I love sitting in silence inside old churches in Europe.
Though my home church’s meeting place in Dubai looks nothing these cavernous galleries of marble and gold, I find so much value in this ancient style of church design.
Old European churches may not do much to inspire you toward an intimate personal experience with God. But they surely do inspire a sense of awe and majesty for God as the High and Holy One on His throne.
This past May, I got the chance to sit inside many such old churches around Siena, Italy. Except this time, I wasn’t feeling so grand. Yes, I was glad to be enjoying the stillness (and the cooler temperatures) inside. But I didn’t like the message Holy Spirit was whispering to my soul amid the silence.
“When you go back to Dubai, don’t do anything. Just be still.”
[Um …. Okay, God. Uh … thanks? I think I should be grateful for that?]
I mean, let’s face it: being still for an hour in an old church is not only restful and refreshing, it’s entirely manageable. Being completely still in a city where I just quit a job and have no idea what’s next … AND where I can only reside based on a work visa (which I just surrendered) … is a whole lot less enticing.
That day in Siena, Italy, I found myself between a rock and a hard place.
We’re so conditioned to be doing something at all times.
When God says “Be still,” what do we do now?
Duomo di Siena—Siena, Italy
Perhaps the best place to start this discussion is to push back on the idea that we must “do” something.
In life we are faced with many times of “active inaction”–periods of time that are not a result of our own laziness, but a command from God himself, or a result of situations beyond our control.
Times of active inaction can inspire tremendous amounts of discomfort in our spirits. Action assuages the discomfort. It fills the silence with noise. It makes us feel like we’re “getting somewhere”–even though, in fact we may be getting nowhere at all.
The alternative to all this flurry is to simply do what God said: wait in silence.
But it feels so uncomfortable.
So … out of control.
Through this period of my own life, I have come to believe that the discomfort and out-of-control-ness in these seasons is exactly the point of them.
We are trained to “fix” those experiences that feel painful. To weasel out of sadness as fast as possible and “move on” with life. Moving on, by its very definition, involves taking action.
But what would happen if we were to sit still, exactly as God said? What if we decided to simply sit back and wait to see what He does next?
Yes, most likely, it would trigger every possible panic response in our body, mind and heart. It would cause the intense discomfort we use action to avoid at all costs. It would force us to feel all the fear, the self-loathing and the racing thoughts that tell us “we’re doomed this time,” and “we’re not going to survive.”
Except … none of that is factual. It’s just our thoughts. It may prove correct. Or (more likely, in my experience) it will prove to have been a waste of brain space.
You cannot change your responses, or your results, while you are running from the discomfort of your situation.
The ancient yogis knew this, and they taught their disciples to lean into the discomfort of the poses rather than trying to avoid the discomfort or get out of the pose as fast as possible.
God–who is infinitely wiser than the wisest sage in any culture–also knows this. And it’s why He (at times) either directly tells us to be still, or forces us to be through circumstances we cannot alter on our own.
Psalm 46:10 in older translations expresses this truth as, “Be still and know that I am God.” But I love the newer expression adopted by The Passion Translation:
“Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.”
“Here he stands!
The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
The God of Jacob fights for us!
Did you catch that?
“Be silent and stop your striving and you will SEE that I am God…”
Action often distracts us from knowing God. Pausing forces us to connect with Him.
Therefore, the equation is simple. No action = no distraction.
Why is it that focus can feel so terrifying?
Additionally, I believe these seasons exist to help us recognize our vulnerability.
Action not only distracts us from all the unpleasant feelings that need to be felt, processed and released. It also imbues us with a false sense of strength.
The reality is: we cannot help ourselves. Well, I suppose we can to a certain level. But our own strength falls short of that which is required to birth miracles. Or usher in new seasons.
You can will and hope and intend and manifest to your heart’s content … but if God isn’t in the shift, it just ain’t gonna happen.
The faster we realize this, the faster we can receive the actual breakthrough by relaxing into the necessity of God’s intervention. The longer we wrestle against this truth and try to forge ahead on our own, the more we prolong our pain (and the miracle we really need).
For me personally, in Italy, I had to come face to face with the fact that I can’t make some of the most important breakthroughs I need actually happen.
I cannot usher in a season of relationship and a healthy Kingdom-focused marriage.
I cannot wave a wand and make myself a mother of biological or adopted children.
I cannot resurrect my dead business and income streams–with the added complication of doing it now internationally.
I cannot even fix my own visa situation!
Without God, I am (pardon the expression) 100% screwed.
The funny thing is, when God says do nothing, people get really weird about it, really fast.
I can’t count the number of people who have already given me a gentle lecture on the necessity of me “helping myself.” And “doing my part” to bring the next season into being.
Yet the old Western phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible at all. And I don’t even believe it’s biblical.
God helps those who recognize they cannot help themselves–and cast themselves on His mercy. As Psalm 40:17 says, “But I am poor and needy; yet the LORD thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.”
Now, I agree it’s true that if God prompts me to take an action or reveals a strategy to me, and I do not act on that divine prompting, then I am entirely liable for my own lack or any resulting drama. Why? Because God Himself gave me a marching order and I didn’t take it.
But the last marching order I got was “Be still, and don’t do anything.” If I’m not obeying that command, then I’m actually disobeying God–which will delay my blessings faster than anything else I know.
Yet still, even in church, I watch people startle and squirm with discomfort as I share what God has called me to for an undetermined period of time.
There’s an immediate visceral reaction. They’re obviously triggered. Probably for the same reason I was, the day I first heard the word in that old church in Siena. You can just see the question written all over their faces.
If you’re not doing something to help yourself, how can you expect to be helped?
The discomfort of “active inaction” has affected them deeply–and they’re not even technically the affected one.
The addiction of effort, it seems, runs so deep that it actually affects our reflexes.
All things considered, I still don’t know when this season of waiting and silence will end, how it will unfold or what will be the ultimate outcome.
All I know is how much I love sitting in churches in Old Europe. And how much I’ve struggled with what God said to me inside one of them that day in Siena, Italy.
Funny thing is, though, the more I have surrendered to the discomfort of the season, the less uncomfortable I’ve actually felt.
In fact, now that I’ve gotten used to “active inaction” (for the time being), I feel more relaxed, safe, secure, happy and free than I have perhaps ever in my life.
I keep reminding myself that absolutely nothing is figured out about what happens next. But it doesn’t seem to matter. As long as I remain surrendered to the current situation, I am blessed with a certain amount of bliss.
Not because I’m blissfully unaware of how much “could go wrong.” But because I trust the One who gave the command to me–and His Words, along with my life experiences, confirm that He is always 100% trustworthy to protect, keep and guide those who place their hope (and their “active inaction”) in Him.
When God says to “be still,” the only thing we must ever do is surrender.
That action alone is the only one that invites God-sized miracles.
I don’t know about you, but I desire nothing less.