“The silence before the Word, however, will have an impact on the whole day…The silence of the Christian is listening silence…It is silence in conjunction with the Word…There is a wonderful power in being silent – the power of clarification, purification, and focus on what is essential.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), (page 58).
If we begin the day in conversation and submission to the Word, and in listening silence before the Word; we can live the day in interior conversation with the Word, in submission to the Word, and in listening silence before the Word. In submission to the Word our hearing can be tuned to the Word, our actions conformed to the Word, and our words…when they are spoken…will hopefully be in submission and in conformity to the Word…hopefully they will be words spoken in due season seasoned with salt.
It can be difficult not to be reactive in a world that bombards us with noise; with words coming at us from media, texts, emails, and phone calls. It can be difficult not to wear down in the onslaught of noise and to lose our discernment, and to cease conversing with the Word, hearing the Word, and submitting to the living Word.
When we are exposed to ceaseless talk we are tempted to participate in it, the talk has its own momentum as flood waters; often before we know it the talk takes a dangerous direction and we can be carried along by its current. This is not to suggest that we avoid social conversation and live in verbal isolation, but it is to say that since we must all give God an account of our words, and since our words affect people in multiple ways, that we ought to learn to live in listening silence so that when we do speak that we are speaking words of spirit and life and wholesomeness.
“But silence before the Word leads to proper hearing and thus also to proper speaking of God’s Word at the right time. Much that is unnecessary remains unsaid. But what is essential and helpful can be said in a few words,” (page 59).
If we are always silent and never speak then we are not faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. The problem with many Christians isn’t that they never talk, it is that they don’t talk about Jesus, they are spiritually mute – they may talk to others but their hearts are disengaged from the Word and the witness of the Word. Why they often don’t even talk to one another about Jesus, the weather is a much more comfortable subject. We are not to be just silent, we are to be silent before the Word – submitted to the Word and listening to the Word.
Listening silence has two aspects, the first is listening to the Word and the second is listening to others – both of these are enabled and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. We can learn to simultaneously listen on multiple levels. What is the Word saying to me about the current situation or conversation? What is the other person saying, what are the words the person is saying? What is behind the words the person is using? That is, what is at the heart of the conversation – often the words a person uses mask the core issue, problem, or desire. As we listen to the Word of God and the words of others we can learn to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help us listen to the Word, to others, and to Him – at one and the same time. Then, at the right time, we can ask a question, share a thought, we can speak in submission to our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever we are, we are there for the benefit and blessing of others.
Listening silence begins with listening to the Word in the morning, it begins as we learn to meditate on the Word of the Lord both day and night. We don’t really spend The Day Alone (this chapter’s title), we spend the day in the Word, in submission to the Word, and in fellowship with the Trinity. As we spend the day alone we realize that we are also spending it in the koinonia of believers, for we are an extension of the fellowship of the saints, of the household of God – we are never far from them and they are never far from us.