Be Still

There are three passages in the Old Testament that speak of being still, silent, quiet before God. The first one occurs as the Pharoaoh changed his mind about pursuing the Hebrews; Moses in Exodus 14:14 said, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” He means that the Lord will take care of them, and He does. The Pharaoh and his Egyptian army are drowned after God freed the waters of the Red Sea. The Hebrews didn’t have to do anything. They were saved by God.


Then in Psalm 37:7 David wrote “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Be still before the Lord. You only need to be still. The problem, the dilemma, the challenge is in God’s hands and He will take care of it. We only need to be still.


In Psalm 46:10 there is the definitive statement: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Quiet that noisy mind of yours and you will see the truth about God.  Be still and wait. Be still and the Lord will fight for you. This is a powerful message of how we are to be before God.


What does it mean to be still, to be still before God? To wait? To be patient? To know? How do we understand stillness? I don’t think that we Americans are very good at waiting, being patient and knowing God. We’re more apt to be impatient, demanding, and ignorant of  God’s presence in our lives. We choose to be distracted from the deeper meanings in life and concentrate on the obvious, the surface things, the ways of the culture. So it would take a lot for us to be still, to be patient, to be content in what is, to be grateful for what we are and what we have been given even.


To be still is to be at peace. To relax our restless and demanding minds. To ignore the cravings of our heart. To quit our ego’s ways. To be totally at peace no matter what is before us that seems impossible. But that is where these writers in the Old Testament understand something that we can’t imagine. The formula they propose is to be still before God, to trust God to take care of whatever is threatening us, to relax and be at ease before Him. To be still and to know Him.

I looked up the meaning of the three words translated still in these passages and in the first two(hares and damam) the meaning is what you’d expect: to be quiet, to rest, to be still. But in Psalm 46, a different word, rapa is used and it means this: “to hang limp, sink down, be feeble; to be lazy; to lower; discourage; to leave alone, abandon, withdraw; to show oneself slack.”[1] This is a much bigger step into stillness than the other two references suggest.  To be limp, feeble, withdraw, slack suggests a passivity before God, a definite release of our will. And that it is only through this giving-up of ourselves and our will that we know God.


It is not, I have found, that we have to get rid of the ego or the loud and demanding voices of our minds. We only need to realize that we live in this dichotomy: our own minds and the mind of God. As we begin to listen for the stillness underneath all the clamor of our active minds we discover that there is a Source of wisdom and of our own deeper self. We choose which voice we will listen to: The Indwelling Spirit of God or our noisy world-conditioned, egoic mind. As we choose God’s voice, the “still, small voice,”[2] the noisy voices in our minds recede and lose their power over us.


There is a beautiful metaphor in the ocean for this very concept. The waves and choppiness and storms and the like all take place in the top layer of the ocean. Underneath that surface busyness are long, slow currents that seemingly go on forever.[3] And so it is with us. We live in both the surface busyness and in the deeper currents of our lives. When we realize that both are in us, then we can choose which to follow.


There are many spiritual practices that help us to quiet the mind’s loud and insistent voices, that bring forth our ability to rest in God, to be still and at peace. Notice the meaning of the word practice. It takes lots of practice to learn how to be still in the first place and then to maintain that stillness in the midst of life’s challenges, like the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a move to a new place and many, many more. Over and over again we sit in the stillness of our own deep selves, hearing the insistent voices of our conditioned minds, but not responding to them.


Over and over again, we read the Bible, learn passages, hear from others what they mean and then, finally, we begin to hear God telling us what this passage means for us right now, today. Over and over again, we listen for the “still, small voice”[4] of the Indwelling Spirit of God within us and begin to recognize it underneath all the clamor of the louder mind and begin to say “Yes!” to it. And the more we say “Yes!” to what it suggests, the more we are shown the deeper aspect of our selves and the purpose for which we were created.


Day by day, week by week, month after month and year after year, we practice the kind of stillness that takes us directly to God’s own being, to His peace, to His purpose for us, to how we are to live and what we are to do. And all this we do because we love God with all of our selves—heart, mind, soul and strength.[5]


It is a lifetime of this practice that leads us to our own created self, nestled in the arms of God, in His kingdom. It is a lifetime of growth, a day-by-day commitment, faithfulness and learning that reveals all that we were meant to be. So, although we still live in the world and before God, we are growing in that stillness every day, practicing what God gives us to be and to do. Thanks be to God!

[1] Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 2nd Edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1999, p. 1491, Strong’s #8332

[2] 1 Kings 19:12

[3] See articles about Waves and Currents

[4] 1 Kings 19:12

[5] Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28

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