Sunday, June 29, 2014

how to ensure your words endure {June lessons in listening}

{My one word for 2014 is "listen"... Each month I'm posting the lessons I'm learning - find the rest of my posts on listening here!}

As a writer and an artist, I want to be heard.  I long for none of my words to fall to the ground.  

But as a human, I know that’s impossible.  The limitations of my sin nature, my personality, my background and my experiences ensure that at least some, possibly all, of my own words will eventually disappear. 

I’m still mulling over Mark Buchanan’s thoughtful and refreshing book The Rest of God.  He describes his life as an author, pastor, and speaker, and admits his own similar desire for his words to endure.  

“Either God, God alone, keeps our words from falling and scatters them wide,” observes Buchanan, “or else there is nothing in them worth keeping and scattering in the first place.  Our concern, our responsibility, is simply to hear and heed God…”

John’s gospel begins, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory…full of grace and truth” (emphasis mine).

The only Person whose words are sure to endure is the Living Word Himself.  So, it follows that the only way for me to ensure what I say endures is to make my words the words of God.   

“Our speaking comes out of our listening,” Buchanan continues.  “What we say comes out of what we hear. We have to be people who listen, day and night, to God.  Our utterances ought to be as Jesus’s were: an echoing of the Father, an imitation of him….”

That’s a tall order.  When I read those words for the first time, my heart sank.  Given that I am not Jesus, that feels pretty much impossible!

But the word “echo” stood out to me: I might not be Jesus, but I can surely echo Him.  I can repeat back - pass on - the words I hear from Him in my own heart, the words I read from Him in the Bible, the things He shows me through experience and circumstance.  And if hearing God happens best when I am still, then the practices of Sabbath and listening are essentially connected. 

God is always speaking.

The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God… Day to day pours out speech… Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

God is always speaking, but we’re not always listening.  

“There are so many voices,” says Buchanan.  “And there is such little time to listen, to truly listen: to winnow and test it all, to heed and reflect and respond...

“Sabbath is when we stop.  We slow down.  We play, we rest, we dream, we wonder.  We cease from that which is necessary and turn to that which gives life.  And in the hush that descends, we listen.”

The times when I can hear most clearly are times of stillness and quietness: in other words, when I’m cultivating a Sabbath heart. 

“God isn’t more likely to speak on your Sabbath than on any other day,” says Buchanan, “but you are more likely to listen.”

On the day the apostle John saw the Voice and the vision which became the book of Revelation, there are two key contextual details which Buchanan highlights: 

“One, he was in exile on Patmos.  He was, in other words, under an enforced silence and aloneness, a season of inactivity.  Two, it was Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  It was his Sabbath.  These conditions - the silence, the aloneness, the stillness, the Sabbath - might be beside the point.  Then again, they might just be the point.  It’s possible that they are mentioned because they form the necessary backdrop for true listening.”

~Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, ch 12 "Listen: Stopping to Hear God"

It is only when we’ve first heard from God ourselves that we have something worth hearing to offer to our listeners.  

In one of Ann Voskamp’s recent posts, she urges her readers to take time every day.  She says, 

“Daily disciplines are doors to full freedom.

“Everyday take time. Everyday take time to feel the sun and the wind and the rain and feel that you are loved — and then let your life overflow with that love so that a thousand others feel that love. 

“Everyday take time to live loved — and live so others feel loved. 

“Everyday take time. Time is there for the taking. For the unwrapping.”

This daily unwrapping of the gift of time, the gift of Sabbath rest, frees us to truly listen, first to God and then to others.  

Ann continues, “Give someone the gift of listening… linger and look into their eyes and really listen and this is free and nobody can buy it and what is better than paying attention to someone with all of you fully present?”

Give yourself permission to receive God’s gift of Sabbath rest - not just the 24 hours once a week when you stop and play and revive your soul - but every day.  

photo credit: I. Winsley
Take time every day to rest, to still your soul and listen.  

In learning to be still enough to hear God, we will learn how to be still enough to listen, truly listen, to others.

photo credits: I. Winsley


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