Learning to listen
Proverbs 3: Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go.
We tend to think that hearing from God is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or maybe that it’s something only saints on earth experience. It isn’t true. The Lord created us for fellowship with himself. From the beginning he walked with Adam in the cool of the day. I don’t have to do some extreme thing to hear from God. All I have to do is listen. But that’s a problem isn’t it? Hearing the Voice of God in the ordinary flow of life takes practice. If I want to hear him speak when I’m sitting in the emergency room of a hospital or when a precious friend is pouring his heart out to me seeking spiritual council I have to practice listening for him when I’m not in the pressure cooker of life. I’m certain that God speaks, and that he does so constantly. Sadly, I am also sure that I’m not a very good listener. For this proverb to work for me; for me to listen for God’s voice everywhere I go, I need to practice the presence of God every day. The way to accomplish that is for me to discipline myself to meet God by creating quiet places in life where I can learn to hear his Voice. Then, when I’m out there in the “everywhere you go” part of life, I will have trained my spiritual ear to recognize the Master’s Voice.
Take Away: It takes practice to learn to hear the Voice of God in the noisy situations of life.
A short look at Elihu
Job 32: And rest assured, I won’t be using your arguments!
I’m not sure what to do with Elihu. He’s the fourth person who comes to speak to Job. When the first three speak, Job interacts with them, responding to the things they say. Elihu, however, has a long monologue. Job doesn’t answer him and, at the end of the book, God addresses the three friends but not Elihu. The experts say that his speech is likely an “add on” to the book of Job, written after the fact. That, though, is confusing too. Why would anyone do that? In spite of the fact that Elihu claims that he won’t be using the arguments of Job’s friends, he actually doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said to, and refuted by, Job. As a devotional reader and writer, I’ll leave these puzzling things to others, but I don’t think I want to work my way through his sermon with the same intensity I did with the other speakers. So what will I do with this? Maybe it’s reasonable to focus in on the fact that Elihu doesn’t seem to have been listening very well to what the others said. Sometimes we’re so intent on what we are about to say that we don’t hear what others say. When we do speak, we just restate, in our own words, their thoughts. Or, I can think about Elihu’s waving of the “youth flag;” thinking he’s bringing a fresh perspective, when he’s just as bound by the old way of thinking as Job’s three friends. Being a traditionalist who can’t handle opposing truth is not necessarily tied to one’s age. Finally, I can see here an example of how, if we start with the wrong premise we’re bound to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu starts off thinking that bad things only happen to bad people. Because of that, he arrives at the wrong conclusion: Job must be a bad person. Okay, enough of Elihu…on to the appearance of the Lord, Himself!
Take Away: Start with the wrong premise, arrive at the wrong conclusion.
I wonder which Internet forum Job visited?
Job 15: If you were truly wise, would you sound so much like a windbag?
Eliphaz’s second speech is pretty much a repeat of what’s already been said: people who ignore God’s rules have nothing but trouble. It’s his response to Job’s prayer of complaint that’s interesting to me. Job says that life is unfair and he wonders if there’s something beyond this life where wrongs are made right. As it is, he says, life for both good and bad people has way too much pain and sorrow. Eliphaz hates what Job’s saying so he calls him a “windbag,” and his words just so much “hot air.” I doubt that Job is all that interested in hearing what Eliphaz has to say after that! This isn’t exactly a deep, thoughtful response, but I can’t help but hear some exchanges between Christians in this. Job has raised some valid points, but instead of responding to them, even in disagreement, Eliphaz insults him and then repeats what he’s already said on the topic. That sounds very much like the exchanges I’ve seen on the Internet. In person, we’re usually a bit more polite, but the end result is the same. How do I respond when a fellow Christian brings up a point and comes to a conclusion that I hate? Do I respond by insulting him and repeating what I’ve already said? Do I attempt to understand why he believes as he does? Eliphaz never imagined an Internet forum, but his style is alive and flourishing today.
Take Away: Learning to really listen to people with whom we disagree is an important part of our spiritual journey.
Can you hear me now?
1 Samuel 3: Then God came and stood before him exactly as before calling out, “Samuel, Samuel!”
It’s as Samuel sleeps that God first calls him. The lad hears the Voice of God but doesn’t recognize it as the Lord’s call. The old priest, Eli, (in spite of his failings) solves the riddle. Something unexpected is happening. God is calling. I wonder how often God speaks to me and I mistake his Voice for something else? “Now, there’s an unusual idea” or “Where did that come from?” Samuel mistook the call of God to be the call of Eli. Have I misidentified his voice to be my own rambling thoughts? I’ve learned something about God’s Voice in my own life. While God speaks fairly often I don’t listen very often. It’s as Samuel sleeps, unencumbered with the thoughts of everyday life that God calls his name. Could it be that my prayers are so full of my own wants and wishes that I drown out God’s Voice? It’s as I pray with a listening heart that I’m most likely to hear the Divine Voice in my own life.
Take Away: Prayer is as much about listening as it is about talking.
Numbers 9: They camped at God’s command and they marched at God’s command.
It’s pretty straightforward. There’s a big cloud that glows like fire at night. All they have to do is follow it. When it moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. That’s the one that catches my attention: “stand still.” I do a lot better job of moving. After all, I’m a valuable part of the Kingdom of God and I’m sure the Lord needs for me to be in the game from start to finish. Other players might get a break but no bench time for me! Well, seriously, I know there’s always something else to be done. I need to take note that even as the Lord leads the Israelites in this clear and unmistakable way that sometimes he leads them to stop. For one thing that means taking time out. God built a day off into the very fabric of Creation. A minimum of one day out of seven is a day for the Pillar of Cloud in our lives to stand still. Another thing that comes to mind is that I don’t listen to God very well when I’m on the move. His Voice is precious, but it’s often so quiet that I won’t hear it at all unless I still my life and pay attention. Every day needs to have times when the Pillar of Cloud stands still for a while and I focus my attention entirely on the Lord.
Take Away: Taking time out is not only a good thing to do, it’s actually a requirement.
Hearing God on the good days
Jeremiah 22: I spoke to you when everything was going your way. You said, “I’m not interested.”
Here’s a spiritual principle that ought to resonate in our hearts. How hard is it for the Lord to get a hearing in my life when everything’s going well? Troubles and trials drive me to prayer and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. How, though, about blessings? At one level, I need to remember to thank God for all he does for me. A beautiful sunrise ought to cause me to praise God for his handiwork. Big blessings and little ones should bring forth genuine gratitude from my heart. At another level, though, is my ability to hear and respond to the in-flight corrections the Lord has for me. Can I learn to listen for them and respond to them even when all is well? Does the Lord have to allow some unexpected trial into my life to get my attention? Generally speaking, I think the Lord wants us to live wonderfully blessed lives. Could it be possible that some trials would never come if I’d simply pay more attention to the Lord’s voice during the days of sunshine? I’m not sure how this fits into my broader theology of how God works in my life, but its food for thought today.
Take Away: Our problems drive us to prayer and so should our blessings.
No one way praying allowed
Proverbs 28: God has no use for the prayers of people who won’t listen to him.
I believe in prayer and consider myself to be a prayer learner. I’ve read books about it, talked about it, and practiced it. I’ve learned that there are different ways to pray. For instance, a person can kneel by their bedside or sit in an easy chair with a cup of coffee or write out a prayer or take a “prayer walk.” These and several other approaches are good ways to pray. One deal breaker to prayer is what is stated in this proverb: one way praying. Prayer is intended to be a conversation with God. It isn’t about my airing my list of wants and concerns while God patiently stands by like the waitress in a restaurant taking an order. I’ve found that, generally speaking, it’s my perspective that’s changed in prayer. The wise man of the proverbs reminds me of the conversational nature of prayer. Of course, there’s another aspect of “listening” here. When I spend time in the Presence of God and he does speak I’m to listen to what he says. That is, I’m to take it to heart and move forward in obedience. Often, I’ve found, God intends to use me in answer to my own prayers. He has work for me to do and, no matter how fervently I continue to pray, nothing will come of it until I start listening to what the Lord’s saying to me.
Take Away: Often, the Lord intends to use us in answer to our own prayers