Tag Archives: Listening to God

Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Theology in action: Listen, then follow & let the light shine

given on Sunday, October 25, 3012

Theology in action

Listen, then follow & let the light shine

Scripture connections: Psalm 34 & Mark 10:45-52

Have you ever heard an autumn leaf fall? How about a snowflake? One might think that such sounds are really not heard, but I have heard them. I listen to nature.

I hear the wind coming as it blows through the trees down the street and races in closer and closer. I hear the cry of the coyotes and the hoot of the owls from the woods that surround our subdivision. I listen to the night sounds when I step outside with my pup.

The sounds of our world surround us and we get in such a hurry to take care of our families, homes, and jobs that we do not hear a thing. How in the world, in the midst of all this busyness do we hear God?

No doubt just living our lives demands so much from us, yet as Christians the priority should be to hear God first, and then hear the demands of the world around us. But do we?

Psalm 34 reminds us that God is always listening to us. He hears everything from our cries for help to our evil words uttered in anger. He hears the inner most thoughts we think are buried deep in our hearts where no one can hear. But God listens. God is omnipotent, all knowing, so we cannot hide our thoughts.

As practicing Christians, we train ourselves to talk with God in a regular fashion—prayer. We learn the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we develop breath prayers, and we know the power of supplication prayer. Prayer is our conversation with God, but do we ever think about listening for God during our conversation?

Many of the most rewarding moments, in my opinion, are those when I am sitting outdoors feeling the wind blow, the sun shining upon me, and the scent of the flowers waft pass me. In the quiet of God’s world, my mind hears new ideas, new solutions to old problems, and answers to questions I simply could not find. I have learned that these are the times I hear God.

Imagine Bartimaeus’s life from Mark’s scripture. Born blind, this man heard about Jesus’ healing power. He listened and waited to hear that Jesus was in the area, and he listened for his voice. This blind man’s hearing served as his eyes, and he desperately believed that when Jesus heard his plea, he would be healed. He believed that he would finally see, even though his blindness was since birth.

Expecting God to hear and to perform a miracle in answer to our prayer removes a key ingredient to solving any problem we share with God. Thinking that only God’s miracle will be the answer removes us from any responsibility. How can we expect God to listen to us and to do whatever it takes if we fail to do our share?

We must listen for God’s direction and accept our responsibility. We must participate in the solution whether for ourselves or whether for others. We are to serve one another in love.

Jesus listened. When Bartimaeus sat and listened for Jesus to draw near, he called out. Jesus heard his cry. Because he heard the cry, Jesus provided a solution. Bartimaeus was given the ability to see. His faith was honored, but if he had not called out, Jesus would not have heard him.

Do we listen? There are two ways we can listen: (1) we listen to the world around us to hear what is needed; and (2) we listen to God guide us in how to provide a solution.

First, as Christians, we are to live our faith out loud. Others should hear how we believe in God and how faith makes a difference in our lives. As we listen to the world around us, we discover needs that we might be able to help. Think of all the medical conditions that walks and fundraisers spring up to help. On a smaller scale, consider a child’s cry for help when it stumbles and scrapes a knee. We hear the cry and answer.

All of us have passions and special interests we know so personally that we come up with ideas for improvement and change. We listen to our hearts. God listens, and he speaks to our hearts; do we hear him? Do we listen to God and respond to the need or do we ignore God’s message?

This is the second form of listening. Granted God’s answer or solution probably is not stated in actual words spoken aloud directly to our face. Listening to God means accepting that a new idea or a new approach may be an answer to a problem. Listening to God means we feel a strong compulsion to donate our time or resources to fix something. Listening to God may be as simple as supporting someone else’s ideas and offering to help.

Listening carefully does lead to some problems. For one thing, listening means that you may have to accept your role in making something happen. You may have to share the idea with others or you may have to lead the effort to make it all work.

Hearing God can also keep you very busy. Maybe you do not think you have the time, so you try to put it off. But God does not give up. He will keep nagging you and speaking to you until you answer.

When God speaks to us, at first we may not hear him; and sometimes we hear him, but we try to ignore him. We may not see a way to do what we hear him tell us. We may think we are not qualified, or we may not think we have the resources necessary. But that constant pull to do something will not disappear until you invest in God’s call.

Therefore, the next step when listening to God is following God’s instructions to the best of your ability. God will give us the strength, the supplies, and the ability to see his work completed. We simply must “just say yes”* when he speaks.

In Bishop Schnase’s acknowledges a problem churches have had in acting on God’s requests. In his latest book, Just Say Yes, the traditional committee-format for church governing has stopped many ministry ideas. Why? The committee structure cannot respond quickly. The timeline often takes three months just to get an idea introduced.

Therefore, after listening and hearing God, then follow the idea as far as you can independently. When you reach a time that additional manpower or resources are needed, then develop a plan and seek others to join in or if necessary take it to the church council for further assistance.

The council may discuss it and turn it down, but if the project fulfills the church’s mission, is having positive results and the resources are available, it can be quickly approved and allowed to move forward. There will not be a three or more month delay in the work. This is listening, following and finally letting God’s light shine.

Listening to God is not easy especially when it calls us to action, but as Christians we are asked to share the Good News or through a different metaphor, let God’s light shine. First listen, then follow, and let the light shine. We may not understand God’s full plan or know what to expect, yet when God is in charge surprising results occur.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

You have granted us many gifts, skills and talents.

Sometimes we do not hear what you ask us to do.

Sometimes we ignore that inner message you send.

We ask your patience, Lord, as we learn to listen.

Speak loudly making sure we hear what you ask.

Yell at us until we accept our Christian responsibility.

Guide us to follow Jesus’ example who heard Bartimaeus.

Let us hear the cry of the lonely, the hurting, and the fearful.

Then speak to us so we may find a way to let your light shine.

As we listen, guide us in learning to follow.

As we follow, guide us in finding ways to share the light.

As we see the light shine, may others find the way.

–Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

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