The need to listen

The need to listen

Thursday, 7 August 2014  | Cliff - SS Coordinator
I would like to share some thoughts that were triggered by last week’s whole school assembly,  run by the Middle School students and teachers. As I move to the idea of retiring and ‘looking back’, I was reminded during the assembly of the times I enjoyed in the Middle School - but it connected for me in a strange way. As I sat and listened to what was happening in the Middle School, I was reminded of the need for balance in our lives. I remember the hurly burly of Middle School and how much I loved being involved in such activities and yet was reminded that there is also the need for the time to relax, think and contemplate. Life is a tight rope we walk: we need to be involved, and yet we also need to step back and take the time to reflect, simply talk with God and listen. This is a lost art.

We know that God is faithful and wants to communicate with us, and we know that he uses many ways to do this. What we need to do is learn to listen. In Mark 4:21-23 Jesus said, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed, nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen”. In Ecclesiastes 5:1 we are reminded to listen carefully to God:  “Guard your steps when you go up to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong”. At the transfiguration a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” God has spoken to us in Christ and we need to take the time to listen.

Maybe it is because I am finishing at the end of the year that this has become more important for me – I am not sure. But listening is an art and I know I need to do more of it.

I find listening, really listening – not only to God, but also to others -  a tricky concept. Often I am in the mode of simply waiting for the other person to finish so that I can slip in what I want to say or am waiting for a pause in the conversation so that I can contribute what I think is important. I’m also guilty of the ‘debate’ discussion: I am only interested in putting my point across and am confident that my idea is the best. Maybe some of you can’t relate to that – but I’m pretty sure there’s a few who can!  We need to choose to listen and give others the chance to express and say their opinion, their thoughts and what is on their heart.

When we listen – what happens? We are reminded of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who said “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:31. They listened and heard Jesus speak to them and their ‘hearts burned’.

Listening to God leads to discovery and response. We can discover what God is asking of us or we can simply relax and know God’s presence. When we discover things through listening to God we then know what is required of us - the response. I am finding it is only as I give time to contemplate and listen that I am learning a lot more about myself and the God that I know.

The art of listening to God takes time and practise. Like most people, I tend to be an action person and am always on the move, but more and more I recognise the need to slow down and listen. Pride and arrogance sometimes mean we like to hear the sound of our own voices, but we are called to listen carefully to our God. What we discover and how we respond will come directly from the act of listening and not just from our ‘good ideas’.

Let’s remember that God longs to communicate and connect with us. In Isaiah 49:14-16, we read:
“But Zion said,
The Lord has forsaken me. The Lord has forgotten me.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
And have no compassion on the child she has born?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.”
I love that last line. We are so important to God that we are engraved on the palm of his hand.
The image evokes a  feeling of closeness and intimacy – that’s what God wants with us.  

I pray that this is not the ramblings of ‘an old man’ but that you too can see the need for this balance in life: the need to be involved, and the need to step back, reflect and listen; the need to listen to those around us to learn from others; the need to let God communicate with us by stopping and listening.
May you find times to contemplate and listen to the God that loves us and wants the best for us.

A prayer to dwell on as we listen.

Lord, we are so used to hearing what we want to hear
and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear
that it is hard for us to break the habit.
Lord, help us to keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears,
that we might remember to listen with patience and hope, and if we remember at all deeply and honestly,
then we will come to recognize, beyond all doubt,
that, however faintly we may hear you,
that you are indeed speaking to us,
and that, however little we may understand it,
your word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.

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