|  December 27, 2019

It seems each Holiday season comes with a litany of new blockbuster films. Often these films involve fictional heroes facing monumental battles. The screens are filled with grand images, the soundtracks are loud, and the story moves briskly as the hero snatches a victory from the jaws of defeat. Yet, this year a very different film about a very different hero is attracting the attention of many Americans. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” tells the story of troubled journalist Lloyd Vogel and his interactions with famed children’s TV personality Fred Rogers. Though it paints a portrait of Fred Rogers as a hero, it is a much slower film than the blockbusters to which we have become accustomed.

The most poignant scene in the film finds Mr. Rogers and Mr. Vogel in a busy Chinese restaurant. In the midst of the hustle and bustle and the restaurant, and in the midst of a tumultuous time in the life of Mr. Vogel, Mr. Rogers asks Mr. Vogel to join him in an exercise. The exercise was simple: Be silent and think of all the people who have loved you along the way. At that moment he agrees, the film goes silent and the camera pauses on the faces throughout the restaurant. This moment of silent reflection is the moment that rings the loudest in my mind throughout the film. From the film, and from the testimony of those who knew him, it seems that Mr. Rogers was never too busy for a moment of silence, a quiet conversation with someone in need, or a quick song on the piano. As I watched the film, I could help but noticed how unhurried this incredibly busy man seemed to be.

When I evaluate my own life, and when I look at the life of many of my friends in ministry “unhurried” seems to be the last word anyone would use to characterize our approach to life and the work of the ministry. Hurry seems to plague the life of ministers in churches big and small. John Ortberg, while serving at the Willow Creek Community Church, called his mentor Dallas Willard to ask how he could remain spiritually healthy at a growing church while loving well his growing family. Willard responded simply, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Not content with this answer, Ortberg pressed Willard for more, but Willard insisted this was it. As indicated In his work The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship, Willard believed that hurry in our lives is “based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone.”[1]Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (pp. 29-30). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. Willard believed that the anecdote for hurry in the life of the believer was primarily periods of solitude and silence. Willard writes, “If we have heard the good news and have come to trust our Savior, he will meet with us through extensive solitude and silence to stabilize his love, joy, and peace in us. His character will increasingly become ours—easily, thoroughly. You rarely find any person who has made great progress in the spiritual life who did not at some point have much time in solitude and silence.”[2]Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (p. 37). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This pattern of solitude and silence recommended by Willard is also reflected in the life of King David in Psalms 62. In Psalm 62 David reflects on the importance of silence to the life of the soul. “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation… For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Ps 62:1, 5.) In moments of silence and reflection, David found God to be the source of his hope. As pastors and ministry leaders often, we neglect silence because our to-do list becomes the source of our hope. We trick ourselves into thinking that if we do more, work harder, or go further that somehow that will grow our ministry, notoriety, and secure our identity. To state it simply: we believe hurry equals ministry effectiveness.[3]Eugene Peterson describes the problem when he writes, “We are, most of us, Augustinians in our pulpits. We preach the sovereignty of our Lord, the primacy of grace, the glory of God: “By grace are ye saved…. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, KJV). But the minute we leave our pulpits we are Pelagians. In our committee meetings and our planning sessions, in our obsessive attempts to meet the expectations of people, in our anxiety to please, in our hurry to cover all the bases, we practice a theology that puts our good will at the foundation of life and urges moral effort as the primary element in pleasing God. The dogma produces the behavior characteristic of the North American pastor: if things aren’t good enough, they will improve if I work a little harder and get others to work harder. Add a committee here, recruit some more volunteers there, squeeze a couple of hours more into the workday.” Yet silence reminds us that our only source of hope we have if God alone. It is him alone that is, as David says in verse 6, “my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”

When we set hurry and the to do’s aside for a moment, a day, or a season we are reminded that our salvation, identity, and source for effective ministry are found in God alone and his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, as evidenced by the presence of his indwelling Holy Spirit. Being still and stopping work show us that we are not entirely integral to the work of God nor are we irreplaceable in the work of His church. David reminds us that when we are still and silent before God we see that, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath” (Ps 62:9). Though on the surface this realization of man’s equality and brevity may seem depressing, it should be liberating for those who have sought their identity in work, power, or profit. In God’s economy low or high big or small is irrelevant. David continues in verse 11, “power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love” (Ps62:11). Stillness and silence remind us of our own inability and God’s overwhelming capability.

Silence also reminds us that God is a place of refuge for his people. David writes, “On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps 62:7). When we pause in silence and solitude, we are reminded that there is no situation or circumstance that we face in the life of ministry that overwhelms God’s ability to care for or protect us. There is no amount of pain or hurt that we cannot pour out to God, for he and he alone is our refuge.

Psalms, cinema, and a conversation, all teach us the same truth: it is imperative for those of us the ministry (and all believers for that matter) to be silent, to be still, to be unhurried and to reflect on the goodness and greatness of God. How this is done will look different in the life of each of us for some it will be a day of stillness, for others a season, and for others it may just be a simple moment here or there. How you practice stillness and silence is not near as important as you actually practicing stillness and silence. May each of us heed the word of the Lord in another Psalm, Psalm 46 to “Be still and know that I am God.”

Garrison Griffith is the Director of Student Life at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.


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