We are in the midst of it! Tax season, Easter Events, and Spring Breaks in addition to our already busy schedule of birthday parties, family obligations, and daily work. These are the times when we feel overloaded or stressed out, unable to look beyond the immediate. Or maybe you are relaxing and enjoying a smooth ride. If that is you please talk to me and give me some advice! But for the rest of us, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts in this busy time. How do we keep ourselves focused on the right things?
In one of my classes in college, we learned about the number of messages that we hear and see every day. From billboards to banners, it seems like every group in the world has something to say to us. A plan or a vision they have for our lives. Many car commercials reveal a renewed life upon the purchase of a new machine– a fix for any problem we have. And this is just companies! Friends, teachers, mentors, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters all have different directions they want us to walk in. So who do I listen to in spite of all this noise? How do I go about looking beyond what is in front of me?
Listen to Jesus
The short easy answer is to listen to Jesus. We think of vocation as an abstract calling to do something extremely out of the ordinary, but the Latin root for the word vocation is simply vox or vocare meaning voice. Our call is simply to hear the voice of God. Some people believe this to only be external, some colorful story of deliverance or unexplained mystery. And that is awesome! But not all chapters of our lives look this way. Sometimes the voice comes from within as a desire of our heart, and this is perfectly fine. Other times it comes in the feeling of keeping our commitments and being faithful, and that is also perfectly fine. So is there a sense of listening to Jesus as we do our taxes and plan birthday parties? Yes there is!
I used to think of listening as a passive approach to life where we set ourselves on autopilot and attempt to hear God in turning on a sermon on Youtube or reading the newest Christian self-help book. But it is not merely sitting and absorbing. It is an active part of our spiritual walk– a discipline we often neglect. It is something to be practiced and refined, similar to discernment, lament, and stewardship. Hopefully, I can provide a few insights on the pragmatic side of this spiritual practice.
There are a few ways I have been taught to listen to the voice of God. The first is through the Word. John 10:27 says that “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me”. Followers of any master hear his voice and strive to follow it. In our own lives, this is seen most easily in participating in a disciplined quiet time. I thought I did this by participating in Bible studies and talking about biblical insights with my mentors and friends. But when I started seminary last quarter we participated in Lectio Divina, a time we dedicated to speaking a scripture verbally several times slowly and letting the words sink in. At first it was awkward– merely a silence after each person recited a verse. But as we continued the rhythms of reflecting and speaking, I felt a different approach to understanding his Word: listening to it for what it was. I encourage people to try this at least a few times. For sure it is not the only way to listen to the Word of God, but it created in me a different approach to listening than intellectually filling my mind with Bible study.
Some of my friends have asked me, “Why can’t I just watch sermons and sing songs alone at home? Why do I need to go to church?” For many of my millennial peers, the sentiments of spirituality are attractive, but devoid from community. Most of the new Testament was written to encourage various church communities to fruitful action, emphasizing the importance of being together with one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 puts it nicely: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.
The church community is a vehicle to be God’s literal hands and feet to Christians, non-Christians, and the whole world. So when was the last time we asked for an opinion or an encouragement from someone else? I have had many examples where life felt overwhelming and a word from a friend telling me “hey I think you are on the right track” or “maybe you should do something else” has been affirmed and used by God as his voice.
Jeremiah the Prophet had an interesting problem. While he preached about the exile of his people under Babylon, another prophet named Hananiah preached the deliverance of the Jews within two years. The two prophecies directly contradicted one another. So how did one determine God’s voice? This is a classic problem that Christians within ministry and other settings must face. In Jeremiah 8-9, he outlines that the voice of God is often heard in context of his hand moving in some sort of trajectory.
For us, it is important to not be stuck in one spot looking solely at the situations in front of us. It is equally important to look backwards and forwards, to the past and the future to see where we came from and where we are going. God’s voice usually makes sense within the context we are in, and can be understood as we reflect and meditate on our paths.
I want to encourage us to apply some of these things practically this week. Maybe we have been too busy to listen to His Word. Let’s practice Lectio Divina. Maybe we have been away from church for a long while. Let’s talk and listen to a brother or sister. Maybe we are too caught up in the immediate to look ahead or behind. Let’s take a breath and consider the paths we’re on. Hopefully we can begin to cultivate a rhythm of Listening to God in the middle of the business. Hope to see you all soon! I am slightly shy and would love to talk to you guys more and practice my own listening!