Another Look by David Faust
Comedians recognize it. A well-timed pause right before the punch-line makes a story funnier.
Musicians, preachers, and actors understand the power of the pause. Writers employ it by adding commas, dashes—and sometimes ellipses . . . .
A pause provides a needed break in the action. It gives the listener or reader the opportunity to digest and ponder ideas. Smart lawyers know when to pause as they present their case, allowing the jury time to let the arguments sink in.
Rudyard Kipling observed, “By your silence you shall speak.” “Pregnant pauses” make the listener anticipate what will happen next, like a parent waiting for the birth of a baby. It’s said that Mark Twain’s pauses made his speeches more effective. Can’t you see him flicking the ashes of his cigar as he addressed the audience? “Man is the only animal that blushes” (pause)—”or needs to.” “Familiarity breeds contempt” (pause)—”and children.” You can hear the power of the pause in Calvin Miller’s sermon about the women headed to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week:
They said nothing as they walked.
Heavy, breaking, agonizing silence.
He was dead—dead—dead.
God paused. The first book of the Bible says he rested on the seventh day after creating the world. The other end of the Bible mentions another pregnant pause: “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1).
Jesus used the power of the pause as a teaching technique. Remember the time when religious leaders caught a woman in the act of adultery? They asked Jesus if she should be stoned to death. Before responding, the Lord paused. He bent down, wrote on the ground with his finger, and after further questioning “he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:1-7). The pause helped to drive home the point.
Our minds and bodies crave the renewing power of a morning walk, a mid-day break, a late afternoon nap, a good night’s sleep, a Sabbath-style day off, a well-timed vacation. In the midst of a high-stress schedule, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
Families need to rediscover the power of the pause. Husbands and wives should avoid any actions that hinder their prayers (1 Peter 3:7), and today’s marriages are hindered by a hectic pace that leaves little time for conversation with each other or with God. And who can measure the stress children internalize when they’re surrounded by never-ending TV and Internet chatter? They’re missing out on the power of the pause. More hours for reading and physical exercise would stir their imaginations and strengthen their bodies.
Our churches need to experience the power of the pause. God calls us to action, but it’s unhealthy when frantic ministers and feverish congregations never slow down. Would your church benefit from a program-free week—or even a month? What blessings might you experience if the members of your congregation mutually agreed to put aside all unnecessary activities for a set period of time, take a break from business as usual, and simply devote yourselves to prayer, fasting, worship, and rest?
Without needed breaks, we will glow for a while and then burn out. “How dull it is to pause,” Tennyson observed in one of his poems. Pauses may seem dull, but we’re powerless without them.