their life with the Lord despite heavy persecution), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Therefore, the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. (Amos 5:13)
Keeping silent to conceal something is quite different from keeping silent to listen to God. When we conceal something, we do not hear God's voice. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."
The well-known 'sema' is attached to the doorpost of every Israelite. It is also on a small scroll on his wrist and on his forehead. God shaped and preserved His people by this 'hear, Israel'. But it is also possible not to hear correctly.
We had been in prison for a few weeks and there were eight of us in a cell that was meant only for two. We had all been convicted for the testimony of Jesus Christ. The evenings were harder than the days, because then our thoughts were with our loved ones, whom we had been forced to leave behind.
From the corridors alongside the cells, the sound of dull blows and an occasional restrained cry, came to our ears. Someone was being beaten again. Our heavy, drunken guard sometimes picked out one of us and beat his victim up in the corridor. It could be our turn at any moment. We sat together like a flock startled by wolves and the beating of our hearts was audible...
The tempter wanted to make things even more difficult for us. One of us softly remarked: 'We wouldn't be here if we had kept silent, for it is written that the prudent man keeps quiet in evil times.' The words came down on us like sledgehammer blows. It is bearable to be accused by people, but when God condemns you as well, that is unbearable. We almost collapsed under the heavy load. But we were comforted again. The Holy Spirit explained the text to us through one of our brothers as follows: the prudent man keeps quiet in evil times, but he is silent in order to listen. To listen to God.
At that instant, the charge of the accuser was disproved and the terror vanished from our cell.
Listen to God and the tempter will flee from you.
A moment of introspection: Having grown up with sentiments like "Silence is golden", and "Children are to be seen, but not heard", these simplistic aphorisms offer little by way of practical wisdom to offer Mr. Visky and his fellow ministers imprisoned for serving their Lord. God's Word, aptly related to their situation in prison brought understanding and relief to all.
The dissenter brought superficial understanding to a situation fraught with pain, and thereby introduced doubt and pain of a different sort. Quoting Amos 5:13, the disquieting one sought to speak helpful words--yet he ended up causing the pain of self-doubt. The definition of "Prudent" (as in "he who is prudent"), is "Careful in providing for the future; cautious" (according to dictionary.com). There is little in God's Word suggesting that prudence dictates the need for silence out of fear, caution, or care for one's own safety and well-being. Jesus counters this cautiousness in Matthew 10:39, saying "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." In God's Word, one would have a hard time finding urgings to keep silent--for reasons of prudence or self-preservation. Psalm 46:10 says that perhaps one of the best ways to hear God speaking is by being still or silent: "Be still, and know that I am God". Ecclesiastes 3:7 acknowledges that there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak. Many times, though, the Israelites and the disciples and others in the New Testament were exhorted to listen to God, to pay attention to what God says, and to obey (for example, in Joshua 3:9, Joshua instructed the Israelites to come "and listen to the words of the Lord your God." In Deuteronomy 4:29-30, Moses foresaw the future of Israel, when he said, "When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice." In the New Testament, Jesus spoke to "hearing" the Word of God, in Matthew 4:4 - 'But he answered, "It is written, '"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"). To be silent in order to hear the voice of God through prayer or reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures is a healthy activity; in addition to being silent, fasting can also help one in this pursuit.
It is hard to listen when in a conversation we're mentally planning how to respond to what is said. It's hard to listen when the background din is too loud, and it's hard to listen when we are pre-occupied with the family finances, health concerns, job security, children and their school performance, etc., in other words, when we are distracted (Matthew 13:22 - As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and in the distraction, listening proves unfruitful). Even when practicing the presence of God, talking can get in the way of listening for God's promptings. But a mind and its thoughts anchored on the Father will be at peace (Isaiah 26:3), and such peace is helpful to listening. Listening is an art that requires practice.
Mr. Visky mentioned that silence for the purpose of concealing something (such as sin or transgressions) is unhelpful and even hurtful: "Keeping silent to conceal something is quite different from keeping silent to listen to God. When we conceal something, we do not hear God's voice. 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'" When we do not hear God, or pay attention to Him, we can easily go astray. Notable persons mentioned in scripture who remained silent to conceal transgression include Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-10), Judas (Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25), Ananias (Acts 5:1-5), Sapphira (Acts 5:7-10), King David (2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 - David was silent to conceal his sin, and was confronted by Nathan), and others. Job 31:33-35 (KJV) gives guidance, saying "if I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom: Did I fear a great multitude, or did contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door? Oh, that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me..." Even Job desired to break free from silence that would be due to prudence, caution or fear.
We live in an evil time, as Amos the prophet did, as the apostles did, and as Mr. Visky has. In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul made a note, saying "And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear." (Philippians 1:14) Adversity or evil times should be faced fearlessly (Luke 12:4-5); in such times, God gives us strength and courage to stand firm in our faith. (1 Peter 5:8-10) He has given us a Spirit of power and love and self-control--not a spirit of caution or fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Mr. Visky and his fellow pastors in prison in Romania had understood the apostle Paul's observation subsequent to his own incarceration. Mr. Visky and fellow pastors had been bold to speak the word without fear. Silence, not for self-preservation, not to conceal transgression, not to respond to distractions--but to listen to the Word of God; such is the silence for which we as Christians should take time. Such is the silence that seeks God's face; such is the silence that fosters faith and Christian devotion. With such silence, according to Mr. Visky, the tempter will flee from you. Such silence is, indeed, golden.