In 1988, National Geographic photographer Eric Valli received both national and international recognition for his effort in securing an amazing photograph which he entitled, “Honey Hunters.”
The photograph was of a jungle nomad named Mani Lal gathering honey in the Himalayan foothills where the world’s largest honeybee takes shelter. What made this such an adventurous photograph was the fact that Eric was dangling by a nylon rope from a 395-foot cliff. Before undertaking the daring feat, Eric was warned that there would be thousands of bees swarming around, and any sudden movements would send the bees into a stinging frenzy which could cost both men their lives. Although Eric received just a few bee stings, he learned that the secret to capturing such an incredible image would require him to assume a position of frozen stillness.
In Mark 10, Jesus is passing through Jericho when a blind man named Bartimaeus captures His attention. Verse 49 records, “And Jesus stood still…” If there is a lost discipline in our spiritual lives today it is the art of being still. The philosophy of the world says, “be strong,” “be first,” “be aggressive,” or “be busy.” But has it ever dawned on you just how often the Lord has said, “be still”? Whether it was Elijah on a lonely mountainside of discouragement, or Israel at the dead end of the Red Sea, or Job in the crucible of his furnace, the saints of old found comfort and peaceful resolve in stillness before the Lord.
Former Wheaton College President V. Raymond Edman once said, “in every life there’s a pause that is better than onward rush, better than hewing or mightiest doing; ‘tis the standing still at Sovereign will.” Stillness is essential for the survival of animals in the wild, and stillness is crucial for the success of soldiers on the battlefield. However, when the Lord says to you and me, “be still.” He is not speaking as much about our outward stability as He is our inward serenity. Just what are the spiritual secrets of being still?
Stillness implies we must watch with expectation.
When Israel faced their hour of crisis at the Red Sea, Moses commanded the people in Exodus 14:13, “…stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today….” The Hebrew word translated “still” in this verse pictures a sentry standing faithfully at his post or station with attentive eyes. A sentry is posted to see what others cannot see from ground level.
Nearly every time the Lord said, “be still,” disaster appeared inevitable. However, it was in stillness that miraculous perception was achieved. When the Israelites could see only the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, Moses could see “Him who is invisible.” When Gehazi could only see the Syrian army gathering, Elisha saw “the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire.” When Balaam thought a clear pathway was up ahead, his donkey turned aside in stillness at the sight of an angel with its sword drawn.
Perhaps the reason life is so complicated for most of us is because in our constant state of busyness we have lost the conscious awareness of the Lord’s presence. True spiritual vision is not our eyes capturing people, places, or things, but rather it is our hearts being captivated with the Lord!
Stillness implies we must wait with endurance.
Job walked through a valley of unimaginable darkness that made it difficult to trace the hand of the Lord in his circumstances. However, his young friend Elihu wisely counseled him in Job 37:14, “O Job, stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.” The word “still” in this verse has a Hebrew meaning of “to take a stand and remain.” I never understood as a child why we never ate desert first. But I knew that if I could tough it through the other stuff, it would be worth it in the end! After all that Job endured, the Bible summarizes his experience best in Job 42:12, “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning….”
When the Lord commanded the priests carrying the Ark to “stand still” in the Jordan river, it was their enduring obedience that kept the waters parted while Israel finally entered the Promised Land. When Jesus interrupted a funeral procession in Nain, those carrying the coffin “stood still” and witnessed the miracle of His resurrection power. Stillness is simply the pause of man awaiting the power of God. Vance Havner once said, “He who waits on God loses no time.” God’s power does not always manifest when we think it will, but it always does when it should!
Stillness implies we must withdraw our engagement.
Psalm 46:10 states, “Be still, and know that I am God…” The word “still” in this verse is two exclamatory statements in the original Hebrew. It means, “relax, take your hands off!” This was written at a troublesome time in Hezekiah’s life when he faced circumstances beyond his control. Not only had he received a blasphemous letter from a heathen king whose huge army threatened to destroy Jerusalem, but Isaiah delivered a word from God that he was to prepare to die.
Panic can cause a restless carelessness that entices us to action. The one mistake we are all most prone to make is growing impatient with the Lord and trying to do His will our way. If only Abraham had stood still until Isaac was born, the Middle East might never have known the perpetual conflict it does today. If only Saul had stood still until Samuel returned from the Lord’s presence, his kingdom would have been established forever.
Those that trust in the Lord are never brought to shame in their hope. Isaiah 30:7 says it best, “…their strength is to sit still.”
David faced a life full of battles, burdens, and blessings, but have you ever wondered what enabled him to emerge from it all with a fresh song in his heart? Perhaps he gives the secret away in Psalm 23:2, “…He leadeth me beside the still waters.” When God leads, stillness is sure to follow. When God is not leading, you might just be stirring up a hornet’s nest!
© 2008 Alan Stewart
Published in Pulpit Helps, November 2008
Alan Stewart pastors Rechoboth Baptist Church in Soddy Daisy, Tenn.