There is a beautiful word that occurs 71 times in the Psalms. It is the word, ‘Selah’.
The Amplified Bible translates this word as to pause calmly and think of that. Other commentators define ‘Selah’ as to pause and praise. It may have been a Philistine word originally that denoted a musical solo or derived from a Hebrew word that means a division or breaks in the music.
When Selah appears in the Psalm, it is making room for a break, an interlude, a pause that gives an opportunity for thought and consideration of the great truths that are being sung about or read.
And it is something I need more of.
Last weekend I headed off for a spiritual retreat with two of my dearest girlfriends. We drove for the morning, ending up on top of a hill near the coast of Wales. The retreat centre was beautiful with traditional grey stone buildings and carefully landscaped grounds with overflowing baskets of summer flowers. It was a little piece of heaven.
When we arrived we signed in and headed off to the whitewashed Chapel, our arms full of Bibles, notebooks and expectation.
Inside there was an undeniable sense of a place that has been soaked in prayer. The stillness and peace struck me immediately and my heart soared with the anticipation of meeting with God.
But there was a problem.
You see although the atmosphere around me was still, I was not. And this proved to make ‘retreating’ quite hard work. Like a naughty puppy, my busy mind did not want to cooperate. It ran rings around my quiet time, distracting me with thoughts about lunch or the noisy page-turning of Bibles across from me.
Pausing is clearly a skill I need to work on.
And so I did. And by the next afternoon, I was beginning to win the battle with my wandering thoughts. And the spoils of that little victory were very rich indeed.
I walked in the summer sunshine to a large wooden cross on the grounds and I felt God’s grace to lay down my fears and to leave them there. I read my Bible in the sunshine, highlighting passages that spoke so beautifully into challenges I am facing and I thanked Him for every blessing I could think of. I hiked to the highest point, a meadow up above the stone Chapel, and I declared God’s goodness over things I didn’t understand as I looked down over the lush Welsh valley with every shade of green you can imagine. I sensed God’s still small voice. And when I prayed I knew I was heard.
And I came away from the weekend free, light and full of faith.
But I also came away with one niggling, uncomfortable thought.
How often do I miss out on hearing God because I just can’t be quiet enough, for long enough?
I am afraid of the answer.
You see, I am designed to pause.
God created day and night so that within every 24 hours of our lives there would be a natural cycle, a reset, a fresh start.
Then, He modelled for us the weekly cycle that encompasses Sabbath rest. This is not legalism, but our Good Shepherd leading us to green pastures of refreshment within our busy lives. And we are not designed to go more than seven days without it.
And God also gave His people regular feasts and holidays. These were opportunities for pausing, remembering, commemorating and celebrating. They were chances to gather as a community around shared values and history and to pause normal domestic life regularly throughout the year for spiritual and physical refreshment.
I need pauses in my life.
I have been created that way.
I need stillness and space in my day. I need time when I am unplugged from the endless, mesmerizing stream of information and entertainment that I struggle to control. I have to be brave enough to put technology in its place or it will continue to quietly steal from me. In modern life, a quiet soul will not happen without a fight.
And, I need church every week. This pause is nothing less than a God-ordained command for my good. A Sunday Selah is my weekly reminder that I serve a God who deserves my full attention, not just the dregs of my busyness. It is an opportunity to think about others, to serve and love them and to remember that I am part of a family. And it is my weekly reminder of what is true and what really matters as I consciously turn down the volume of my internal noise and lean into God’s voice instead.
And finally, I need more celebration in my life. I need times to be with family and friends as we leave behind mundane life to remember what ties us together. I need Christmas Carol services and Easter hymns and communion wine. I need summer festivals with lively worship and I need quiet weekends at prayer retreats where stillness is the goal. I need family gatherings where Christ is the centre and testimonies of His goodness are on our lips. And, I need church get-togethers where I laugh with brothers and sisters as we serve each other and share the Good news to those who haven’t heard.
I need a whole lot of Selah.
I need it after long, difficult Tuesdays and after wonderful, fun Fridays, after bad news and after good news, after victories and defeats.
I need it every Sunday when the weekend is waining and the new week is looming. I need that weekly exchange of leaving behind the burdens of the last seven days and picking up God’s grace for the next seven.
I need Selah when I am disappointed or elated, or everything in-between.
Because I need God.
And He is found in pauses.
And it is hard work but it is worth it and the spoils of that victory are rich indeed.