By Donna Barber

Be Still and Know: Advent 2019

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness, you are there
In the secret, in the quiet hours I wait
Only for you
‘Cause I want to know you more

                                      -Chris Tomlin

Read: Psalm 46

“Be still and know (recognize, understand) that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations!  I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold [our refuge, our high tower]. Selah.” Psalms 46:10-11 (AMP)

A few weeks ago, I made a commitment to drink more water, a minimum of six cups a day which is about three times as much as I had been drinking. I was not looking forward to it and was certain it would be a challenge but determined to try to stick to it. I made the decision because I know drinking water is good for me. I didn’t imagine, however, how good it would be to me. I hadn’t realized that I was thirsty.

Our need for stillness and rest is often like that. We stop running because we have to, when our eyes lids are heavy and our backs are sore. When we cannot remember what we were about to do or when we’ve read the same sentence three or four times and still don’t quite know what it means. We stop only because “it’s late” or we have an early flight in the morning or we don’t want to disturb those around us. We pause because we are stuck in traffic, waiting to board a plane, or for our next appointment to arrive. We stop when there is no other option, or if a spouse complains or because we know that we should. We do not realize that we are weary.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:38

To labor is to exert one’s power of body or mind, to strive toward a goal, to function at a disadvantage or the process of giving birth to people, things or ideas. We labor in the body, the mind and the spirit every day. But like tired toddlers growing ever more frustrated and erratic, we refuse to stop. We declare, “I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I have too much to do or to get done. I’m not tired!” Out of sheer necessity we lay our bodies down but often, even then, our minds keep churning and our spirits are not refreshed.

Rest is not what we do but what we find or discover when we stop doing. It is what we receive when we come to him. Like water, it is something we often don’t realize we need until we find it. But our all-knowing Creator whispers again and again, “Come to me…” It is at once an instruction and an invitation. Come to the Rest Giver, the source of rest. Rest is a relief and release from our strivings and from the weight of the loads we’ve created or received or that were assigned to us. Rest is the opportunity to lay aside the weights and the pathway to that rest is stillness.

Herein lies the challenge. In our western culture, we associate busyness and doing with independence and freedom. To stop doing is to risk giving up control and to open ourselves to the possibility of being controlled or conquered. I am socialized to equate my labor with my value and my right to a space in the world, to own my independence as a badge of honor. To be still is to be lazy or worthless. But Jesus indicates that the pathway to rest is not only stillness but a yoke, his yoke. We bristle at his invitation, regarding the yoke as a loss of freedom and choose instead to struggle with our heavy burdens alone. Stillness is an act of surrender, a decision to entrust all my cares and responsibilities to the all-powerful God. Of my own volition I must decide to yield my control (which in reality is but illusion) and this yielding provides a rest that allows for the possibility of greater submission. Greater submission then results in greater grace and power.

For some, initially, stillness is not restful. I have five people who live in my house, a daughter who comes home frequently from college and one or two more friends of my children, that drop in often to stay a while. Our daily lives are filled with noise. The ping, clatter and swoosh of video games, the shouting and tears of dramatic teen conflicts, blaring televisions, bumping music, phone conversations, laughter and cheers. Occasionally, Alexa, Siri and Google chime in. It’s easy to become accustomed to noise. In houses like mine, chaos can be comforting, a sign that all is well in the world. Rather that rest, stillness and silence produce anxiety, concern or fear. Calm is an indication of a coming storm and activity, by default, a preventative necessity. We’ve been conditioned to believe that stillness is wrong.

So, we resist. We say, "I don’t need to be still to connect with Jesus. I go to church every (or every other) week." Now, I love the music and the rhythm of worship — the clap of the hands, the tap of the foot, the deep, resonating hum of a bass when it’s strummed. I enjoy the booming harmony of a gospel choir, that sweet call and response when the whole church joins in and a song so true that the singer has to throw her head back, close her eyes and let the tears flow. I enjoy a rousing sermon, the opportunity to read and reflect deeply on the scripture and to connect with other believers. I love to worship. But it is no substitute for the communion that happens in the secret place of still.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30

More often than not, God does not thunder from the heavens but rather whispers in the still, small voice of the spirit. In stillness and rest, I hear the sounds that have been drowned out by the noisiness of life — the song of birds, the whisper of the wind, the voice of God. Hearing increases my faith and I find the courage to slip into the yoke he offers. In God’s yoke, I share the weight of his burden with one much stronger than I. I step off of my treadmill to learn a pace, motion and way far different from my own. I discover God’s work done God’s way is much easier on me. The burden he assigns, a relief. I learn to keep step with God, rather than foolishly running ahead or falling behind in exhaustion and in doing so, I come to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. I find rest.

“For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel has said this, “In returning [to Me] and rest you shall be saved, In quietness and confident trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15 (AMP)

About the Author

Donna Barber has worked as an urban youth developer, educator, and program director for more than 25 years. During that time, she has served as a worship leader and bible teacher and helped to found schools, churches, and non-profits in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Atlanta, Georgia, and Portland, Oregon.

Donna considers herself a lifelong student of the Bible but studied formally at the New Life Bible Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Barber holds a BA in Communications from Temple University and a Master of Science in Education from Georgia State University. She has worked as a leadership trainer and coach for the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, Portland Leadership Foundation, FCS Urban Ministries and Mission Year and as a workshop leader for the CCDA National Conference. As a licensed minister, Donna is also a preacher and small group leader. She currently works as Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Voices Project alongside her husband, Leroy Barber. Donna and Leroy live in Portland, Oregon, and together they have six children, Jessica, Joshua, Joel, Aleathea, Asha, and Jonathan.

Comment via Facebook