In a nation historically known for its restlessness and in an age where productivity and action are highly valued, stillness seems like an antique. In such a culture and with hearts that tend towards restlessness until they find their rest in Christ, it is easy to confuse motion with meaning and stillness with stasis.
Recently, a friend sent a short devotional sound bite from John Piper where he talked about the wind blowing dead leaves. While they are often whipped into motion, they are not alive. Their movement is not intentional, but incidental. I hated to admit how much of my life was marked by mostly meaningless motion.
The ability to move and to act are gifts from God given to us as those created in His image. However, sometimes motion and activity can be a distraction from deeper living. According to French philosopher Blaise Pascal, “All of humanity’s problem stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” While shaded with some hyperbole, this statement addresses our tendency to use busyness and motion as shields from facing the deeper problems of our human existence.
In his book Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness mentions two poles towards which the hearts and minds of unbelievers can be pulled: the dilemma pole and the diversion pole. Because God’s word is truth, the unbelief of a human does not change reality. Thus, those living in unbelief have two options. The first option is towards despair, because if they are consistent with their belief that there is not god and therefore no meaning, life becomes a dilemma. Humans are reduced to chance accumulation of cells and proteins with no greater purpose. The other (much more common) option is towards distraction and diversion. On this pole, people realize that God’s reality is likely true but don’t want to have to bow their knees to Him. As such, they keep themselves busy, distracted, and entertained to avoid the deeper realities they want to avoid.
While Guinness is speaking specifically about those who do not believe in God, I find his words convicting for my own heart. It is far easier to stay busy with activity than to sit and meet with the Lord, bow my will before Him, and walk in humble obedience to Him.
In his poem “Reflections in a Forest,” W.H. Auden addresses a similar meaningless motion that marks humanity.
Turn all tree-signals into speech
And what comes out is a command:
“Keep running if you want to reach
The point of knowing where you stand…”
Our race would not have gotten far,
Had we not learned to bluff if out
And look more certain than we are
Of what our motion is about;
So many of us are bluffing. I know I often am. And I do know what our lives are supposed to be about: living for the Lord’s glory, knowing Him, and making Him known. Sometimes it is just easier to move than to be still.
But stillness with and for the Savior is not stasis. Like water building up behind a dam, collecting potential energy for the time when it is to be released to do intentional work, stillness for the purpose of intimacy with the Lord is power.
When Moses found himself in a situation as a leader that seemed to require immediate and intense action and activity, his utter dependence upon the Lord led him to command the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Ex. 14:13–14).
Stillness that is birthed out of trust and belief in the Savior is never stasis. Rather, it leads to intentional activity. Before we can step into meaningful activity and intentional work, we are invited to remember that God is the ground from which all of our work comes and the One to whom all our work is directed.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:10–11).
May we not confuse motion with meaning or stillness with stasis. May we sit before our God long enough to remember the purpose and power behind all our activity.