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Alex Bartlett is a graphic design resident with The Austin Stone Community Church.

With the Death of Silence

 

 

This is it! Let's go! I'm ready; pumped to be involved! Or maybe it's more that I'm excited to help, ready to go, enthused, thrilled, motivated, moving towards, anticipating, magnetized to, ambitious, hungry, keen, restless, thirsty, earnest, longing, avid, gung-ho, willing, zealous, I mean—put me in coach! I can do it. I've done it before. I have the skills you're looking for here. Let me take charge. Let's get to it; now. I need to be running it; owning the task at hand. I need to learn how to take command of a project. I need to be able to speak confidently. I need to get better. I need to

                                                                                                                      ...
                                                                                       ...
                                                    ...pause.













Just for a moment, right now, let's let silence do what it does best,    speak


 



                                                                          ...
                                                ...
                      ...
 


Hear anything? Feel anything? Give yourself a real minute. I'm proposing that silence is a gift that I give away far too often. God has been showing me more about myself and how little silence I allow in my life to give Him space to speak. In and out of days and nights I'm in the car jamming out, at work passing the time, at home dissatisfied the lack of activity or downloading the next fun game; maybe even cycling through my daily feed of new youtube videos. There's noise. There's always noise. Without really meaning to I've choked silence from my life, one device at a time. With my phone, computer, tv screens, car display, and a wide variety of speakers, I've maxed out my capacity for noise and consumption. If my life's noise meter was paper cup it would be soggy from all of the water that's been flowing over the top. Nasty.

I find myself always asking God questions but ironically not expecting to listen in return. I don't give myself time to actually listen for a response. It's almost as if my prayers are purely for some sort of self-therapy; that if I hear myself talking through my issues and requests and send up a short text message to God then I'm good for the day. It's frustrating! I WANT to be passionate about prayer. I WANT to be able to really listen and hear from God but I just can't seem to regularly do either. That's where I'm seeing silence may have its place; that it actually has the power to yield the loudest responses if only I'm really listening.

Life has been more of a valley than a mountain top recently. February marks the halfway point of my one-year residency (pending year two?) and there are a lot of dreams, desires, and goals floating around in my head that I am ambitious to tackle down and own. The issue I'm running into is that I'm often, just for a moment, frustrated at my circumstances. The root of the issue is that I really want to be the best, the strongest, and to have the most for me. The root of the issue is that my issues start with I. So recently I've found a better understanding of the true wicked nature of my heart and it's given me some much-needed clarity and simple revelation. I just finished reading through the book of Judges and its theme has stabbed me with conviction. The book continues the story of God and His people through a theme of a need for an ultimate authority, or judge. The Israelites start to do whatever is right and good in their own eyes (again) and life goes to crap pretty fast (again) so, within one or two verses, you see them cry out to God for help (again). What's crazy about Judges is that God answers them and sends them a leader to guide them and set them back straight on a path following Him EVERY time. There is a pattern of God's people falling away from Him, realizing their horrible mistakes, crying out to God, and God raising up a judge to rescue them. The judge, being a man, eventually dies and we see the cycle repeat over again. Now, what's so convicting and tragic about the book of Judges is how it ends. A woman is raped to death by a group of men from one of the twelve tribes of Israel and then we read that

In those days Israel had no king;
all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
— Judges 21:25

Each time the Israelites find themselves without a judge or leader, they end up doing whatever they feel is right and that always leads them down a path of destruction and desecration. There are twenty-one chapters in Judges and no exceptions to this. What I saw was how accurately this account represented the relationship between God and myself. For probably more than a decade now I've gone in and out of a fight against lust and the use of pornography and for probably more than a decade I've won and lost many battles in that fight. What has been so powerful to me about my time in Judges is seeing the Israelites true and complete inability to even choose to do anything good or moral. Past my words and actions, I've always thought that I could change my desires and actions if I worked hard enough. Sure I'd never say that out loud, but deep down I've always believed that my heart's desires were mine for the choosing and mine for the changing. I'm thankful for my theology class and reminders from scripture that has proven myself wrong. Jeremiah 17:9 that says "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" and Romans 7:18 that says "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." Even Romans 8:7 hits me hard saying "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." Slowly read this passage from Paul in the book of Romans.

 14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
         -Romans 7:14-25 (ESV)

Paul describes the forever internal struggle of the Christian. With the Spirit of God inside us, we long to please God and bring Him glory. Yet being born as a human we begin with a naturally wicked and sin-desiring body. Here we have experience Paul's tension. We long to do what is good but just can't seem to do it. We want to do what is right, but don't; always thinking "What is wrong with me?" or "Next time will be different" but it never is. Here we see Paul come to the right conclusion, "Who" he asks "will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!"

That truth is what I've found myself processing through this month. I think God has been graceful to show me that because I finally had moments of silence thrust into my life. Silence is good and necessary in the Christian walk. In silence you're forced to let your mind wander, to think or meditate on things. There aren't any sounds or visuals to distract you from yourself. It makes silence actually scary sometimes. I think God has been showing me that without semi-regular moments of silence I haven't been allowing myself to fully process my experiences and emotions and more importantly, to sit with Him and just listen. I've prayed more consistently than ever before this month but feel like I've seen less and less "results" than ever before. Now I don't know exactly why, but I've seen how in my struggles against sin, I will sin, feel guilt and regret, repent, and then add a task to my long list of tasks that I believe will defeat my sin the next time. I never leave more than a moment for prayer, for reflection, for silence to sit in the reality of my sin and the even greater reality of Jesus Christ's incredible sacrifice for me. I'm thankful that God has allowed me to understand my dependence on Him more clearly.

Silence is powerful if I let it speak. Silence forces me to be alone with myself, for better or for worse. God will use silence powerfully to speak to me if I give Him that space.

 

Sometimes all I need to do is unplug and pull up a chair.

 


P.s. We are currently recruiting more residents here at The Austin Stone! If you think you may be interested send me a message and check out austinstoneinstitute.org/residencies for more information! WE NEED ANOTHER DESIGN RESIDENT like me! If you think that could be you, please apply!

 
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