For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
I’ve learned the hard way that core strengthening exercises are essential to my health. When my core muscles weaken, all sorts of physical problems ensue. In my 50’s, I had to go to the emergency room with a seized-up back. I was barely able to walk. The emergency room receptionist, trying to be kind I am sure, asked if I needed a walker. I was indignant: “A walker! How old do you think I am?” Mercifully, he didn’t respond…
As with our physical bodies, our interior life has a core set of “spiritual muscles” that are shaped by personal disciplines and practices. How we develop or neglect them profoundly affects our life and leadership. Jesus taught this in his Parable of the Sower. In our century, leadership writer Ronald Heifetz has wisely observed that attention is the currency of leadership. Perhaps more than Heifetz intended, his insight concerns not only the outward stewardship of our leadership responsibilities; it also concerns what (or whom) we choose to pay attention to in our interior lives. Further complicating matters, the volume of voices that fill our lives and clamor for our attention makes distraction, particularly in interior matters, a continual threat. As T.S. Eliot prophetically warned almost a century ago, we have become a society that is “distracted from distraction by distraction.” (“Burnt Norton”)
Today’s text from the Psalms is a great encouragement for us to give renewed attention to strengthening the interior core of our leadership. How might we go about that?
First, contrary to much of the secular (or even religious) world around us, the psalmist begins with the insight that our core strength lies not within ourselves but in God. “For God alone…” introduces our text. We begin where all faithful human leadership begins. Speaking personally, I know that I am easily distracted or confused into thinking that my strength, my gifts, and my calling are at the core of my leadership. But the psalmist reminds me otherwise. We are called to bear the image of the living God. And that means, among many other things, cultivating attention to God first and foremost (“For God alone”) is the first discipline of strengthening our core as leaders.
Second, we need to learn to wait (“my soul waits”) as well as to act. Waiting is a much neglected discipline in our activist leadership culture. Waiting reminds us that we are not God. Waiting also suggests that we are part of something larger. Central to our leadership task is to discern how we contribute to that larger work. Still, waiting is not the same as inactivity. More certainly, waiting is not inattention. Biblical waiting is more like what symphony musicians do while anticipating their playing part of the orchestral work.
Finally, as with symphony musicians who are awaiting their cue, we must learn to wait “in silence.” For me, this is the hardest part. I’m an activist by nature. Even in my interior life, I find myself wanting to engage in active disciplines such as reading, praying, and writing. All good things, no doubt. But taking time to be silent, that’s hard work for me. Perhaps that’s why it is so important. Learning to trust in God alone requires cultivating a discipline of silence. As the psalmist notes in another place, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10 NRSV)
As with physical core strengthening exercise, this demands sustained effort. But, the psalmist encourages us to persist in it. As we develop our spiritual core of faith and trust in God alone, each of us will come to realize that “from him comes my salvation.” That salvation, as Scripture regularly emphasizes, has to do not only with an indefinite heavenly future but also with the tangible earthly present. As the prophet Isaiah challenged Israel in his generation, so we are challenged in ours: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15 NRSV)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you cope with the distractions of everyday life and leadership? When do you find yourself most easily distracted? What ways have you found to give attention to God during your workday?
What might it mean for you to wait for God alone?
Is taking time to wait for God in silence difficult for you? Why or why not?
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for the psalmist’s reminder to wait for you alone. You are the Maker and Sustainer of all things. Forgive us for impatiently taking matters into our own hands rather than learning to wait for you in silence.
We admit that this is difficult for us, Father. Help us to give attention to you and to your work. Help us to enter into your symphonic work in the world and help us to play our part in it.
We ask in Jesus’s name, Amen.