Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7
This line from Psalms has long been one of my favorite Bible verses. For many reasons, it is a message that Christians in the modern world need to hear more than ever.
Stillness is a thing which it seems harder and harder to find. The constant barrage of information that comes to us now is seemingly more confusing than ever. Years ago, I remember seeing pictures of Times Square, with its multiple electronic screens flashing messages to passersby, and I thought it would be a rather disorienting place to be.
Now, many of us have replicated a similar situation in our lives by employing laptops, phones, and tablets to feed us a never-ending stream of questionably important information. You can set your smart phone so that it dings every time a friend writes something new on his or her Facebook page. It’s good to keep up with friends, but do we really need to be notified immediately of every new development?
When I think of a place of tranquility and peace, I think of sitting beside a mountain lake or a stream, hearing nothing but the gurgling of the water. Or perhaps taking a leisurely drive through desert terrain. Or sitting in a boat with a line in the water, as content if the fish don’t bite as if they do. In no instance does my mind’s eye see my phone keep lighting up with new, pressing updates about the minutiae of the lives of people I barely know.
We need more stillness. There is a phrase that says, “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” There is another, more deeply true phrase, that says “Don’t just do something. Stand there!” So many times we fret and worry and make ourselves busy with things that don’t need to be done, simply so that we can be doing something. There is a time for labor, but there is also a time for rest and stillness.
It’s not just our phones and our hands which won’t be still, but our minds often won’t be still either. We lay head upon pillow and suddenly all the cares of the day come flooding over us. We can’t sleep because we feel we must solve all the issues that might come up tomorrow. But as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34) We can’t solve all of our problems at once, and resting our minds and thinking less about our problems today may bring better solutions to us tomorrow.
Wait for the Lord
The verse from the Psalm links stillness and waiting, which are not the same thing, but are closely related. When we wait, we need stillness. Otherwise, our waiting just turns into worrying.
Being still and waiting helps us to realize that for all of our efforts—and we certainly should make efforts—much of our success is not up to us. The success or failure of a project often depends on contingencies which are beyond our control. We can take care of the things which are under our power, but how many myriad more things are beyond our power?
Some years ago, I ran a small software company in my spare time. It was really just me, writing software, posting it online, and then asking people to send payment if they thought it was useful to them. That method of software sales is called “shareware” and it works just about as well as you would think it does. Notwithstanding the fact that people could use my software products without paying for them, I managed to make a few dollars here and there. But the most lucrative opportunities I had were things I had not sought out. In one case, a widely distributed magazine came to me and asked if they could include my program on a disk they sent out with their magazine. In another case, a large software publisher wanted to distribute my programs. I had laid the groundwork of these opportunities by creating the software in the first place—I was ready to take advantage of the possibilities which presented themselves—but I had not actively sought them out.
In so many people’s lives, the same thing happens all the time. Someone is in the right place at the right time. Two people, who were unlikely ever to meet and weren’t even looking for a relationship, do meet and fall in love and marry. No doubt all of us can look back through our lives and pick out unsought gifts and opportunities we have received. God has plans for us that we haven’t even imagined.
God – Not Us – Brings Success
In the fifth chapter of Acts, when the Sanhedrin is discussing what to do with the Apostles, Gamaliel advises the Sanhedrin to do nothing. He says that if the Apostles’ work is of men, it will end up failing anyway. If it is of God, it will certainly prosper.
We can apply this advice in our own lives, because the things that God wants us to do, the works that He wants to prosper, He will make prosper. Yes, we should work, but we also must realize that, in the end, it is only the grace of God which brings success to our plans.
Some problems in our lives are simply insoluble. Either we have no idea what the solution is, or the solution is impossible to implement. In such cases, all we can do is remain still and allow God to work it out.
In my senior year of college, I had such an insoluble problem. I have a difficult problem with stuttering. I was told a few weeks before graduation that I would be the valedictorian of my class and would need to give a speech in front of hundreds of people. I had barely spoken a word in class in four years, and I’m pretty sure that in my senior year, I had not spoken a single time in any class. Now I was supposed to give a speech in front of the graduates, their families, their friends, and visiting dignitaries. After a few days of worriedly trying to figure out how I possibly could do this, I realized that there was simply nothing that I could do to make this work. Because I couldn’t do anything to help myself, I decided to accept that God’s will for me included failing spectacularly in one of the most public venues imaginable.
So, when the time came, I stepped up to the podium, looked out over the assembly … and delivered my speech without a single stammer. I have often thought that the people who were there that day didn’t know it, but they witnessed a man walking on water. I’m glad I didn’t try to figure out some trick or device that maybe could have helped me, because inevitably it would have failed. The only thing that could have worked—the thing that did work—was waiting for the Lord to solve the problem. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
Wait for the Lord. Be still, and wait for the Lord.
Kevin Clark’s mystery novel Numbers Up is available in print from Seton Educational Media. Could You Not Watch? (a book of Catholic-themed short stories) and Will of God (an historical novel) are available as ebooks.