Sometimes you just need to be silent. It’s okay.
There’s a line of thinking among evangelicals about worship—specifically, about our response to singing. We tend to try to evaluate what’s going on in the heart by what we’re seeing on the outside. So a person who is singing loudly or has his hands raised high1 is a more authentic worshiper than the person who is silent.
I’m not sure it’s so simple, though. I wish it were. I wish it were easy to see what’s going on in the heart and mind of every person we meet. To know for certain what a person is really thinking, or really believes. But we don’t get that ability. God doesn’t give it to us. He gives reminders and indicators, sure. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks. If we love him, we will be known by our love for one another. We will desire to keep ourselves pure and undefiled, and care for widows and orphans in their distress. That kind of stuff.
But these don’t really talk about our response to the music we sing at church. Assuming, of course, that the songs themselves are Christ-exalting, and God-glorifying in their content, there’s no doubt many of us be singing, with all of our being engaged. But sometimes when we’re confronted by the majesty of God—especially in song—there’s only one thing we can do:
Sometimes we just need to say nothing. To stand in awe as we marvel at the majesty of Jesus.
I was reminded of this, in part, as I wrapped up my reading of Job earlier this week. The context is different, of course, but there’s a principle here that’s worth considering. After all the complaints have been made, and after Elihu speaks his word, Job doesn’t keep talking. When Job is confronted by God in all of his glory, he doesn’t respond. He stops. He realizes his foolishness and says, “I am so insignificant. How can I answer You? I place my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not reply; twice, but now I can add nothing” (Job 40:4-5, HCSB).
Seeing God, hearing from God, causes him to be silent.
In the context of congregational singing, this is true as well. Sometimes the right thing to do is sing loudly. We engage our voices and our physical being in giving praise to God with our mouths. But sometimes our awe of God is going to stop our mouths. And this is good for us, too.
Because as we consider the goodness of God toward us in the gospel, sometimes the only thing we can do is be silent.