You may recall that I ended my last blog post on a small note of intrigue, promising to share my words for 2022 in the coming weeks. So here is my first word for the year…
Listen is the first word that I sensed God giving me this year, and three months into 2022, I’m finding it a particularly challenging one to live into. It’s a word that invites me to slow down and pay attention not only to those around me, but particularly to God, and even to myself. I am beginning to understand that listening must weave its way into every one of my relationships if it is to impact me and those around me.
In his book, The Deeply Formed Life, Rich Villodas identifies five transformative values to root us in the way of Jesus. He recognises that listening is central to three of those five values:
“The contemplative way is about listening deeply to God. The way of reconciliation entails listening deeply to each other. The way of interior examination is about deeply listening to ourselves.”
Listening to God may be the most challenging of all for me. I wonder how it would be if God sent us a daily email with clear instructions or pinged us with WhatsApp’s every time we went off track? But as Elijah learned, God’s voice is often no more than a whisper in the silence (1 Kings 19:11-13). And in our noisy, fast-paced world, hearing divine whispers is not all that easy.
Yet let us remember that the great command God gave to his people begins with the word ‘hear’.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).
Shema, the Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is a rich one, almost untranslatable in English. It means to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to understand, to internalise, to respond, to obey.
“Repeatedly Moses told the people, Shema. In other words, Hear what God says. Listen to what God wants. Pay attention to the Divine Whisper. Understand what God desires. Internalise the words God speaks. Above all, respond to God and obey God’s voice (Trevor Hudson*).”
The Shema command teaches us that listening precedes loving. We cannot love well without listening first.
Here are a couple of things I’m starting to discover about listening to God.
The more I do it the easier it gets
If I make some time daily to draw away from the noise and sit quietly, turning my thoughts to God, I start to get a sense of him and often catch snippets of his whispers. When I get too busy and neglect regular time with him, my ears are no longer tuned in to his soft voice.
Listening is unique and doesn’t follow a formula
I speak in very different ways to my two daughters—different topics, different times, different tones. Similarly, I think our Father who knows and loves us so well, speaks in different ways to each one of us. Music and nature stir something in my soul and draw me into God’s presence. In songs or short passages of Scripture, something will jump out at me, almost as if God has bolded a word or phrase. God often repeats messages in different ways (a verse will correspond with a sermon, which will resonate with something I read in a book). These are just some of the ways God gets my attention. He may have very different ways of engaging with you (please share them in the comments below).
God’s voice has a certain quality
In learning to listen better to God, I found a sermon by Trevor Hudson called Listening to Our Thoughts helpful. Trevor says we can learn to recognise God’s voice because it has a certain ‘quality’:
- God’s voice will always sound like Jesus, who said: “I am the good shepherd” and “the sheep follow (me) because they know (my) voice” (John 10).
- God’s voice will always lead towards life, not death (John 10:10).
- God’s voice consoles and brings a sense of love, joy and peace.
I would add that when God speaks to me there are often shifts inside me—shifts in my perspectives, my desires, my feelings. This happened recently when I had coffee with a friend and we spoke about a struggle I’m facing. Her counsel was piercingly wise and so full of life that it brought me to tears and shifted my understanding of the problem and the way I am dealing with it. Through this, I recognised that God had used her to speak to me. I sent her a message afterwards saying, ‘thank you for listening so well to both me and to God’.
I suspect learning to listen well to God may take a lifetime, but I’m grateful that he has given me this word to journey with in 2022, a tumultuous time when I’m particularly in need of hearing him speak. May you too feel the invitation in the word LISTEN and allow it to draw you closer to God.
*Note: the theme of listening well to God runs through many of Trevor Hudson’s books, but his latest book Discovering God’s Will for Your Life: A User’s Guide to Discernment deals exclusively with the topic. I am finding it a very valuable resource.