“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalms 46:10 ESV)
Do you remember the old cartoon, The Woody Woodpecker Show? That was back in the 1950s and 60s. I remember watching the old cartoons. Walter Lance was the creator, designer, writer and artist. Woody was an annoyingly persistent woodpecker causing trouble everywhere he went. I loved the show. I would sit on the floor of our Georgia home, in my Saturday morning PJs and laugh over and over at the obnoxious woodpecker. My fascination with the show might explain some of my personality quirks. For years it was in black and white. Then magically, one Saturday morning, it was in color! That was cool.
Many years later I was on my way to our mission office in Perchtoldsdorf, Austria. Normally I ride the 0730 bus filled with noisy, active school children. I was reminded of Woody’s loud voice and penchant for pranks. The elementary and middle schools (what I would call them) are near the office so I walk by them each day. I enjoy watching the children relate to one another. The shy, the charismatic, the clown, they all bump and jostle their way from bus, to sidewalk, through the park, to the school.
But this day was different. It was a holiday week in Austria. No school children on the bus. Just me, one grumpy bus driver, and a couple old ladies going out to shop. I forgot my MP3 player at home so I couldn’t drown out the bus noise as we jostled our way down the hill, through the vineyards toward the little town where my office sits.
I got off the bus, sans children, at the normal stop and headed through the park. Did I mention there’s a beautiful park near our office? There is. I like to walk from the bus stop, through the park, past the school and down the hill to the office. It’s a nice walk that takes about six minutes. Usually I watch the children interact on the bus and walking through the park. Not this day. It was quiet and there was plenty of room on the sidewalk. No little boys climbing through the bushes or girls whispering secrets to one another. Just a beautiful, warm clear sky morning. Ho hum.
As I came up the hill from the bus stop, I head a bang, bang, bang. There was a pause and then bang, bang, bang. The repetitive clamor reminded me of something. I listened intently for a while and then remembered. One furlough we visited friends in California. Their house was riddled with small holes from the numerous woodpeckers in their area. Our friends weren’t fond of these beautiful birds.
I listened again. Bang, bang, bang, pause . . . bang, bang, bang, pause. . . over and over like a machine. I walked slowly searching the trees and cocking my head to the side trying to find Woody. Finally, I found the tree and spotted the little fellow, way up high, hard at work looking for his breakfast. It was fascinating to watch. His head was a brilliant red, and he had a white chest with spots and black wings.
He would bang away at the tree then pause and listen for the rustle of some juicy tasty grub. I stood there for a long time watching him work. Industrious, oblivious to the world around, concentrating on the task at hand, he chiseled his way into the tree trunk. He knew there was a treasure trove of succulent delights waiting to be slurped out by his lengthy tongue. He just needed enough persistence until the tree would give way and then he could enjoy the fruit of his labor.
The persistent widow Jesus mentioned in a parable in Luke came to mind. The widow asked and asked and apparently stopped now and again to listen for an answer. That judge wasn’t about to give up and give in. But she kept banging away asking then waiting, asking then waiting. He persistence won the day. Eventually she received what was needed. The judge didn’t want to be worn to a frazzle.
I wonder how often we do this in prayer, persist in asking because we need an answer and can’t let the issue drop. That’s a good procedure. But, how often do we stop to listen for an answer? I know some people who talk so much it’s funny. They rattle on, endlessly, without pausing for a breath and intersperse questions along the way. The problem is they never pause long enough to listen for an answer.
I think I do that in prayer at times as well. I ask, ask, ask, wrestle with God looking for an answer I know needs to come. But then I realize I’m exhausted from asking and never pausing long enough to listen. I can’t hear the answer if I don’t listen.
God isn’t quite like the judge. He doesn’t respond because we annoy him. God responds because he loves us and wants to help us. I’ve beat my head against the wall at times until I’m dizzy. When I finally stop I discover God has already provided an answer. I couldn’t see it because my eyesight was blurred from the constant motion of whacking my head against the wall.
The Psalmist reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) In an active world people see stillness as a weakness. Christians seem to think busyness about God’s work is the sign of a true and faithful believer. Jesus took time away. He stepped out of the mainstream of his ministry to refresh himself with the father. I’m sure he and his father had some great conversations.
As a Christian stillness is necessary to listen, to hear what God is saying. Just like the woodpecker, we need to bang away with our needs and requests. And, like the woodpecker, we need to pause, now and then, to listen for a reply.
Are we listening today?