Truly listening

Man uses an ear trumpet

Earlier this year Son #1 developed a stutter – it started with him stumbling over one or two words but rapidly progressed to a point where he was struggling immensely to get each word out of his mouth. While the stutter has slowly disappeared since then, at the time it was tough to see him struggle to get coherent sentences out. Especially given how relatively eloquent he was prior to the stutter.

In the midst of his stuttering, we recognised that in order to understand what he was saying we had to truly listen to him. This made me realise how often I only listen to him with half an ear – distracted.

It also challenged me to think how often this is also the case with God?

How often do I only listen with half an ear (or less!) to what God is saying to me? Distracted by the world around me so much that I don’t truly listen to the most important voice.

So what should truly listening to God look like?

It has to be centred on prayer. Liz Curtis Higgs writes (empahsis mine):

prayer is more about listening than it is about spilling out requests. David wrote, “I will listen to what God the Lord says” (Psalm 85:8). When God tells us to “pray without ceasing” (ASV), he’s also saying, “Listen to me all the time!”

I like the paraphrase she uses – listen to me all the time! I know I frequently fall into the trap of praying to God rather than praying with God – spending most of the time talking and not enough time listening. That’s not a great way to communicate with people and it’s certainly not a great way to communicate with God!

Allied to that is spending more time with God. In a sermon I listened to a few years ago Mick Duncan said on this topic:

I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to spend quality time with my lover – and yet some of us only spend five minutes! How can you greet such great love with the dregs of your day?

This challenged me then and still does today. Setting aside quality time to spend with God can be tricky, however I think this typically comes down to misplaced priorities. If God is the number one priority in my life, as he should be, then he needs to get the best of me, not brief snippets of the day when I can spare a moment. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t also love those brief snippets, however I think quality time is needed to truly listen.

Finally, another key aspect of truly listening to God is being open to what he has to say. In this regard I’m reminded of the story of Samuel who, as a young boy, was sleeping at the temple when God called out to him “Samuel!” At first Samuel thought this was Eli, the priest, calling him, however eventually Eli realised it was God, and sent Samuel back to bed with instructions on what to do if God called again. When he did, Samuel said “Speak, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

This simple sentence sums up what it means to truly listen to God – Samuel is waiting on God and when God speaks, Samuel is open and willing to listen to what he has to say. It should be that easy, however I think we can often be a bit scared of what God is going to say (especially if he is calling us out of our comfort zone, as so frequently is the case), which causes us to either stop listening, give him only half an ear, or, in some situations, mishear what he is actually saying. I was listening to an excerpt from the 2015 Baptist Hui where someone described the latter situation, saying “Sometimes we become so familiar with hearing the voice of God that we finish his sentences for him

So what does truly listening to God look like in your life? Where do you get it right? Where do you struggle?

I know there are aspects of the way I listen to God that need improvement, however, just like when Son #1’s stuttering was at its worst, I will continue to persevere to ensure I am truly listening to what God has to say to me.

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Further reflections on the pastoral search committee

I posted some initial reflections on the pastoral search process last September, when our search committee was about to begin a 5-month hiatus triggered by our then preferred candidate for senior pastor deciding to withdraw his name from consideration.

We resumed the search in March this year, feeling refreshed and energised from the break and looking forward to seeing what God had in store for our church. After an intensive period of searching, interviewing and, throughout it all, prayer, by September we were very excited to recommend to church members that we call Russell Watts as our senior pastor. The members agreed and Russell officially agreed to the call in late September.

We feel incredibly blessed to have someone of Russell’s calibre coming to our church. He’s currently the senior pastor at Ranui Baptist Church and has a particular set of skills (and giftings) that will be valuable to our church, helping to equip us to more effectively spread the good news about God’s kingdom to those in Northland and beyond. Very exciting times ahead!

I thought it would be useful to share some further reflections on the search process:

  1. The impact of prayer: Prayer has been an ongoing and constant part of the process, as it obviously needed to be, both by the committee and wider church community. This included prayer for wisdom and discernment for us as a committee, for patience for the committee and church as we waited on God’s timing, and for the person God had planned to be our next senior pastor. Kim and I occasionally joked about the committee’s need for wisdom, using the well-worn ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ meme which graces the top of this post.
  2. The significance of James: Scriptures from the book of James were recurring throughout the process, themes of perseverance (James 1:2-4), wisdom (James 1:5-8), trust and faith (James 4:13-16) and prayer (James 5:13-16). Even at the members’ meeting to call Russell the chairperson of our Elders group, completely unaware of the recurrence of James, prepared a devotion on James 2 about love and favouritism.
  3. The value of good process: We were blessed to have able leadership on the committee in the form of our chairperson. He comes from a very process-oriented profession and instilled necessary rigour to our process. We always made sure to tick all the boxes, to communicate often and well, and to follow the Baptist NZ guidelines as they applied to our search.
  4. The importance of values: Our committee identified and agreed to six core values when we first formed: confidentiality, transparency, honesty, graciousness, consecration and patience. These are the values that underpinned our process from the outset. They informed our discussions with church leadership and the development of documents relevant to the search, ensured effective ongoing communication with church members, and were essential during the crunch points of shortlisting, interviewing and making decisions on who to call. These values kept us grounded and united in our approach and were crucial to ensuring the process ran smoothly.
  5. The benefit of transition: While unintentional, the transitional period of what will in the end be just over a year between senior pastors has been valuable to our church community. It has seen more people from the church community step up and serve (including in positions of leadership) and has given the church what I believe to be necessary breathing room after our previous pastor’s 25 year pastorate. It has been a healthy time of transition which will continue into the early part of Russell’s tenure with us.

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