Tuesday, 26 January 2016

God is speaking, but are we really listening?

Walking the dog is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with God and learn to listen more closely to his still small voice. It's not easy to hear God because, like any conversation, you have to learn to pay attention, put other 'voices' to one side and focus on the One who is speaking but I think - I hope - I am getting the hang of it.

A major help to me has been the re-reading of Dallas Willard's fine book "In Search of Guidance" reprinted in some countries as "Hearing God". What I like about it is that it blends good theology (a study of God) with good Bible exposition, common sense and logic. Read carefully it leaves you with a hunger to start listening more intensely and more purposefully, to the voice of God.

We not only need to hear the voice of God but we should expect to, as it is one aspect of what it means to really be a Christian. How can you have a relationship with anyone if either you talk but never listen or you don't think it possible to have a conversation in the first place? Believing in God presupposes that relationship and therefore anticipates an ensuing conversation as a result, Even a cursory glance at the Bible or a more focussed listening to the Sunday readings will confirm this. And so we are without excuse and should pursue this as a matter of urgency.

And it is urgent. Not just for us but for the Church. I was reflecting this the other day and thinking about the changes taking place in my own denomination. The question I find myself asking is a simple one. Are we making changes because God thinks we should, or we think we should, or perhaps a little more alarming, we think God thinks we should?! Proverbs 3:5-6 as usual has something to say about this:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (RSV)

One translation puts the second half of verse 6 "and He shall DIRECT your paths." The point is that God will show the way and we must not depend on our own insight. That is not to say that we are not to use our own initiative, but even then if we walk with the Lord is it really ours?  I love this verse from John 15:7:

"If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you."

On the face of it it looks like prayer heaven, asking and receiving anything you want. But that is not what Jesus is saying. If we are the sort of people whose lives are continually lived out in the presence and power of the Risen Christ, and are immersed in his Word and words, so much so that they form part of the very fabric of who we are, then when we ask "whatever (we) wish" and it will, say Jesus, be answered in the affirmative.Why? Because it is not the selfish, self-centred me that is asking, but the Christ-centred, Christ-ish me that is making the request. We receive the answer because we pray 'out of' or 'through' Him. 

The same goes for insights and bright ideas. If we are immersed in Him then we are more likely to come closer to what he wants than what we have casually dreamt up while waiting for a bus.

But - and it is a necessary 'but' - this is, as Dallas Willard so honestly points out, no guarantee of infallibility. We can still get it wrong. Also it is no guarantee of success either because our criteria for success is not always the same as God's anyway. But is it travelling in the right direction and if, like Abraham, Samuel and Paul before us, we make listening to God and staying close to Him our aim and goal, then God will even bless our mistakes, as "all things work to the God for them that trust God." (Romans 8:28)

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