Thursday, 3 March 2016

Attentive listening

'Oh that today you would listen to my voice; harden not your hearts.' (Psalm 95:3)
'Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people.' (Jeremiah 7:23)

God doesn't force obedience on his children, but appeals to them to listen to his voice. Listening is an active effort involving concentration, discernment. The social skills developed for pastoral counselling or befriending are needed also in prayer. 

Prayer involves learning to be attentive, and waiting for God to address us. It may well be that words and ideas take shape through the power of imagination when we are quiet, open hearted, seeking God's presence. For some people natural conversation with God releases needed insight. 

'Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And he answered ... ' (Isaiah 6:8-12)

For others words, come out of deep silence, when they don't know what to say. They come from beyond us, incomprehensibly. They can be words of hope and encouragement, like these words to persecuted first century Christians.

'Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Even so," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them".' (Revelation 14:13)

Images or sounds may also present themselves, or something indefinable that arises from the depths of the self and takes shape in an impulse to action. We may not even know why until we have trusted and responded to the impulse. This leads to creative initiatives that will nurture, encourage, build up, stimulate or challenge in a way that is fruitful for others. No divinely inspired impulse can lead to harming others. It is the work of the Spirit within us.

Even if renewing and creative processes be painful, like the labour pains which St Paul refers to (Romans 8:22) the work of Spirit is not divisive or damaging. The idea that it can be is a deceitful illusion. As Jesus says: "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls upon house." (Luke 11:17b)

The church acclaims the Spirit as 'Lord and giver of life' in all its rich diversity. There are many ways of praying, but the fruit of the Spirit is discernable in them all.

 "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

We cannot listen attentively to God without also being attentive to check that our own behaviour genuinely expresses the fruit of the Spirit.

'Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know by thoughts.' (Psalm 139:23)


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