The Gift of Listening

In the moments just before dawn this morning, I sat on my back porch, soaking up the sounds that God made. It was still too dark to see anything, so my sense of hearing was more finely tuned to the cardinal’s song greeting the coming light, the rasping of the crickets, the scratching of the squirrels as they ventured down the oak tree to drink from the bird bath… I could even hear the whir of hummingbird wings as the tiny bird neared the feeder beside the porch. It was a feast for my ears, and for my soul!

Listening is a gift…It is a gift that God offers–in the staggering discovery that God actually listens to us–and it is a gift that we offer others…  -Adam S. McHugh, The Listening Life

I’ve spent the last week studying and pondering the fourteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. A leader of the Pharisees invites Jesus to join him and his guests (more Pharisees) for Sabbath dinner so that they can observe him. They’ve heard that his Sabbath behavior can be inappropriate, so they test him. Jesus, of course, sees it as the perfect opportunity to challenge their perverted understanding of humility, compassion, generosity and hospitality and to teach them God’s perspective about these virtues.

Jesus is quite clear that we are to cultivate and practice these virtues now if we want to sit at God’s dinner table when the Kingdom comes in the fullness of time. I am challenged by this. I am not by nature consistently humble, compassionate, generous, or hospitable. And from what I observe of human nature, I’m not alone.

As I listened to the sounds of creation this morning, Jesus’ words from Luke 14 echoed in my mind, as well as McHugh’s proclamation that listening is a gift. Jesus always listened. (And he still does!) He was never too rushed, too busy to stop and listen to someone’s need. And I sensed the Spirit saying that listening is critical to developing the virtues of humility, compassion, generosity, and hospitality.

Listening requires humility, first and foremost. I have to be humble enough to set aside my thoughts, my desire to speak, in order to truly listen to another. Deep listening reflects compassionate concern for others. Listening prompts generosity and is, in and of itself, an offer of hospitality.

Listening is a gift–first from God to us in that he listens to us continually, and then from us to others as we freely, humbly, compassionately, generously and hospitably give what we have been given.

In our lives, Lord, let this be so. Amen and amen.

The High Places

My daily Bible readings the past several days have taken me through 1 & 2 Kings. It’s a challenge trying to pronounce all those strange names  that don’t sound very regal to me! The bigger challenge, though, has been to understand what God is saying to me in these particular pages. Today I got it.

And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.   -2 Kings 12:2-3

King Jehoash was not the only one who did right in the eyes of the Lord. Granted, more kings did what was right in their own eyes, but there were some who, like Jehoash, were obedient… except in one area. Did you catch that word? Nevertheless, they did not take down the high places. Not just Jehoash, mind you, but the others who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” also neglected to take down the high places. And so the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings there.

At first I thought the Holy Spirit was asking me to examine myself to see what “high places” in my life I have left intact. But then I sensed the Spirit moving on to ask, What high places are we as a church–as the body of Christ–neglecting to tear down?

Self.  Not my self, but “self” as the body of Christ.

My church has become aware of our self-focus. We have not been hospitable to the stranger. We’ve made only half-hearted attempts at ministry together (totus Christus) in our community. We have done what is right in the eyes of God when it comes to our worship, our prayer ministry, our children’s ministry, etc. Yet we “sacrificed and made offerings at the high place” of self each time we neglected the stranger among us on Sunday, or continually preferred fellowship inside the walls over service outside them.

We’ve identified our high place and we are tearing it down, one rock at a time:

  • We recently provided “hospitality training” for all our ministry volunteers–not just those on our welcome ministry team.
  • Each person is exhorted to spend the first three minutes of our fellowship time talking with someone they don’t know or don’t know well. (It’s amazing how often that three minutes stretches into ten!)
  • We’ve scheduled a “Big Serve Day” when we go together as the body of Christ and serve at a community agency.
  • And we are actively searching for a school or neighborhood where we can serve and build lasting relationships. We are tearing down that high place of self, one rock at a time.

There are other “high places,” of course. Maybe one of these sounds more familiar to you:

  • expecting the clergy/staff to do all the ministry of the church
  • erecting ministry silos
  • lone-ranger ministry rather than team ministry
  • resistance to change

What’s your high place?  Whether you lead a church, a staff, a ministry team, or a small group, consider what high place needs to be torn down and how you can begin the demolition!