Choosing Stillness

Red rocks at Mt. Sinai

In my role as pastor, I preach about 40 sermons a year. While I’d like to think each one is received as a riveting, indispensable moment of heavenly wisdom for life, here’s a confession: some of my sermons have nearly put me to sleep too. But recently some biblical words leaped off the page and took up their active task within me.

In Exodus 14, God has just freed the Israelites after centuries in captivity through his servant Moses. When Pharaoh and his army decide to pursue them, they are backed into a corner and turn to their leader in terror. In response, Moses replies, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14, NIV).

It makes sense. I mean, God has just delivered them through repeated miraculous intervention. But the next line got me: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on’ ” (v. 15, NIV, italics mine).

Talk about your all-time blunders. Moses said “be still,” and God said “get moving.”

But I think “be still” was not about physical stillness—after all, they were trapped between an army and the sea. Perhaps the instruction was about emotional stillness, about calm and confidence. Their apparent powerlessness had led to the Israelites’ internal implosion as they attacked Moses, the vessel of their liberation, with complaints.

Yet when everything around them indicated that the end was near, that their shouting might be the last freedom they’d ever possess, that’s when it was critical for God’s people to listen for God’s directive words and respond in faith.

The lesson is never far from my own experience. I’ve learned that I cannot both shout and pay attention at the same time. More pointedly, it’s impossible to hear life-saving instruction over the sound of my own fear-fueled voice.

 

Talk about your all-time blunders.
Moses said “be still,”
and God said “get moving.”

 

I’ve also learned that being still is not the same as inactivity. Choosing stillness requires both initiative and discipline. It’s something we do, but not by accident. In choosing stillness, I reject the idea that I can control outcomes—and accept the fact that the potential outcomes I currently see may not be the only options.

If the Israelites, after witnessing God’s many miracles in the days preceding this event, allowed terror to present itself in accusatory shouting, then I likely will too. At my best, I know that when social media interactions and water cooler conversations lead me to the brink of “lashing out irrationally,” as my wife would say, being still is my best move. Not necessarily forever, but until I’ve settled down, trusting that God is present, illuminating the way forward even when I cannot see it.

Can you relate?

This is not a statement against all shouting (in the face of injustice, for example). Nor is it a justification for getting stuck and assuming God will make all the moves without our participation. This moment in the exodus story was part of the liberation at the center of Jewish life and faith, and it required the people to venture courageously into the unknown, following God’s lead. Without stillness in the midst of that harrowing moment, God’s indispensable voice was likely to be tragically missed. Being still is not inactivity. It is a particular activity that positions us for better activity ahead.

“Tell the Israelites to move on.”

In their recently published book, May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer, Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson offer this prayer: “May I have vision in and through my season of trial rather than search for ways to escape.”

In moments of trial may we be still, not as an escape but as means of hearing the voice of the Way Maker. And may we learn in those moments truths that can only be found there.

About the Author

Tim Hawkinson is pastor of Renew Covenant Church in Carroll, Iowa, where he lives with his wife, Jill, and sons, Ty and Jamie.

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