Saturday, March 12, 2011

Getting lost in all the noise

I had to hit pause on the DVD player so I could write this blog post.  I couldn't think nor pray with the noise distracting me.

Have you ever taken a minute to hear all the noises around you?  All the electronic buzzing, chatter coming from the other room, cars driving up and down the road.  We turn on TV's or listen to our ipods to serve as background noise for whatever is going on in the moment.  There are even the people who are so bothered by silence between them and another person that they will talk with the sole purpose being simply to fill the air with sound.  American composer John Cage even wrote a piece of music called 4'33", which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, with the idea being that ambient noise creates it's own music.

Then there is the written noise we encounter.  Magazines, newspapers, billboards, emails, facebook, text messages and any other written communication that surrounds us create their own kind of noise in our lives. People surround themselves with posters of inspirational quotes or blocks of wood with quaint phrases on them.  Everywhere you look, there is something to read and information to digest.

Not all noise is bad, the most beautiful symphonies or the most tender love songs are kinds of noise.  But we do live in a culture that fosters a steady diet of constant chatter, whether good or bad.  It is funny that all this consuming of "noise" can keep us from hearing the one noise we most desire to hear, the voice of God.

People often complain they have trouble hearing God's voice.  One reason may be that there is simply too much noise competing for their attention.  Psalm 46:10 tells us to "Be still and know that I am God".  As sedentary as it may seem, it is impossible to truly be still and have a TV blaring in the background.  Though you may be sitting in a chair, you cannot be still and flip through a magazine or send text messages on your phone.  You really aren't even being still if you are reading a Christian book or even the Bible.  Even some types of prayer, like when we have long lists of wants we take to God, make it impossible to really be still.  Not all those noises are bad, in fact, some are really good, but they are still noise.  To truly be still, we must turn off all the noise, all the busy activity, minimize both the input we receive and the output we give.  To be still is to be sitting at the feet of God, singularly focused on Him and being in His presence.

Once you have minimized the amount of noise pulling at your attention and you have found stillness with God, then you need to slowly and carefully choose what noises to let back into your awareness.  Phillipians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."  We need to make sure that the noise we let back into our lives fit that criteria.  We are bombarded with so many "noises" are not true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable that it can be hard to avoid them.  We can, though, make changes to some of our habits and minimize the impact of the negative noises in our lives.

One of the biggest things that has impacted me is to minimize the amount of advertising I see.  Advertisers study psychology in order to figure out how to manipulate our wants, desires and opinions.  Their goal is obviously to make money, not to make us holy.  Minimizing junk information is also helpful.  Many popular magazines and talk shows are nothing more than vehicles for false information or twisted world views, in other words, junk.  Again, media outlets such as these are more concerned with making money than with providing the truth.  If they can convince you there is something wrong with you and then convince you that they have the magic panacea to fix the perceived flaw, they will make money, regardless if there is any validity to either point.  We then end up with a culture full of false truths, such as you would be happier if you lost ten pounds, you would be admired more by others if you had this thing or that thing, or true contentment comes from doing more and being more.

As you add noise back into your life, make sure it fits the criteria of Philippians 4:8 above.  It may mean that you need to stop watching a particular show on TV, or cancelling a magazine subscription.  There may be some people that you need to limit your time around.  You may also need to choose new noises to surround yourself with.  Positive noises that bring you closer to God are the best.  Obviously, scripture is one of these, but it can also take the form of an encouraging friend or be as simple as listening occasionally to a praise and worship CD.

Just remember that too much noise, even if it is good noise, can be as bad as too much of the wrong kinds of noise.  Nothing can substitute for quiet time with God.  Imagine how much closer to the Lord we would be if we simply choose to occasionally turn all the noise off and focus on Jesus.  What if all Christians took the time to turn off all the noise and focus on Jesus?  Not Oprah, or Fox News or even Christian culture, but actually focus on Jesus and what His love and sacrifice did for the world.  What if we all not only heard His voice, but heard it so clearly that we couldn't help but act on it?  What is truly at stake when we drown out God's whispers to us with the blaring half-truths of our culture?  Who among us will suffer and ultimately perish because of "noise"?

Don't let God's voice get lost in all the noise of your daily life.

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