The Sacrifice of Fools
1My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
The discipline of silence unnerves us at first. Several years ago, our small group started our evenings with one minute, then two, then three minutes of silence. In time, we all began to look forward to those moments. The discipline of silence teaches us when to speak and when to listen, how to control our tongues, and how to hear the voice of God. We all know how to talk. But disciplined people know how to say the right things when it is necessary.
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew what you should say but kept quiet? Or in a situation where no one spoke up about the glaring problems a group was facing? Or a time when someone was speaking needlessly, or speaking ill toward another? When we practice silence at home, away from others, we are better able to practice silence when we’re with others. When we’ve heard God speak to us in moments of silence, we are better able to speak for God when it is needed with others.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” The sacrifice of fools is hasty speech, words that don’t really matter at all in the place of listening for God. These verses apply just as easily to our personal times of prayer as they did for the author of Ecclesiastes. When we enter the presence of God, we begin with silence.
We are not quick to speak, as if the first thing we do is tell God what we want. Who of us enjoys getting a phone call from a telemarketer? No one. Why? Because the only reason they call is to ask you for something. But who among us enjoys getting a call from a best friend? We all do, because we can be ourselves around them without worrying about demands for more of our stuff. Prayer is the same.
Richard Foster says that when we practice silence, in time we will enter what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.” It is not a bad thing, but something we should welcome as part of our spiritual formation. We may have a sense of dryness, loneliness, or even lostness, but not due to sin. We may feel that all our Bible reading or study or sermons have no effect on us. The joy other Christians have becomes dreadful to us.
The temptation in this is to look for something that will get us out of the dark night—a better church, repeating an old experience with God where we felt good, a new devotional pattern, etc. Foster cautions, “This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, be still and wait.” In essence, we are to continue in our times of disciplined silence rather than avoiding them because they are hard. It is far more eternally necessary for us to go through the dark night and be conformed to the image of Jesus than to feel better.