Listening is a skill not entirely valued in today’s culture.
We live in a world where characters on a computer screen are the new currency. Our perceived value is based on the quality of our facebook posts, 140 character tweets and text messages.
These days, it’s common to see couples sitting across from each other in restaurants paying more attention to their phones than each other.
I saw a scene just like this recently. I confess, I took a picture of this sad scene in a Panera Bread and came close to posting it on my instagram account. That is, until I realized what I was doing. My high-and-mighty attitude took a humble fall when I briefly got a glimpse of myself from an outsider’s perspective.
“Ginny, hold up,” said the still small voice. “You’ve got your own device in your hand ignoring the world around you. And you want to post the same image to the world showing how depraved THEY are behaving. Hello, Pot, let me introduce you to my little black kettle.”
Am I a hypocrite? Ooooh, you betchya. And truly, I was thankful for the Holy Spirit’s correction in that moment of piety. It was an eye opening moment that sparked some thinking about the importance of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Physically, we are born with ears to hear, but the ability to really listen does not come without practice. In early human societies listening was a revered activity. Spoken stories served as classrooms and provided entertainment and deeper human connection.
Listening was life.
The more things change, the more they stay the same because listening is still a source of life. All the technology in the world can’t cane that. Listening still teaches us, rejuvenates us, connects us, and relaxes us. Listening brings life. And, in my experience, listening to God brings an adventurous abundance of life.
Listening is an act of love.
Relationships are built on trust. Trust starts with communication – balanced communication. Listening needs to happen on both sides.
Imagine you are stuck in a car with a new acquaintance for an hour. How would you feel about that person if they talked 90% of the time and didn’t stop to ask you anything about yourself? Would you feel important to them? Of course not, you’d probably feel a little used.
What if they spoke only 10% of the time and even then it was to ask you questions about your interests, values, passions, and dreams? Wouldn’t you feel recognized, validated and important to them?
God is always listening to your prayers and thoughts (Luke16:15, Jeremiah 20:12). Always. Because He loves you and cares deeply for you. If you believe in Jesus Christ, then you have received His gift of the Holy Spirit and that is the how He speaks directly to you. Are you taking the time to listen? Or are you the one gabbing 90% of the time?
Listening to the Holy Spirit is very similar to listening to a friend; the biggest difference being that we are listening with our soul rather than our ears. There are a number of practices you can put to use to “listen with your soul.” Here are the ones I’ve found to be most important.
Listening requires silence.
When you are listening to a friend, you would not be yapping your mouth at the same time. That is just plain rude. What is less rude, but also very common is to listen with a soundtrack in your head. That means you are judging the speaker as you are listening – possibly comparing yourself to them as they speak.
If you are pre-disposed to fear that other people are judging you as you are speaking, then chances are good this is how you listen to other people. Good listening skills include silencing that soundtrack and simply absorbing what the speaker has to say.
Prayer is a conversation between you and God. If you spend all your prayer time talking at God, then you are missing the other half of the conversation. To really listen to Him, go to a private place, make it as quiet as possible, and to the best of your ability quiet your mind (Matthew 6:6).
More easily said than done? I know, this is a skill in itself. If it is difficult for you, I suggest you start by focusing on your breathing. An imagery exercise I have found particularly effective is to imagine a balloon resting above your head. Filling this balloon with all your cares and thoughts and letting the balloon float to the top of the ceiling (don’t worry, they’ll float back down when you are done).
Listening requires stillness.
It is one of those counter-intuitive, oxymoronically God-designed facts of life that active listening requires stillness. The more you move, the more energy and bandwidth your brain is using at once. Stillness allows you to focus solely on the speaker.
When listening to the Spirit, movement can be a distraction as well, especially when you are first learning to listen to Him. But remember, we are not just using our ears. Spiritual listening requires even more bandwidth and energy. We need to expand that stillness from our physical movement into our emotional movement.
If you are experiencing heightened emotions such as fear or anger it is harder to hear the Lord. You can use the balloon imagery again if that helps. For me, my emotions will not so easily be dismissed. I’ve found the best way to put them aside momentarily is to acknowledge them and ask God’s help in putting them aside.
Again, I suggest using imagery. Imagine yourself before God holding your fear or anger in your hands in front of you. Pray saying, “Father, this is how I am feeling. These are my desires in this moment. Thank you for acknowledging them. I want Your will to be done above all else, Father. Your will is perfect and good. I put these feelings aside in this moment because I want to hear Your input. What do You want to say to me?”
By doing this you have recognized your emotions but also your brokenness and His sovereignty. Your feelings has been acknowledged and acknowledged as not the most helpful.
Listening takes practice.
The more you try to really listen to God or the Holy Spirit, the easier it becomes. Just like we get to know people ‘s habits and communication styles as we spend time with them, so it will be with the Spirit. You’ll begin to recognize patterns and feelings of promptings more often.
As you tune your spiritual ear and seek His wisdom and direction, you’ll begin to pick out the Spirit because you are more aware of what to “listen” for. It could be a still small voice (I Kings 19:12), a deep feeling of peace or sudden confidence, or maybe even an image in your mind’s eye. It could be all of these things at once.
The Lord speaks to us in very personal ways because He has a very personal relationship with each of us. Take the time to listen and you will begin to speak a shared language all your own. “Do not be afraid; just believe.” (Luke 8:50)
|Ginny Priz is a Christian coach, writer and speaker. Ginny has overcome her own drama with a birth defect, alcohol, panic disorder, and codependency. She has a passion for guiding others toward the same peace and freedom she has come to experience. Ditching drama is possible for anyone “armed” with God and the Serenity Prayer! It’s never too late to start your own Serenity Journey.|