Years ago I read that the brain is not a bucket to be filled, but a muscle to be exercised. That is, your head is not limited in capacity in such a way that you need to save it for just the most important stuff. Rather, it can keep adding material forever; in fact, the more you exercise it, the more it can hold.
That concept has heavily influenced my thinking, my studying, and my teaching. Our minds don’t need rest; they want to be active. Oh, they do need change, or variety; I’m often encouraging my students to study in sprints rather than marathons, to stop and think about something else for a while. But even when we’re asleep, our minds are busy, making up stories, many of which make no sense at all. Thinking is what we do by nature.
The advantage to thinking in silence is raising the focus, and thus the quality, of how we’re thinking. I know it’s alleged that kids these days, I suppose largely because of Starbucks, need background noise in order to think—that sheer silence overwhelms them. I haven’t seen that demonstrated; in fact, I see indications that when my students think they’re “multi-tasking,” they’re really just doing several things poorly. (And I have the test scores to prove it.)
So what should we do with the silence that we find so rejuvenating?
The few biblical passages I noted in the previous post at least imply that we should be using the quiet time to think.
To think about what?
Again, the Scripture gives us some direction.
Think About God
The well-known passage cited earlier says simply, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Similarly, while hiding from King Saul in the Judean desert—where it gets really quiet, especially at night—David wrote,
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy (Ps 63).
I suppose David had an advantage there, in that as he lay on the desert ground at night, with no light pollution, he had a spectacular display of God’s glory in the canopy of stars and planets and meteors and the bright ribbon of the Milky Way. Saul doesn’t seem like such a big deal out there.
There’s a lot to think about with reference to God. (Understatement of all time.) I find it highly profitable to list, organize, and meditate on God’s personality—his qualities, what theologians call his attributes. I’ve worked a list of them into my prayer life, meditating on a different one each day. I find that having such an attribute in your head at the beginning of the day tends to give greater clarity—and peace—when the day gets noisy.
There are lots of places you can get information on God’s attributes. Any systematic theology book will have a section, usually a whole chapter, devoted to them. Many people have been helped by J. I. Packer’s Knowing God; Arthur W. Pink and A. W. Tozer both have books on the topic as well. Tozer’s book Knowledge of the Holy is also helpful. If you want something more challenging, the Puritan Stephen Charnock’s work is the standard.
There are also several helpful websites—
- 15 Amazing Attributes of God: What They Mean and Why They Matter (Note: I’m sure the folks at biblestiudytools.com are very nice people, but the number of popup windows they squeeze into their site is oppressive. Fortunately, I started today by meditating on an attribute of God, so I’m at peace about it.)
- The Attributes of God at blueletterbible.org
- Attributes of God online course, created by my former classmate Fred Zaspel
- Wayne Grudem’s discussion of the Attributes
- A dedicated website
- A prayer guide from the Navigators
- A two-week reading guide from She Reads Truth
Next time, we’ll get further guidance from the Bible on what to think about in the silence.