I burst into the room with a less than patient attitude. Calmly looking up from playing on the floor, my 4-year-old questions me, “What’s up, mommy?”
“I have asked you to clean up the toys and get dressed three times now. We are going to be late!” I reply, trying to be calm but probably betraying my irritation.
“Oh, I didn’t hear you,” he nonchalantly shrugs.
This conversation could be heard almost any day in my home over a number of different tasks: cleaning up, getting dressed, stopping hitting his brother, not touching breakable or dangerous items… for some reason, my requests often fall on deaf ears. I wonder often – does he really not hear me? Is he using “selective hearing” or choosing not to listen? Do I speak too quietly?
Listening, it seems, is a lesson on which I need to pause and reflect because the topic keeps reentering my thoughts and day-to-day conversations. And when I get stuck thinking about something, I love to write everything down, searching for what God is teaching me at this moment. Listening vs. hearing. Hmmm.
One of the most thought-provoking and shaping sermons to which I ever listened occurred during my college freshman “Freedom and Responsibility” class. As you can probably imagine, this class was required of all freshman students with the goal of helping us to discover ourselves and become better people. But, considering how many of the freshman population bragged of classes they’d skipped, I’m not sure if it actually ever accomplished its purpose. As a nerdy people-pleasing rule-follower, however, I only missed one class… more from a sense of duty than anything else. I loved the teachers, but not much else.
(Me and Pastor Jeff at Spring Formal my junior year)
Except for one Thursday afternoon when the campus pastor, Jeff Leininger, took the “stage.” I admired Pastor Jeff and appreciated his conversational, friendly style of preaching. His sermon/lesson that day discussed the importance of listening and being present. I took notes, and revisited them later, condensing them onto a piece of paper that I hung above the desk in my dorm room. Unfortunately, I have long since lost that paper, but two points of his lesson ring in my head: “We have two ears and one mouth” and “don’t reload while the other person is speaking.”
Stick a pin in that.
Another ringing in my ears occurred this past summer during the LCMS Youth Gathering. For anyone unfamiliar with the Gathering: for several decades, the LCMS church has brought together over 15,000 (in some years 25k) high school students from around the world for a long weekend of worship, prayer, Bible study, breakout sessions, and fun. Although my role at the Gathering this time was to serve the adult leaders, I still got to attend the Mass Events each evening at US Bank Stadium. If you’ve ever been to a Gathering, you know the Mass Events are an incredible and unique experience. No other time in my life have I worshipped God with as many other believers (about 20,000 youth, adults, and young adults at this Gathering). One night, we sang the paraphrased words of Psalm 46 (our theme) in the song, “Lord of Hosts” by Shane and Shane. The words stuck with me… particularly those about listening to God (emphasis added):
O come behold the works of God the nations at His feet.
He breaks the bow and bends the spear and tells the wars to cease.
O Mighty One of Israel you are on our side.
We walk by faith in God who burns the chariots with fire
Lord of Hosts, You’re with us, with us in the fire, with us as a shelter, with us in the storm.
You will lead us through the fiercest battle, oh where else would we go, but with the Lord of Hosts.
O God of Jacob, fierce and great, You lift Your voice to speak.
The earth it bows and all the mountains move into the sea.
O Lord You know the hearts of men and still, you let them live.
O God, who makes the mountains melt come wrestle us and win.
Singing these lyrics, various instruments echoing throughout an enormous stadium, 20,000 other voices joining in, the magnitude and power of God’s voice became difficult to ignore…I couldn’t hear a side comment from a seatmate, but I could hear the united voices of thousands praising God.
(2019 LCMS Youth Gathering Mass Event night #3)
Put a pin in that, too.
I’ve never audibly heard God’s voice, but I know he speaks. And, he has power.
However, do I listen when he speaks? Wikipedia defines Active Listening as, “a technique that…requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.”
Again, I ask myself the question: when God speaks, do I actively listen?
I know I should
Let’s return to Pastor Jeff’s listening tips.
#1 “We have two ears and one mouth”
When I have quiet time alone with the Lord, I am more apt to speak and ask than to be still and listen. I want to blame this on being the mother of two young boys, but the truth is I’ve always struggled with silence and “inaction”. Sure, I read my Bible, but I so quickly default to taking notes and trying to find application… telling God how he needs to work in my life. Other days, difficult days, when it feels as though the world is crashing down on me, I am so quick to tell him how he could better preserve my life… instead of listening to the comfort he wants to provide me.
God also speaks through us.
#2 “Don’t reload while the other person is speaking.”
God also chooses to speak through us, but sometimes when he calls me to listen to my fellow believers in compassion, I am so quick to want to solve the problem that I don’t fully listen to their heart. I am reloading… a “nice” Bible verse I read that morning, a piece of advice from a time I struggled in a similar way, the promise to pray (and…more often than I’d like to admit… forget to pray).
The God who makes mountains melt, ends wars, and throws the earth into the sea with merely his voice is sometimes ignored…by me? Ouch. That’s a lot of law to swallow. Don’t worry friends… if you’ve struggled with either of these, I get it. But there’s hope in my final story…
In the mass events, I couldn’t hear anything except the united voices praising our savior. The Lord of Hosts who has power in his voice is WITH us in the fire and in the storm. The savior is advocating for us every day, removing our blemishes and bringing us into his presence.
(Yosemite mountaintop experience with my hubby)
Have you ever experienced one of those moments when all you can hear is his glory and the side conversations, remembrances of failures, sin, and regret, all disappear? These times might be brief – like a moment of respite, a beautiful church service, or a “mountaintop” experience like the Gathering. These glimpses of glory point us toward the final day when all we will hear is his magnitude all around us, our joy complete. He is the Lord of Hosts… the Lord of the Multitudes, and my friends, it’s gonna be loud (but, don’t worry about bringing earplugs… you’ll have a brand new body with (probably) better ears).
So today, I’m intentionally going to try to listen. Would you like to join me? I know he has good promises and plans to give to us, and most of all, because of Jesus, our eternity is secure and I’m hoping we can catch a glimpse.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28