Sunday, May 1, 2011

“Can You Hear God Now?”

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 5.7.11

Are you even listening?

According to Adie Johnson, Pastor of Spiritual Formation for a small church in Colorado, prayer just might be more about listening than talking:
“I have found that one of the most powerful tools God has used to sculpt me in my spiritual life has been solitude, extended times set aside to be just with God. It was nearly 15 years ago that an older woman at the church I attended invited me to join her and others going to a park to spend a half day in prayer. I remember thinking I was pretty sure I couldn't pray for that long, but still, something about it drew me. Perhaps it was the compelling, gentle spirit of the woman who invited me.
“That clear, fall morning beside the Chesapeake Bay would change the direction of my journey with Jesus irrevocably. With very simple instructions, my friend sent us off with a Bible, a journal, and what felt like all the time in the world. Once I figured out that I didn't need to speak to God nonstop for the next three hours, I settled into a listening mode that was new and surprisingly comfortable. Unbeknownst to me, God began that day to answer a prayer I had uttered to him a few months earlier: ‘Lord, help me to hear and recognize your voice. I just want to know it's you.’
In those three hours, God, in his lovingly tender way, began to teach me just that—how to listen to him. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, I discovered that God sounds much more like a soft whisper blowing through my heart than a raging wind tearing apart the mountains. It was an unimaginably rich experience for me, and it has only grown richer and deeper since then.”[1]
When was the last time any of us spent 30 minutes, much less three hours, talking and listening to God? 
“It will be profitable to contemplate the divine condescension, the sacrifice, the self-denial, the humiliation, the resistance the Son of God encountered in doing His work for fallen men. Well may we come forth from contemplation of His sufferings exclaiming, Amazing condescension! Angels marvel, as with intense interest they watch the Son of God descending step by step the path of humiliation. It is the mystery of godliness. It is the glory of God to conceal Himself and His ways, not by keeping men in ignorance of heavenly light and knowledge, but by surpassing the utmost capacity of men to know. Humanity can comprehend in part, but that is all that man can bear. The love of Christ passes knowledge. The mystery of redemption will continue to be the mystery, the unexhausted science and everlasting song of eternity. Well may humanity exclaim, Who can know God? We may, as did Elijah, wrap our mantles about us, and listen to hear the still, small voice of God.”[2]          
It’s so easy to get caught up in the everyday “noise” of life that we just can’t hear God over work, going shopping, watching TV, sports, fixing meals, keeping the house running... Even when we do find ourselves with some down time, we fill that time with something not likely to bring us any closer to hearing God’s voice.

I read somewhere that not so very long ago, many of the everyday tasks that were necessary to keep a household going were actually opportunities to talk and listen to God rather than road blocks to that communion with Him.  Oddly enough, before the time and energy saving, modern conveniences, people seemed to have more time rather than less to consider the voice of God.  Tasks like stringing beans, shucking corn, milking a cow, working in a garden or field, even sewing or chopping wood, had the advantage of keeping the body busy while leaving the mind free to converse with God.

Yes, I know, some of us still do some of those things, but usually not on a daily basis and not without our radios, mp3 players, phones, and TV’s.  What used to be a backdrop of silence is now almost completely filled with noise.  We hardly ever allow ourselves to do anything in silence anymore.  It’s almost as if we’re afraid of quiet... hm, Interesting.  It reminds me of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence”:
“In restless dreams I walked alone/Narrow streets of cobblestone/'Neath the halo of a street lamp/I turned my collar to the cold and damp/When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light/That split the night/And touched the sound of silence.
“And in the naked light I saw/Ten thousand people, maybe more/People talking without speaking/People hearing without listening/People writing songs that voices never share/And no one dared/Disturb the sound of silence.
“‘Fools’, said I, ‘You do not know/Silence like a cancer grows/Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you’/But my words, like silent raindrops fell/And echoed/In the wells of silence.
“And the people bowed and prayed/To the neon god they made/And the sign flashed out its warning/In the words that it was forming/And the sign said, ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls’/And whispered in the sounds of silence.”[3]

It’s kind of a depressing picture isn’t it?  It seems like Satan has made sure that every moment is filled with visual and auditory noise so that God’s “still, small voice” will always be drowned out.

How can we keep that from happening?  How can we keep our ears focused on God’s voice?  If you’re a parent you might have some practice.  Have you ever noticed that a parent not only recognize his (or her) own child’s voice even in a room full of kids, noise and chaos but also be able to hear even the slightest change in tone from happy to distressed?  The parent’s ear is tuned to the child’s voice, and it doesn’t happen because the parent has struggled and worked at it, but because the parent loves that child’s voice more than any other voice in that room.

How can we learn to hear and recognize God’s voice over all the noise and chaos that Satan puts in the way?  We’ll be able to hear it because it is the voice we love more than any other voice in the universe.  Because it’s the voice we’ve heard before and are listening for every hour of every day.  Because we have listened to it like Elijah, with our cloaks around our heads to block out worldly distractions and confusion.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  John 10:2-5

[1] Adie Johnson, "Group Solitude," Gifted for Leadership blog (2-12-08)
[2] E.G. White, BEcho April 30, 1894, par. 7
[3] Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence,” Wednesday Morning, 3A.M., 1964

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