Hearing Requires True Listening

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“Be still, and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

How many times have I prayed aloud and ended the time spent with God as soon as I said, “Amen?” How is it that I have gone my whole life and never simply sat and waited for the answers? Like Elijah, I might have to endure storms, fires and earthquakes. But, if I wait long enough for the silence, maybe I can hear the voice of God again.


Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,

I’ll be as blunt as I can be: My soul is not a quiet place these days.

As long as man has been sentient and able to perceive divinity, I think man has struggled to understand how to hear God’s voice. The Bible is filled with dramatic revelations of God’s glory in the early days: Great floods, burning bushes, pillars of flame in the desert, fantastic revelatory visions, transfigurations and appearances with stigmata. These days, He doesn’t seem to be quite so obvious.

Let me be clear: I think that I understand why God is not so quick to appear. While God could instantly compel belief by appearing, that would render us nothing more than fearful automatons; we would have no choice but to respond to His terrifying glory. But that sort of coerced relationship isn’t what God wants for us. The fact of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection proves that God desires to be in a relationship with us where love passes both ways. Love cannot exist when a relationship is coerced by fear. To have a loving relationship, you must first want to be in love. That is true for relationships between people and it is true for our relationship with God.

Relationships can be very hard work. For a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is my own poor understanding, I am finding my relationship with God very challenging as of late. I am struggling to simply hear His voice. The lack of meaningful discernment I have experienced has made me feel very ill at ease.

I think my prayer life is partially to blame for my inability to discern God’s direction for my life. When I pray, I have a tendency to talk a lot. I’m thankful for this, asking for that, begging for forgiveness for something else— Basically a long stream of words directed at the Almighty. In thinking about my discomfort with my lack of discernment, I suddenly remembered good old Elijah in the cave as he was waiting for the Lord to pass by:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.”
—1 Kings 19:11

It occurs to me that all of my words are like the wind; they make a lot of noise and fuss and they can even be damaging, but God is not present in those words. There are things in those words that are honestly present: Hope, fear, love, anxiety, uncertainty, despair, joy and awe. But those are just emotions— Sometimes they are emotions that are in response to God’s grace but mostly they are reactions to this roller coaster ride that we call life. It makes no difference whether or not the prayer is extemporaneous or formulaic; God is no more present in those words than he was in Elijah’s windstorm.

Elijah eventually did encounter God, and I think where he found Him tells us something about our prayer life. Elijah endured not just the wind, but a huge fire and an earthquake, all without hearing God. He finally found the presence of God in a small, gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12). How many times have I prayed aloud and ended the time spent with God as soon as I said, “Amen?” How is it that I have gone my whole life and never simply sat and waited for the answers? Like Elijah, I might have to endure storms, fires and earthquakes. But, if I wait long enough for the silence, maybe I can hear the voice of God again. Like I said, relationships are hard work; I think that perhaps my relationship with God demands that I do a lot less talking and a lot more listening. That is going to take a lot of practice.

Alexandria, this reminds me of a conversation you and I had on the phone yesterday. I was, of course, in Miami waiting for a flight that never happened. You were watching your sister while your mom was at work. There arose a disagreement between you and Mary Ellen over some device charger’s location, and you called me to mediate the dispute. Like you have so many times, you stated your case with great emotion and detail. As soon as I began to respond with a possible solution, you immediately began to talk over the top of me, stating that in no uncertain terms you already knew whatever it was that I was about to say.

It occurs to me that I am doing the same thing in my conversations with God. Pleading my case is fine. But I need to listen much longer in silence for His response.

Whenever it is that you read these words, I hope that they find you at a place in your life where you understand that you need to find a place out of the wind to be still and quiet. There is a time to spill your guts to God, but there must also be time to simply wait quietly for His reply. I hope and pray that your ear is tuned to His presence earlier than mine has been. My battle to understand His will for my life represents one of my greatest struggles.

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