You know the thing about awkward silences? They’re awkward.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly comfortable with silences. I read about long-time couples sitting together “in comfortable silence”, and I wonder what that’d be like, thinking, Gee, I wish I could do that. Because whenever there’s a pause or a silence between me and my husband TJ longer than a few seconds, I feel the need to fill it.
It’s the same in classes or at work – whenever the teacher or the boss asks a question, I feel somehow compelled to volunteer something, a suggestion or an opinion, to break the tension and start the ball rolling. Or if there’s a call to help out in an activity, I feel a need to put up my hand because I worry that there’ll be no one to help otherwise.
Nothing wrong with all this by and large, and most times people appreciate the effort and I feel glad that I could offer something. But also as a result of this tendency there are times I end up getting stressed out over something that’s not a priority, instances where I find myself speaking out of turn, and more than a few occasions where I find myself signing up for something that I subsequently regret.
I’m not sure if you can identify?
Well, I found someone in the Bible whom I can relate to in this regard – Peter, who we were just discussing a few days ago.
Peter was one of the first disciples to be called. He left everything – his whole livelihood – when Jesus walked past his boat and said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Nobody could dispute that he had a zeal for Jesus.
And I’m guessing Peter found silences awkward too, because he was often the first to speak up or answer Jesus. Even on some occasions when no one asked him anything.
Sometimes he spoke in line with God; when Jesus asked the disciples who they saw Him as, Peter answered and identified Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah, the Saviour of the world – and the Son of the living God. And Jesus blessed Peter for this answer, saying that it could only have been revealed to him by God, and that He would build the church on the rock solid foundation of this truth (Matthew 16:13-18). No doubt having been found to say the right thing would have pleased Peter to no end.
But right after that in the next few verses we see Peter committing a great faux pas: when Jesus foretold and explained to His disciples His coming death and resurrection, Peter actually brought Jesus aside to rebuke the Lord for saying such things. Needless to say he was corrected, for not being mindful of the things of God, but the things of men (Matthew 16:21-23).
And shortly after when Jesus’s glory as God in the flesh was revealed and seen by them on the mountain, and Moses and Elijah appeared and started talking with Jesus, Peter felt compelled to say something again, suggesting to build a shelter each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He didn’t realise that in doing so he was putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah, and he had to be reminded by God Himself to focus attention on His beloved Son and hear Jesus only (Matthew 17:1-8).
Then there was the incident with paying the temple tax where Peter once again spoke too soon. And of course his betrayal and denial of Jesus. And so on and so forth.
What was Peter’s issue? He was full of zeal and passion, but he wasn’t resting in the grace and peace of Jesus. He wanted to profess his love and do things to help, but in acting on his fleshly impulses, he ended up saying and doing the wrong things instead.
I find myself struggling with this too. In wanting to be earnest, available and sincere, I often answer too quickly and wind up saying something inappropriate, or doing things in stress and obligation that do not bring fruit.
But praise be to God that I can find hope in Peter’s story, for he didn’t stay that way. After Jesus restored Peter publicly in John 21, He said to Peter, “Follow Me”. The very same words He’d said to Peter initially when He called him to be a disciple. Peter looked behind to John and he asked Jesus about John, to which Jesus basically replied, “Why do you worry about John? You just follow Me” (John 21:19-21).
And Peter finally learnt to follow the Spirit and walk in the grace and peace that is found in the person of Jesus. So much so that in both his epistles he emphasised this within the first 2 verses. In 1 Peter 1:2, he says, “Grace to you and peace be multiplied”. And in 2 Peter 1:2, he elaborates further, saying, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (emphasis mine).
When we study the Bible to find out more about Jesus and see Him in the Word, grace and peace will be multiplied to us. And that grace and peace will lead us to walk in the Spirit (i.e. by God’s inner leading and prompting) and not in the flesh (i.e. by our own reasoning, logic, or effort).
When we realise that today we are married to Jesus and not to the old rules and regulations of the law, His grace will enable us to follow Him effortlessly, and bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4). Because it’s simply like holding your husband’s hand and letting him lead you. Jesus supplies grace gifts like talents, motivation, and wisdom to us, and we simply follow in the rest and peace of the grace that He has already supplied. What this means for us as Christians is: if you feel at rest doing something, do it; if not, then wait.
So I can learn to relish the pauses and the moments of silence, to allow Him to lead me to speak and act as He has gifted me to.
And I’ve come to learn that here is no cookie-cutter approach to Christian growth, or a standard set of checklists to becoming a strong Christian. We don’t have to feel compelled to do everything and anything, or to compare ourselves with other Christians, because every member and joint has a purpose, and Jesus has a unique calling for each and every one of us. An eye is not greater than a liver, and both are just as needed. A homemaker serving her family is not lesser than a missionary going into the mission fields. And we can glorify God as much by serving the community as getting good results in school or at work.
That is not to say we’ll just become lazy and abandon God’s work, but as we keep looking for Jesus and His grace, and let Him show us the gifts and talents He has already placed in us, and let Him lead us in the path of rest, He will surely cause us to flourish and prosper, and the work of our hands to bear wonderfully fruitful results.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.