Posts Tagged ‘listening’

Oh God!

Lent, Day 7

The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. [Psalm 37:23-24] 

Geisen, author of Brave Faith, the devotional I’m loosely following during Lent, references three scriptures for today’s reflections about moving toward God when we walk toward those brave moments, that choosing/doing moment something outside of our comfort zone.

Baby steps, I call them. Sometimes it’s as small as speaking to someone you would normally not speak to, for whatever reason. But on this day, you do. You make eye contact. You connect.

It takes a certain amount of awareness, first of our surroundings (with new eyes and ears) and then with a felt perception of God within. Present. This is the way, God whispers, look there. Listen. Go there.

In Zambia, I confess, it’s easier than at home. Everything is different, culturally. Everyone here at the village and at the School of Hope, they all say hello and how are you? In fact, it’s impolite to start any conversation without first asking about the other. But my first baby step here was learning this greeting in Nyanga, one of the primary languages spoken in Zambia (along with Bemba). People smile a little broader and I’m sure they’re giggling at my accent, but it’s OK. I don’t mind it at all.

But the most embarrassing for me is not understanding what people are saying to me. They are speaking in English, but it’s British English with a strong local accent on top. I have to keep asking for them to repeat what they have said or even spell it. One young girl said her name was “Gris.” I couldn’t imagine it. I tried it a few times and she looked at me all silly. Then I had her spell it: GRACE. Oh God! I thought, help me to hear.

Is this how I hear God? Some sort of mangled understanding? Am I interpreting? Or do I just hear what I want to hear? It may be one of the reasons why I can stay in my comfort zone so easily.

Oh God! Please repeat. I’ll get better at this. I will.

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night messages

Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:20-21, CEB]

Tonight, in a program about Artificial Intelligence at the library, one of the participants proceeded to tell the group that she was a vessel, a conduit, and a spokesperson for extraterrestrials. At least, that was the gist of it, in so many words. Everyone stared at her for about four dead seconds and then commenced to talk about something else.

I know she felt strongly about this topic but she is probably schizophrenic. And yet I do appreciate her boldness, that she spoke what she heard in her mind. I understand that we must all be mindful of our surroundings and be sensitive to others, but I find I pass up saying or following many “spirit-inspired messages.” They are so ephemeral.

It’s like a creative solution that comes alive in the middle of the night or perhaps in those first waking moments in the morning. If I don’t capture it on paper, it will be gone. When I am working intensely on a work of fiction and I am unsure where to take my characters next, the Holy Spirit often guides, my true Muse. But what about daily life? Am I as receptive to this nudging and problem-solving in my day to day? Do I reach out to that stranger? Do I speak a word of kindness to that customer? Do I spontaneously enter the moment and do something unprepared? Rare.

Perhaps I’m afraid of those same dead 4 seconds, eyes turned to me, expressions of confusion. What did she just say?

There is mystery and wonder to the world of God, the Spirit realm, and the relationship between God and humans. But I have relegated it to safety and the common place.

God speaksOnce, my pastor, Jess Bousa, preached at length about our small thinking and how we almost insult God with our tiny prayers, our limited expectations. God is a big God. God is a miracle working God who deserves big prayers, big visions, and big challenges.

Just the idea of the Noah story tells it all. Can you imagine the first time he mentioned the plan to his wife or his friends?

Certainly, I’ve never heard a inner voice urging me to build an ark. But what do I hear? And for this reason, during Lent, we are called to pray, seek, listen. The next moment of wonder could be around the corner.

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God listensI have been told, eventually, I would grow angry over the loss of my husband, who died so unexpectedly. It’s only been a couple of months and people may be right, but today, I can’t really generate emotional wrath. With whom should I be angry? Should I blaze at Mike who experienced the widow maker, when a specific artery to the apex of the heart was blocked and caused nearly “sudden death” (or certainly within minutes). Should shake my fists at adult children who didn’t even know their father was home? Should I chastise myself for being out of town . . . again? Or, the most common fury, at God, who allowed or orchestrated this moment. But if Job couldn’t get away with it, why should I? “I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. . . . I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.” [Job 42:1, 3, CEB]

Instead, I see God’s hand manifesting in my daily life now in a way that I never did before. Into my confusion, God still is. Into my sorrow, God speaks. Into my fear, God breathes.

Come close and listen, all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.
He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God!
He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.
[Psalm 66:16-20, CEB]

Back in the day when I used to speak to women’s groups and conferences as well as perform my one-woman show, I would share my testimony. And at the end of the story, I would always remind them that I was the “woman at the well,” “the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair,” the woman caught in the sin of adultery.” And now, in my widowhood, I am her again, for I am thrown into His mercy.

Today, I am able to stand against the bitterness that stole Naomi’s heart [Ruth 1:20] and instead, I take the refrain of Ruth, ““I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” [Ruth 3:9b, NIV] It’s enough for today.

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listeningWhat does it mean to listen to God?

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants [saints]—
    but let them not [re]turn to folly. [Psalm 85:8, NIV, 2010 with words inserted from 1984 version]

When I was in acting school, we used to have a teacher who tried to teach us how to center down into ourselves, to experience “constructive rest,” to align our bodies, to know “neutral” in ourselves. Much of that time was spent on the floor and breathing. At the time, I was simply too immature to appreciate what she was trying to accomplish. One of her exercises required us to listen: to listen to the sounds outside the room, then inside the room, and then inside our bodies. In a way, this is technique that can also be used to settle the mind down in preparation to listen to God. It’s pretty hard to listen to God while being busy doing other things. [Unless anyone has cultivated the habits of Brother Lawrence, and his Practice of the Presence of God.]

But I believe, more than anything else, that the heart must be prepared to hear before listening will occur. It is up to me to establish that environment, like preparing garden soil to be sown. I can help this preparation of the heart along by reading or singing or breathing.

In this process, I should also know the subject matter. In other words, I believe the most productive listening is done when focused on a situation or topic or question. (And I don’t mean a yes or no question, but a more open-ended one, that allows room for God to expand the answer.) But here is the vital key: I must be at my wit’s end, so to speak. If I really want my heart to be open to the voice of God, then I must know that my resources have been expended, my “way” has not worked, my solutions have been exhausted.

surrenderOtherwise, I think my very human tendency, once I “hear” God’s response, is to compare it to all the other answers out there. It’s not the way God works. If I am truly coming to the God of the Universe for help and illumination, then I can’t treat the answer as though God is simply weighing in on the possibilities like another girlfriend at a kaffeeklatsch.

Do not, then, go to God lightly. For in the breadth of this one verse, Psalm 85:8, there is a warning about returning to our folly (our own way). To ask God, the Holy Spirit, to help and then to choose another way, is, indeed foolishness.

In the older 1984 NIV version, the translation reads that God promises peace to his saints. In later years, this term has been replaced with culture friendly phrases like “faithful servants” or “the holy people He loves.” We are adverse to calling ourselves saints and yet I know it’s not a word to be taken lightly, it is the one that speaks of total surrender to the Christ. A saint is totally sold out to God. A saint hears God and listens and then acts upon the information.

Clearly, the opposite of a saint is a fool.

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“. . . search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” [Psalm 4:4b-5, NIV 1984]

examenBefore anyone starts the blame game, God says look at ourselves first. That’s right. Look at our own hearts because it’s very possible that our circumstances are an outgrowth of our own intentions, our own motives, camouflaged as self-righteousness.

Richard Foster calls it the “prayer of examen,” with two parts: the examen of consciousness and the examen of conscience.

The first asks me to reflect on the “thoughts, feelings, and actions of my day to see how God has been at work . . . and how I responded.” In other words, did God speak through others, through nature, through print, through image, or through circumstance; did I notice? Was I aware of Presence? Did I recognize God and how did I respond? Did I assume it was “not” God and respond with anger, disgust, or judgment? Did I stop long enough to see a need, a sorrow, or a joy? Did I walk through my day with blinders, dark glasses, or binoculars? Did I remember God?

In the second type of examen (conscience), I am to invite the Lord to search my heart to its very depth, but to remember it’s a “scrutiny of love.” Foster states, “without apology and without defense we ask to see what is truly in us. It is for our own sake that we ask these things. It is for our good, for our healing, for our happiness.” This search is done with God, otherwise, we will either justify our actions and find excuses or we will self-flagellate, finding ourselves unworthy. Neither is the point.

And why do we do these examinations? To know ourselves in the light of God’s grace, because it is only from the truth that God can build human as we were always intended to be. “Through faith, self-knowledge leads us to a self-acceptance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s acceptance and love.” (Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 31)

It is in this process that words and complaints lose their import. Silence is listening.

When understanding dawns, then it is time for right sacrifice. Of course, in the time of King David, sacrifices were specific to sin: a particular animal, a type of grain, a wave, and so on. Each sacrifice was tuned to the sin for which it was offered. But Christ completed that sin offering for us, once and for all. So what is an appropriate sacrifice from us today? The first verse that comes to my mind is  Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing. ” [The Voice translation] Another is Romans 12:1 [also in the Voice], “Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.”
With these sacrifices, there is an intention then. There has to be, an expression of trust. The path might look something like this: Search, Confess, Sacrifice, Trust. And perhaps, finally, Rest.


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Salt is a seasoning that makes things taste better through its chemical interactions with the food. And yet, in this age of health anxiety, we have started to withhold salt from our diet even though exercise could be just as effective. Have we removed salt from conversations too?

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When was the last time I sat around with some people and just talked? I mean talked about ideas and possibilities, spirituality or sorrow, hope or despair. When has the conversation started heading one way and my comments moved it another, giving it a new flavor, a new point of view . . . with grace.

Now, I don’t mean those times when proselytizing starts or the 4 Spiritual Laws pamphlets come out of the handbag or a litany of “Praise the Lords” drop in after every remark like a Greek chorus or HipHop melody.

I’m interested in knowing if the truth of me, Spirit-filled and intertwined with the Christ within, has acted as a true flavoring, bringing out the best in others while giving grace and acceptance to any hardened hearts around me.

So much is out there that teaches us how to control a conversation, close the deal, get to “yes,” influence, convince or convert people, win friends, or filibuster until people can’t stand it anymore.

When my daughter, new to this country at 15, went to high school with little or no English, she bemoaned how hard it was to make friends. We chalked it up to ESL (English as a Second Language) and assumed things would get better as her language skills improved. And to some degree that was true and yet, it never became easy for her. Truthfully, I am amazed teenagers have any friends at all considering that most of their conversations tend to be about themselves and rarely about the other, unless they are drilling down into the behavior, looks, attitude or boyfriend of a mutual “other” (i.e. gossiping).

I shared with her a handy book I found called How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. I encouraged her to try the author’s technique but she found it unmanageable. And why? Because the essence of his technique was to ask lots of questions about the other person and listen to the answers. It’s letting go of feeling it necessary to reciprocate data for data, fact for fact, personal story for personal story. This is the grace part of conversation.

Perhaps it’s time for me to reread this book myself. Or maybe, like here, scripture has been saying it all along: Grace and salt, kindness and joy, love and humor, forgiveness and knowledge, patience and wisdom.

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Whether it’s speaking, writing, or teaching a class, it’s critical to do so authentically and to check in with the listeners, the readers, the students. Are they getting it? Are we having a conversation? It’s one reason I’ve grown tired of traditional church services: too lopsided. I need dialogue.

I Corinthians 14:11
If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.

I think it’s one of the reasons blogs, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are so popular. People write/talk and someone responds or leaves a comment. It’s like saying, “I hear you. I’m listening.” In some churches, this is accomplished by listener responses: “Amen” and the like, but it’s a primitive exchange. People write books and yes, we assume they love the process, but the real joy is in knowing the books are being read.

Another element is intent. Why does anyone write about God or Christ or faith (or anything else for that matter)? Why do we speak or teach? I’ve always struggled a bit with this question? I mean, there has to be a certain confidence that I have something to say. What is the balance between humility and spunk?

Teaching requires a class. Performing requires an audience. Writing requires readers. We’re back to the old Zen question, “Does a tree make a sound when it falls in the woods if no one hears it?”

Paul writes in verse 6b, “. . . what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?” What we say, what we teach, what we write, are the answers, hopefully, to the burning questions in the hearts of the people with whom we want to connect.

Mike and I encountered our favorite pastor some twenty years ago. His sermons were generally compelling but the times we liked best were Sunday nights and Wednesday nights when we could ask our questions, lots and lots of questions. We challenged him and he challenged us. The dialogue was alive and vibrant and unassuming. This was our time of greatest growth and learning.

Was it only because we were younger in our faith or was it the conversation?

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