Give Yourself Time to Think

by Joe McKeever

Historians analyzing the greatness of Abraham Lincoln are frequently perplexed as to how one who started so far back in the pack with few natural talents and attributes managed to win the race, securing his place in history as the greatest of all our presidents. What was there about him?

I'd like to suggest that one key factor, particularly in the younger Lincoln, was the quietness of the world in which he lived and what he did with it: he thought. He read a lesson, then mulled it over as he walked from one village to another or as he did his chores. He did not do what the average person would do, read something and check it off the list and go on to the next lesson. Some say Lincoln never went on to a new book until he had mastered the content of the one he was studying.

Imagine jerking up someone from the 21st century and plopping him down in the middle of 1825, when Lincoln was 16 years old. His first sensation would surely be of the overwhelming silence. No freeways with heavy traffic 24 hours a day, no planes filling the skies, no radio, no television, no phone, no trains, and very few factory whistles, if any. To be sure, everyone else had the same amount of silence and the same absence of distractions from pure, deep thought as did Lincoln.

The difference is that Lincoln used the quietness wisely; he thought about things.

Blaise Pascal observed, "All the evils of life have fallen upon us because men will not sit alone quietly in a room."

Gordon MacDonald, I think it was, identifies as the three greatest dead-weights of the Christian life today hurry, crowds, and noise. They're probably the three defining characteristics of our age, and certainly the plagues of this earthly existence as we know it in the year 2008. We're always in a rush, rarely alone, and hammered by noise from every direction.

Anyone who would accomplish anything in the service of God and man needs to carve out for himself a circumference of silence every day and protect it jealously. Time every day should be set aside for, as Pascal put it, sitting alone quietly in a room.

"Study to be quiet," Paul urged the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess. 4:11). The word translated "study" means to "make something your ambition." We have to make up our mind to have quietness in our life and take steps to create it; quietness for thinking will not happen automatically. It's a gift no one can bestow. Silence is a do-it-yourself-project.

If hurry, crowds, and noise are the problem, then stillness, solitude, and silence will go a long way toward remedying the ills of this age. Each is the result of a choice the person makes. I will be still. I will get alone. I will be quiet.

The root for the Hebrew word "Sabbath" means to stop doing what you are doing.

Now, I know full well that some reading this will be asking, "Well, what do I do when I'm being quiet? You can't just sit there and do nothing!"

Sure you can. Try it. However, I do have a few suggestions.

Breathe. That's a great thing to do. Breathe deeply, hold it a moment, then let it out slowly. Try to relax.

Clear your mind. For a bit, try to think of nothing.

Say "the Lord's Prayer" softly, then be quiet. If you're like me, you might have to repeat it a couple of times to get your mind around it. Then sit still.

Listen. Listen to any sounds, but particularly try to tune in to inner sounds.

IBM repairman Walter Moore told me of the day he was working on a business machine in a bank when closing time came and everyone got up and left. "Suddenly," he said, "I became aware they had piped-in music in that office. It had been playing all the time, but the noise drowned it out." Think of that as a metaphor of this life.

After you have relaxed and quieted your spirit sufficiently, don't go to sleep. Use this time for two necessary activities: think about the people and issues you're dealing with, whatever needs your attention, and then spend some time in prayer.

In almost all cases, you will have to take steps to guard your silence and solitude. That may mean telling a secretary or your spouse you are not to be disturbed for a half-hour. It will mean turning off the computer and handing your cell phone to someone, asking them to take your messages.

There's one big caution I need to pass along. Once you begin enjoying your silence, you will hate interruptions, no matter how important the matter or how much you love the interrupter.

In a 1945 volume, British pastor Leslie Weatherhead shared sermons he preached in war-time London. One was titled "The Significance of Silence." In it he quoted a poem by Rupert Brooke. The poem was so lovely, he said, that he did not want to spoil it by abbreviating it.

Now, I'm going to do what Dr. Weatherhead did and ask for your indulgence here. The poem works best if you a) read it slowly and thoughtfully and b) read it aloud:


"Safe in the magic of my woods

I lay, and watched the dying light.

Faint in the pale high solitudes,

And washed with rain and veiled by night.

"Silver and blue and green were showing

And the dark woods grew darker still;

‑And birds were hushed; and peace was growing;

And quietness crept up the hill.

"And no wind was blowing.

"And I knew

That this was the hour of knowing,

And the night and the woods and you

Were one together, and I should find

Soon in the silence the hidden key

Of all that had hurt and puzzled me-

Why you were you, and the night was kind,

‑And the woods were part of the heart of me.

"And there I waited breathlessly,

Along; and slowly the holy three,

The three that I loved, together grew

One, in the hour of knowing,

Night, and the woods, and you-

"And suddenly

There was an uproar in my woods,

The noise of a fool in mock distress,

Crashing and laughing and blindly going,

Of ignorant feet and a swishing dress,

And a Voice profaning the solitudes.

"The spell was broken, the key denied me.

‑And at length your flat, clear voice beside me

Mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes.

"You came and quacked beside me in the wood.

You said, The view from here is very good!'

You said, It's nice to be alone a bit!'

‑And, How the days are drawing out!' you said.

You said, The sunset's pretty, isn't it?'

By ___! I wish-I wish that you were dead!"

(There! Aren't you glad you read it to the end? Now, imitate the young Abraham Lincoln and think about that little bit of poetry and then perhaps share it with someone. It's not only okay to laugh at the end, it's required. But don't give the ending away; make them listen to the whole thing.)

Editor's note: The articles in this series on leadership qualities and functions in the church are drawn from a larger series written by Dr. McKeever.

Dr. McKeever, a pastor for more than four decades, writes and creates
church-related cartoons with equal felicity. He presently serves as
director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad