Learning to Listen


Did you ever make a phone out of tin cans when you were a kid? You know, the kind where you tie a string between two cans and supposedly when you pull the string taught and talk into one end, you can hear out of the other one? I did, and I have to be honest, it never really worked right for me. I would put my ear up to the can and could never make out much more than a few vibrations. I could never hear what was being said through the other can with any real clarity. I could discern to that someone was speaking on the other end, but I couldn’t ever understand what was being said. Does it ever feel like this when you try to listen to God? Does it ever feel like you can sense that God is speaking, but you just can’t make out what God is saying with any clarity?

The reality is that God is speaking all the time, but often times either our lives are to noisy to notice or we simply have not yet learned how to listen. As we learn to follow Jesus with our lives, listening is a crucial skill we need to develop, so where do we begin? Here’s a couple quick thoughts:

1. Stop talking. We have a 4-year-old son who loves to talk. He is ALWAYS talking. There are times, however, when we need him to listen to what we have to say, but as long as he is talking there is no way that he is going to hear us. We have to literally ask him to stop talking and look us in the eye and listen. Sometimes the noise that keeps us from hearing is our own voice. It is certainly a good to talk to God, but any good conversation involves both talking and listening.

2. Find a reliable source. I was originally a journalism major in college. It didn’t stick for me, but it did teach me a few valuable lessons. I remember a particular assignment I was given for the student newspaper. There were some significant changes happening in some of the admissions policies at the college and I was tasked with writing a story to document these changes. I walked across the campus to the admissions office with my notepad and questions at the ready and got all of the information I needed from the receptionist and went home to write my story. When I submitted the story to the editor it was rejected because my source was not deemed credible enough. It wasn’t that I had been given poor information, it was that there was a more credible source one door beyond the receptionist, aka the Director of Admissions. We have been given such a gift in the Bible. It is a source that we can count on. It is a credible witness to how God is at work in the world and through his people, and how this has been so across time. Far too often we rely solely on what other people tell us about what God is saying in scripture rather than going directly to the source. Sure it can be confusing at times, and it is helpful to have others provide some clarity and teaching, but take advantage of the gift that God has given and commit yourself to spending time with the Bible.

3. Listen in Community. Recently my Dad got new hearing aids. Our family has watched him struggle over the past few years as his hearing loss has gotten more profound. In restaurants and social settings it had become difficult for him to hear with enough clarity to really engage in conversation. These new hearing aids have given him a whole new ability to hear. He wanted to listen, but he needed help to do so. The good news is, we are not left to our own devices to try to listen and discern and respond to what God is saying. Following Jesus is not something we do in isolation. In fact it is quite the opposite. Following Jesus draws us into community, and in community we can learn to listen and hear God more clearly and discern how we are to respond. Community can provide the help we need to hear what God is saying and the accountability to do something In response.

This is by no means a definitive list, but hopefully this can be a launching point for some further conversation.   The truth is, if we want to move forward in mission together we have to learn to listen. There is so much that God can do and that God wants to do through us, but it starts with us being willing to allow him to do a work in us. Let’s commit ourselves to learning to listen with clarity. Let’s not settle for just some indiscernible muffled voice in a tin can.

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