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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Aylan Kurdi

Aylan Kurdi

Note: I originally wrote this post two weeks ago, however have taken a while to upload it due to family illness.

The photograph of the young three year old Syrian refugee lying face down on a Turkish beach broke my heart today – I experienced a soul wrenching sadness that I haven’t felt for a long time, probably since the shock I experienced when my job was made redundant in 2010.

I think having a son around the same age made it all the more real for me. This was a young boy who wore the same clothes and the same cheeky, adorable grin. The only difference between his family and ours being that we were born into a country that isn’t ravaged by war and persecution. What a terrible situation you must be faced with to be desperate enough to attempt crossing the open sea with your family in a tiny inflatable boat – I can’t even begin to imagine.

Seeing the images and thinking about the injustice of the situation brought tears to my eyes – so much so that I had to get out of the office to find space to think and pray about it. Sitting in my car at lunch I opened the Bible we keep on the glovebox and turned to the psalms seeking some solace, with the nagging question of ‘why?’ stuck in my head. I came across Psalm 37:17-18, which in the NLT translation talks of the Lord taking care of the innocents.

For the remainder of the day I have had Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons stuck in my head. It reminds me that no matter the situation, we still have a Lord and saviour that loves us.

I still have many questions, including the thorny one about whether Aylan is now at rest with Jesus (in my heart I hope this is the case – reminds me of a similar question Rachel Held Evans posed in one of her books: “If salvation is available only to Christians, then the gospel isn’t good news at all. For most of the human race, it is terrible news.”). I struggle to reconcile a loving God who would see innocents die and not be with him in heaven – although where does the line get drawn (10? 14?), or is there a line to be drawn at all?

I also wonder what we can do in New Zealand. There is a lot of heat on John Key to increase the number of refugees we accept from 750, which is a great idea. But this must come with a ground swell of volunteers to look after those who arrive in a country totally foreign to where they’ve come from. What a great opportunity for the church. Kim mentioned the possibility of taking an ESOL class to be able to then work with refugees and new migrants when they arrive in the country. What a great idea – this is something she’d be incredibly gifted at.

POSTSCRIPT:

Since I originally wrote this post, a few things have happened:
  • John Key has announced that New Zealand will take an additional 600 Syrian refugees, and will look to review the current quota of 750 next year
  • Churches around the country are responding to the need to step up and support incoming refugees. I was heartened to see an email from Craig Vernall, our Baptist National Leader, calling for expressions of interest from churches willing to sponsor and support a refugee family to live in your community – surely this is something that any church would be willing to do – a no brainer?!

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