This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)
A friend recently invited me to join a group of friends who he has arranged to meet up for evening prayer online, once a week. I wasn’t able to join, but after several weeks of invitation I sent my apologies. I explained that since ‘church’ has gone online because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was receiving more invitations to join in with online meetings than I was capable of attending and absorbing.
Taking church online in response to Coronavirus has been an amazing and creative thing. Many of us have been forced to learn tech skills that we would not otherwise have considered, and in times when younger people in Generations X and Y comfortable dwell in two worlds…the physical world and the virtual, online world…this can hardly be a bad thing for those of us who are older and maybe less technically savvy.
We’ve also had to hone our teaching and preaching skills to make what we say shorter and more precise (for people like me, a very good discipline!).
However, as a recent article by Alice Whalley in the Church Times reminds us, “YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry” https://tinyurl.com/y9rp9rj9
It does not make comfortable reading, particularly things like:
“The way that the C of E has responded to that advice, however, utterly betrays how middle-class its interests have become. Staying at home is wonderful — when you have a home, with electricity, and food, and a job, and access to the internet, and are computer-literate, and, ideally, have a landline to avoid some hefty mobile call charges. I flicked with dismay through the C of E Twitter feed to see how every post backed this view up — the assumption that everybody is in a safe and comfortable home setting, and, therefore, the only need to be met is a spiritual one.”
However, to return to the incident with which I introduced this post, another concern has been growing progressively as the weeks of ‘lockdown’ continue.
Towards the beginning of the Government’s measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus I had a conversation with my pastor, subsequently repeated in conversations with many friends. The gist of the conversation was that we felt God was saying that we should treat this time as an opportunity to be still and silent with him, an opportunity to really listen for his voice and, perhaps, to be prepared for new things to come. After all, our diaries are emptier than I can ever remember!
So, what have we done?
We’ve filled our time with online meetings, with putting up regular messages to encourage and motivate our churches during this time, with ‘playing’ with new technology, not to mention filling our time with box sets and movies we were saving up for a time like this, new hobbies and other leisure activities.
Now obviously it is important to keep in touch, to encourage one another to spend time with our households and to look after our own well-being, but…
…if we truly believe that God has told us to be still and silent and wait before him, why have we not done that with as much enthusiasm as recording our latest online message (or writing posts like this…)? Apparently ancient Israel had the same problem (Isaiah 30: 15).
I do believe that some of the stuff we’re turning out is as a direct result of having more time to spend in stillness with God, and hearing what he’s saying. After all, the world and the church may look very different the other side of lockdown, and we need to be ready for it. Our online messages have attracted more and more people to view and listen, many more than would ever normally be in our churches, and that is surely a hint that we need to listen carefully to God about what comes next lest our churches become every bit as overwhelmed as it was feared the NHS might have been.
While I was thinking about this, I was struck by the memory of a scene from one of the early Star Wars films, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Luke is being trained in his (considerable) Jedi powers by Yoda. He goes into a cave on Dagobah to investigate. He asks Yoda, “What’s in there?”, to which Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”. Luke confronts his foe, Darth Vader, only to find that Vader has his face…clearly Luke has all the potential to be as evil as Darth Vader unless he learns to master his own dark side.
Perhaps we fear to spend time alone with God because we fear what he might show us about ourselves, he might dent the illusions we have about ourselves and the life we have created. Perhaps the ministries we have spent our lives building have more to do with our own egos than with God’s Kingdom. Perhaps we don’t really have it all together and are not as ‘mature’ as we think.
Equally, we may fear that God will ask us to do new things in new ways. We may be afraid at the implications and feel that we are inadequate to the task.
Perhaps we have allowed certain sins to become OK over a long period of time, until they have become part of our ‘normal’, and deep down we know it. God cares fiercely about his reputation…he doesn’t want our less-than-holy lives to be a stumbling block for others as they search for him. He will use the silence to show us who we really are.
But he is a loving father, who truly wants the best for us. He never tests us without providing a way of escape, without generously giving us the resources we need.
 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:11 (NLT)
God invites us into the silence so that he can make us more aware of his grace, his good gifts and the positive plans he has for us. After all he has invested so much into helping us to become more and more like Jesus.
The place of stillness and silence provides us with a choice: as we become aware of our faults and failings, and of God’s plans for us, will it cause us to fear and back away, or will the insights we receive be embraced and cause us to co-operate with the Holy Spirit as he changes us.
And Jesus himself promises to walk with us in these times of silence, stillness and learning…he’s right there in the cave with us…
 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28 (MSG)
I am, by nature, an introvert with contemplative tendencies. I realise all this talk of stillness and silence may present a real hurdle to those of you who are of a more extrovert personality. I do, however, believe that every follower of Jesus has a deep desire to spend more time away with him:
“There is a contemplative
in all of us,
but still alive,
who craves quiet
enjoyment of the Now,
and longs to touch
garment of silence
Alan P Tory, Meditation for Day 2, Celtic Daily Prayer
If we listen to the prompting of God’s Spirit at this time, perhaps all of us, regardless of whether we are introvert or extrovert, will experience, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, that:
“Life rushes back into the void
fuller than before!”
Meditation for Day 1 from Celtic Daily Prayer