Our fathers had much to say about stillness, and by stillness they meant the absence of motion or the absence of noise or both.
They felt that they must be still for at least a part of the day, or that day would be wasted. God can be known in the tumult of the world if His providence has for the time placed us there, but He is known best in the silence. So they held, and so the sacred Scriptures declare.
(A.W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares)
The Scriptures do insist on the value of silence in worship, but we seem to fear it. A worship service that is nothing more than an unbroken chain of vocalisations seems like an assault on the ears, to say nothing of the worshipping heart. True worship requires some silence to think, confess, respond, admire. Having a human windmill behind the pulpit giving us a play-by-play of every moment in the service is distracting, to say the least. I’ve written before on the strange habit of making worship into a charge from beginning to end.
We might face an opposite error, in our effort to restore some contemplativeness to worship. We might introduce silence in an arbitrary fashion. Silence in the wrong place is not quietening; it is merely awkward. Instead of using the silence to contemplate, we might merely contemplate the silence, and become even more aware of small noises. Instead of directing the gaze of the soul to God, we might become intensely aware of ourselves, so that we do not break the silence.
Silence should be natural. Sometimes it might be in slightly longer pauses between elements. Instead of rushing to fill every possible gap with a breezy, chirpy commentary, we might allow a few moments after a song has been sung before moving on. Sometimes it might be during a public prayer, in which the speaker addresses God with natural pauses for thought and admiration, instead of a strange, unpunctuated monologue found nowhere else on earth. Sometimes it might be allowing the congregation’s restlessness to fade before beginning the call to worship, or the reading of Scripture. Sometimes, it might be a minute’s silence after a sermon, to read over the text, pray and make applications, commitments and confessions where necessary. Perhaps it might be in a moment’s silent prayer before or after the service.
However it is done, we need to give worshipping hearts time to worship, and give restless hearts time to squirm their way into disciplined silence. From there, perhaps they too will worship.
Within the Holy Place
His priest am I, before Him day and night,
Within His Holy Place;
And death, and life, and all things dark and bright,
I spread before His Face.
Rejoicing with His joy, yet ever still,
For silence is my song;
My work to bend beneath His blessed will,
All day, and all night long—
For ever holding with Him converse sweet,
Yet speechless, for my gladness is complete.
Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769)