Saint Isaac the Syrian says,
Do not compare those who work signs and wonders and mighty acts in the world with those who practice stillness and knowledge. Love the idleness of stillness above providing for the world's starving and the conversion of a multitude of heathen to the worship of God.He is advising us to put a greater emphasis on an inner stillness rather than an active external life. How many of us stretch our lives so thin that we are stressed trying to balance family and social obligations. the result is that we live in stress and our minds are ever distracted by the multitude of our activities. In this kind of life where is the place for communion with God? This is why Saint Isaac puts such a high priority on stillness. It comes before and above providing for the starving and the conversion of heathen to God.
It is better for you to free yourself from the shackle of sin than to free slaves from their slavery. It is better for you to make peace with your soul, causing concord to reign over the trinity within you (I mean, the body, the soul, and spirit), than by your teaching to bring peace among men at variance.If we do not first work on the purification of our soul we will never have the peace of mind to know God and to truly know His will for us. If we only focus on freeing slaves, on undoing some other infringement on basic human rights, and we have sin in our hearts, our efforts will be in vane. It is only with peace in our soul, harmony between body, soul and spirit that we can act with the love that God has in mind for us.
He continues quoting Saint Gregory the Theologian,
For as Gregory the Theologian says, "It is a good thing to speak concerning the things of God for God's sake, but it is better for a man to make himself pure for God" (Orations 3, On Flight, 12).All these efforts that we think need our attention to rid the world of evil doing are good, but there is something that is better. We must cleanse our inner being, purify our soul, so we can partcipatte in the divine union with God. From this we will become the kind of servants of God He intended for us to become. In this way we will receive His saving grace.
Saint Isaac says more,
Love uncouthness of speech joined with knowledge from inner experience more than to gush forth rivers of Instruction from the keenness of your intellect and from a deposit of hearsay and writings of ink. It is more profitable for you to attend to raising up unto activity of your cogitations concerning God the deadness of your soul due to the passions, that it is to resurrect the dead.Its not our elegance of speech that is important but the knowledge we can gain from an inner experience of God. The Fathers tell us that it is from this that comes true wisdom. Often our own cleverness sounds good, our projects to do good well intended, but in the end they spreads ideas that mislead others or cause even greater strife. It is better, as Saint Isaac tells us, to link our minds with a contemplation of the kingdom of God, to practice stillness. This is even better than to "resurrect the dead."
I ask for myself, let me take from this bit of wisdom from a great Saint of our Church, to guide me, helping me put my focus on gaining stillness in my mind and heart with a constant focus on God, seeking His education. Let it help me set aside my own egocentric notions that come from my own intellectual activity and self-contrived social good works. Let me let my works come naturally from a soul that has been purified along with a will that is united with the will of God. Let me learn to practice stillness.
Source: Homily 4, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, p 144-5.