Week 6, Day 4: Listening to God
LOOK & LISTEN: Julian Treasure, “5 Ways to Listen Better”
If the Christian faith is to be anything more than just another religion, or just another human-initiated attempt at self-realization and self-help, one key ingredient is necessary: the involvement of a Being other than ourselves, that is, God. If we only do what comes naturally or what makes the most sense in a given situation, we are following a religion of common sense — and as helpful as that may be, it is not what we were created for. One of the main ways we allow God to be involved in our lives is through prayer and, as we’ve been learning, prayer is conversation and communion: we talk to God, we listen to God, and we sit with God.
Listening to God is an indispensable part of prayer; it tunes us into what God is doing, it alerts us to what he might be saying, and, perhaps most importantly, it puts us in the right posture to receive from God. Sound and listening expert Julian Treasure says, “Every spiritual path … has listening and contemplation at its heart.” While the tips he lays out in his TED Talk are for listening to others and to the world around us, some of the ideas also have a bearing on how we listen to God as well, particularly in how we create space and become aware of the filters we use as we listen.
For instance, it might seem obvious, but in order to listen to someone, we need to be quiet. The spiritual practices of solitude, silence, and stillness are foundational to a listening-based life. This is why we’ve utilized daily devotionals; while some require watching a video, for the most part, we assume, you’ve set aside time and space to work through the reading, the reflection, and the questions on your own and in silence. As we cultivate these habits, we are building up our ability to shut out interruptions and distractions, to concentrate for more than a moment, and to focus our minds and our hearts on God — we’re building our spiritual muscles!
But silence is hard — it is hard enough to stand quietly in a line for the bus without checking our phones or to drive to work without music or a podcast to fill the sonic space, let alone actively seeking spaces of silence. For this very reason, this practice has the potential to significantly transform how we live out our faith. By pursuing silence, we can make space for God to speak, for our consciousness to face ourselves, and for a sort of detox of our senses.
And yet there is more to silence than simply removing noise; instead, we can dive into what Stephen Rossetti calls “the pure gold of silence,” where we can truly encounter and converse in “the language of God.” Imagine being present and not distracted, grounded and not blown about, quiet and not blustering, perfectly at peace in the presence of God and not desperately trying to justify yourself. Silence is a vital part of the transformation of ourselves and our church into the likeness of Christ, because if we are listening, God can truly change us in and by his presence. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let His will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to Him in our will, an effort to make Him the Lord of our soul. We submit our interests to His concern, and seek to be allied with what is ultimately right. Our approach to the holy is not an intrusion, but an answer. Between the dawn of childhood and the door of death, [humanity] encounters things and events out of which comes a whisper of truth, not much louder than stillness, but exhorting and persistent. Yet man listens to his fears and his whims, rather than to the gentle petitions of God. The Lord of the universe is suing for the favor of [humanity].
And we must remember that listening to God and hearing from God is understood within the context of all that we have already been learning about what we are called to, what God is already at work doing, how the Holy Spirit works, the role of the church and the community of faith as one of the tools for discernment, and so on.
As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). May you listen with attentiveness and anticipation, for the God of the universe desires to speak to you.
I wonder if I really have listened carefully enough to the God of history,
the God of my history, and have recognized him when he called me
by my name, broke the bread, or asked me to cast out my nets
after a fruitless day? Maybe I have been living much too fast, too restlessly, too feverishly, forgetting to pay attention to what is happening here and now, right under my nose. … Just as no great travels are necessary
to see the beauty of creation, so no great ecstasies are needed
to discover the love of God. But you have to be still and wait
so that you can realize that God is not in the earthquake, the storm, or the lightning, but in the gentle breeze with which he touches your back.
- Henri Nouwen
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: Imagine if a friend of yours only wanted you to listen to their problems but never made the time to listen to yours; or if you always complained to them but you never listened to the encouragement or advice they gave. How would you feel? What would be missing from the friendship?
Heart: What is the most difficult thing about listening to God? Talk about it with someone who seems to be more experienced at it.
Hands / Pray: Set a timer for five minutes. Find a comfortable position and close your eyes. Try not to open your eyes, look at your phone, fidget, sing, or otherwise get distracted. Simply try to be still. Once the timer goes off, ask God to tell you how he sees you. Note what words, pictures, and phrases come to mind.
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It might seem obvious,
but in order to listen to someone, we need to be quiet.