Silence is a rare commodity. Are we afraid of simply being quiet? Everywhere there is chatter, noise and manufactured sounds. Everyone must speak. Everyone has an opinion that must be shared, even in worship.
We rightly think of worship as involving noise. After all, Israel's hymnbook calls worshippers to "Make a joyful noise" (Psalm 100). Throughout the Psalms, loud instruments are commissioned for service to the great King. Worship should be noisy. Worshippers are to sing to God and to one another.
And yet there is another side of worship, one that seems to be often forgotten in our busy and noisy world. It is, to borrow Simon and Garfunkel's title, The Sound of Silence.
Iain Provan, in The New Application Commentary, draws attention to the fact that God called on Israel to hear him. For example, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). The command was not first of all, "Speak, O Israel."
Constant speaking characterizes a fool. The godly person will speak: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them . . ." (Malachi 3:16). The godly person also knows how to listen: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19).
Congregational gatherings, for the purpose of worshipping God, will involve music, singing, encouraging speech, and fervent preaching. They should also be noted by silence, of a certain sort.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).Imagine being in the presence of a very wise, interesting, and noted scholar. You are excited and anxious to hear what this wise teacher has to say. He speaks and you hang on every word. However, there is a person in your group (not an expert on the topic at hand) who keeps interjecting his thoughts and opinions into the air. He is not asking honest and thoughtful questions. He is just breathing out his viewpoints on a subject that he knows little about. Such a scenario is frustrating. You just want the person to be quiet so that you can hear the expert.
When you gather to worship, the all-wise God must be the centerpiece. You have gathered to worship God. You have come to "the house of God" to hear from the omniscient God. There is a time to talk, to sing, and to pray. But there must also be a large chunk of time for silence. Part of that silence will be listening to the sermon with great interest and intent. In biblical preaching, God's Word is proclaimed. God speaks. We listen.
After the sermon the Pastor may ask the congregation to close their eyes and meditate on the message just proclaimed. In these cases, silence is golden. Too often worship leaders give the light-hearted impression that "we've got a groovey thing going." God wants us to remember that He "is in heaven" and that we "are on earth" as we worship. Such remembrance may not encourage grooviness but it will encourage worship.