I went to see a play the other night. It doesn’t matter what play, really—I mention it only because of what was primarily wrong with it: I could not hear the actors’ lines as well as I ought–I estimate I missed 30% of the play’s dialogue.
This was not because the acoustics in the theater were bad—far from it. It wasn’t because I was at the back of the house: I was in row J. The problem wasn’t the actors’ ability to project—or not the main problem, anyway. No, the real issue was that the director had chosen to have ambient sound effects (street noises, music, wind, etc.) playing continually under almost every scene. The resulting background noise, which was supposed to define and enhance the scenes, became like the annoying buzz of an insect which you can’t kill, a faucet drip you can’t fix, a clock you can’t stop from ticking.
How often do we miss important messages in other realms of life, because of annoying, distracting or obscuring noise? Competing demonstrations have been known to try to drown each other out. We’ve read recently some writers who theorize that certain political topics (Syria, for one) are deliberately amplified and spotlighted in order to keep our attention away from the real show, which is going on in a dark corner somewhere.
But sometimes, we are our own noisemakers. When it comes to hearing what’s really important, how often do we make a space of quiet and stillness so that we have the right conditions in which to listen intently?
It’s so hard to truly unplug from the incessant noise of media, isn’t it? And with online devotional material so prevalent, who wants to unplug? I personally subscribe to multiple daily devotional blogs and/or emails…which means I have to go online in order to read some spiritual inspiration. Immediately, there is background noise: ads flash in the margin, urgent but unrelated emails beg to be read and answered ASAP, other applications tempt me to check in “just for a minute”. (Does anyone ever get on Facebook “just for a minute”? I ask you.)
Maybe for you it’s not the computer. (And if you’re not reading this on Sunday morning before church, I applaud you…even though I stayed up late on Saturday in order to make it possible for you to do so.) Maybe it’s the radio which is always on, or the stereo, or your iPod, or your Smart phone or tablet.
Is it really possible to totally “unplug” any more? Is it desirable?
- “Music helps me meditate,” you say.
- “I can’t turn my phone off, what if ___ needs to get hold of me?”
- “Silence makes me nervous.”
What are we afraid of? What do we really think we’ll miss if we skip checking our email? If we don’t read that text instantly? If we set our cell phones to OFF, not just to vibrate?
Something like, “Whom shall I send?” (see Isaiah 6:8)
If you have become frustrated by the background noise, but don’t know how to turn it off–or if you are wondering whether it’s really important, let me recommend John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. Piper’s banner statement, and the theme of every book he writes, is
“God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”
[But the background noise of worldly wisdom suggests that innumerable other things are more satisfying than God: Food, pleasure, money, leisure, self-determinism, winning, etc., etc., etc… God begins to seem like just a wet blanket who says, “No” all the time, Someone who enjoys making me give up stuff, cheating me out of my fun.]
The fight for joy in Christ, “the good fight of faith” as Paul calls it (I Tim. 6:12), is GOOD for several reasons, Piper says. First of all,
it is a good fight because the enemy of our joy is evil… When you set yourself to combat the forces that try to make you delight in yourself or your accomplishments or your possessions more than in God, you oppose a very evil enemy.
Second, it is a good fight because we are not left to our own strength in the fight. If we were, as Martin Luther says, “Our striving would be losing.” …We are not left to ourselves to sustain the joy of faith. God fights for us and in us.
…Third, it is a good fight because it is not a struggle to carry a burden, but a struggle to let a burden be carried for us…The fight for joy is the struggle to trust God with the burdens of life.
Our background noise, whether it is habitual or temporary, physical or mental, is the very real enemy of our soul. But God is fully capable of cutting through the clamor so that we may hear His “still small voice.”
Often our noise is not the distraction of pleasure, but of pain, which robs us not only of joy but of hope. But we are commanded to cast all our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us and about us (I Peter 5:7). And “if God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?
Do you want God to restore the joy of your salvation? Do you at least WANT to want Him to do so? Ask Him. Ask for ears to hear where the background noise is coming from. Ask for eyes to see where the distractions are. Ask for strength to silence the babble so that you can truly hear.
In these perilous times, brothers and sisters, we can’t afford to ignore the one voice which is worth listening to.