I am not much of a television freak. But the first time I sat down to watch Lawrence Harvey Zeiger’s talk show Larry King Live, I was attracted to this man. I had always desired the ability to talk well because without it I felt deprived of the basic means of communication and thereby of genuine and transparent friendship. “Those who love tell each other a thousand things without talking”, they say. But I knew better that most often it creates more misunderstandings than love. But whenever I wanted to speak out, that “post-dental-bug” always came back-cotton in my mouth. I’d rather be alone reading the telephone directory than to sit next to a stranger or someone I don’t know well. That was me! If only I was Larry King. Life is always full of if only(s) isn’t it?
But did you know that Larry was once a nervous freak who almost lost his job because he got tongue tight on the microphone? It was his first job on the radio. And all that the listeners could hear that morning was the theme music going up and down in volume until Larry gathered enough courage and finally said, “Good morning . . . this is my first day . . . I have been practising all weekend . . . my mouth is dry . . . I’m nervous.” He blew it.
For those who’ve seen Larry on TV, we know he has come a long way. Today he is dubbed as the American television’s king of talk. But I believe Larry’s greatness lies in his ability to make other people feel like the king of talk. All he would say is that magic phrase, “tell me”, and the rest of the time he is listening as they talk.
I dare not compare a Television talk show with what we call “prayer”-our talk with God. But my experience with God is somewhat similar. God makes me feel like I am the king of talk. He says, “Relax and tell me”, and listens intently as I pour out my joys, frustrations, anger, fears, feelings, my story, and all that my mind and heart is capable of. Though my tongue may stammer and I confuse my vocabularies, He listens and understands. Though my strength fails me even to whisper, He hears my thoughts.
And He is not always silent. He speaks. But many times we let the many voices around us drown God’s presence and debar us from hearing His voice. If we could only pause for a moment and make a conscious effort to think clearly and reasonably with an intellect that is informed and reformed by the Word of God, we will realise that these voices around us are mere noise, “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” as Paul called it. The great prophet Elijah had a similar experience:
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(I Kings 19:11-13)
People who teach on prayer say that prayer is mostly about listening to God. Our problem is that most often like Elijah we can hear the windstorm, the earthquake, the fire, the dangers around, and the voices that condemn us. And in the confusion we miss that small, gentle whisper at the end of it: the whisper that beckons us to God. Or sometimes we don’t wait long enough to listen. If we paraphrase God’s word to Elijah, it might go something like this: “What are you doing here, Elijah? You were too fascinated with the wind, the earthquake, and the fire that you almost missed my passing by. Don’t you think you need a quieter place so you can hear my gentle whisper.”
I imagine that there were a thousand gongs and cymbals resounding in Elijah’s head. There was the threat from Jezebel, prophets like him were being killed, and he was weighed down by the problems that had resulted from the apostasy of his people. Noise. God’s people need to listen to these noise too so that we can decipher it, trace it, diagnose the cause and try to bring about a solution.
But alas, are we listening only to the noise?-the noise that numbs our conscience and blurs our view, the noise that entangles our minds and distorts our reasoning. It is small wonder today that the evils of tribalism, nationalism, personal vendetta, materialism and traditionalism are growing like a weed under the flower of clear thinking and unbiased reasoning. If only we could look up more often and admire the flower, allow God to nurture it, make it grow and bloom, and eventually outgrow the weeds. This is possible only when the whole person is tuned to God by the daily discipline of the mind and heart. It never happens easily. It is always a process.
To be quite frank with you, I used to be a little unconvinced about this Christian teaching on the “Quiet time” one is supposed to have every morning. Does the Bible teach it? Does it make one a Christian? Is it a law every Christian has to keep, and later feel condemned if he fails to keep his quiet time? I am afraid the answer(s) is “no”. The Bible does not teach it explicitly, but now I am beginning to realise more and more that the discipline of a daily “quiet” (yes I mean quiet) time in the presence of God is imperative if we are to stay sane and focussed in this wild and confused world. It is not a passive quietness. It is not quietness for the sake of quietness. It is a time where, shut out from all the noise, we let God’s active Word roam freely in the corridors of our mind leading to our heart, enriching our spirit and soul. There you learn to reason with God, worship Him with reverence and rejoice in Him with trembling (Psalm 2:10-11). A person who emerges everyday from this active quietness develops his mental and spiritual aptitude. He can detect the valid voices from the mere noise because he has emerged after having heard the one and only true Voice.
The discipline of a quiet time is too important to be overlooked. Call it a talk show with God if you like. God is the host and you are the guest (that way you get to talk more). Or you can swap that if you want (Job tried it, and when God started talking, poor Job. Surely, the one thing Job learned that day was how little he knew). At the end you may not find answers or solutions you are looking for (neither does Larry King Live). But the satisfaction and relief it brings is what makes the show popular and alive. No wonder Larry King has been in business for 45 years now.
Let me end with this assertion. The reason why we feel that answers and solutions seem to elude us in the midst of all our problems is because with God we always get more than what we are bargaining for. We want answers. He always gives us all of Himself. “Can’t you be more specific and to the point?” we ask God. But really, what more do we need?