Ep 104 Holy Listening
Updated: May 4, 2020
I'm Jamie Bahr, and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices. Join me as we look at the practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches and communities.
In the last podcast, we addressed the question, what am I called to be? In this podcast, we're going to take this core question a step further by asking, how? How do we cooperate with God in his desire to transform and mature us in character? One way is by holy listening, or by hearing from God through what we call three lights. In the last section of this podcast, I will share with you the practice of spiritual direction that will help you deepen the ability to listen in partnership with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So holy listening. For an example, I want to open this podcast and visualize what it was like in, let's say 1900. Most people lived on farms and they would work all day. At the end of the day in the summertime, just think about that, it would be hot, and the sun would be setting, and you'd probably sit on the front porch and just rest a little bit. Can you imagine what they were talking about? What would come up in a conversation? There's no radio, no TV, no iPad, no technology around.
And so now there's just you and your family, those who've been working all day, and you start to carry on a conversation. You might talk about what happened that day, maybe something that... an incident that occurred when you're out working. Maybe something that needed repair, or maybe you heard from a neighbor, or maybe there're certain animals that needed to be cared for. So you kind of go back and you're reviewing the day and talking about these things. It's things that are on your mind. Maybe it was a good day and you're going to express that you felt really good about this day, or that this day was a very hard day for you and why.
So we talk about our circumstances. In these circumstances, we listen to each other because we love and care about each other. Why? Because we need each other. We all work together on this farm. And my husband grew up on a farm and he would talk about how much you needed each other. And so there was this deep respect for each other and for the abilities that each person brought in, but also the circumstances that they were handling that day. And to listen to someone talk about their day is really about expressing love.
So first of all, number one, love always listens. And we know that God listens. There's a few things we know about God. He listens, we see in the Old Testament. He hears, he talks, he creates through his voice. So he is a communicating God.
And number two, because God loves us so much, love seeks to communicate, and he sends Jesus to communicate. And here Jesus, when he comes, he grows and he learns in order to speak to us about God. So God also speaks to us through the risen Lord. In John 10, we see where Jesus says that, "Those who know me, listen to my voice." So to know someone, you might listen a little more deeply, a kind of a deeper friendship. And so as you think about that, "Do I listen more deeply to my friend than a stranger?" Yes. I've got a friend who calls me once in a while on the phone and as soon as she calls me, I know who it is. I recognize her voice. Why do I recognize her voice? I communicate with her. We have shared history. We can call each other and share problems. We know each other's families. So it's this kind of a deep friendship in which you recognize the voice. And I'm going to ask this question, is that the kind of friendship that you have with God? Is that the kind of friendship you have with Jesus? So close that you would recognize his voice?
God is immensely personal, and he's so personal that he really sends Jesus, who is God in the flesh. And Jesus really models what we are capable of, which is a formation friendship with God. So, we talk about this with as an intimate relationship. It's the same way with holy listening. Listening to God requires, first... I just want to say, that you get in the boat. First of all, you have to have faith and trust like you would with a dear friend. You have faith in them and you trust them. Hearing God is an act of faith. It's not certainty that we are looking for when we communicate with God, but really it's the start of a movement on a journey of faith, hope, and love. So to communicate with God, we enter into a relationship for a dialogue. It's not really for answers, but it's for a dialogue.
A lot of the Psalms go through talking in dialogue with God. I really love Psalm 8, and the question that is asked here by the Psalmist, "What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man, that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings." I mean, here he asks these questions, "I know you God, and why are you mindful?" So we can carry on a dialogue with God. God wants to communicate with us, and he wants us to ask questions of him to know him more deeply just like we would with a friend. So we listen. Holy listening is listening to the divine whisper.
Now there are three lights, what I want to identify as lights to hearing from God, or holy listening. Number one is circumstances. Being alert to what is going on. At the opening, I talked a little bit about the circumstances that might be happening with a family on a farm, where you sit there and you take time to talk and you alert the other person in the family of, "Oh, this is broken. It needs to be repaired." What actions affect us? So circumstances, I feel that we do not stop enough to take a note and write down, "What are my circumstances today?" Or when you go to prayer, do you actually write down, "What are my circumstances? What's going on in my life? What am I feeling?"
And then the second thing is impressions of the spirit, and that addresses emotions. Are you having questions? Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling joyful? I noticed too that a lot of times when I have questions and I start seeking, I will even be directed in many times to a class when I have a lot of questions. For some reason, I'll be praying, I'll be asking a lot of questions, and then I'll be listening more intently to how I can get these questions answered. And God will send someone across my path to direct me to a deeper learning or a class.
The third thing then is Scripture. Scripture really is at the center of listening. Scripture is responsible study and meditation. So you need to read the WORD. Truth and life; where they intersect, there is wisdom. So holy listening is really a practice, but it does take time to go deep.
So in the Old Testament we know the story about Moses and the burning bush. And God says, here he's speaking to Moses, "Take off your shoes and listen to me. You are on holy ground." God commands us to listen and it's an invitation that really says, "Hey, come alive. I have something I want to show you, something that is life giving." And life giving is key to hearing from God. In a way, I'd like to express that... I would say it's like a dance with the trinity, because you're actually speaking and listening to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The spirit has a sense of, I want to say, a desire to know God, but also it raises up within you some feeling, or emotion and you think, "What is the spirit raising up in my heart? Why is this important? Why is this coming to the surface?" So it's a bit of a dance between asking questions, listening to the movement of the spirit, and reading your Scripture. Scripture will come to mind oftentimes during this prayer time. So here you learn to be in conversation with the Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I kind of think about this too. It's like sailing a little bit. I would be out in a sailboat with my daughter and you think, "Where's the wind? Have we got our sail full?" But I might also have my hand on the tiller, a little bit of it, I'm trying to respond to a movement of the wind and at what times or when is it me? When is it my movement? When is it the wind, and when is it the water currents? They all work together in discerning that kind of a movement. That's what that’s like listening to God. So when you learn to experience his voice, then you're able to say, "I recognize his voice because I've experienced it. I know him." Oftentimes, at first we think, well, "Is that God speaking to me?" Or, "What is that?" One of the ways you can discern this is to let God's tone of voice match God's character. Because what we believe about God determines how we hear God and what we hear.
I mean, if you see God as this mean, demanding kind of a person, you won't hear from God like that. So God's character, first of all, is pure. It's not sarcastic, it's gentle. It is not demanding. And really, it is overflowing with mercy, and meaning, that it has a good effect on you.
One of the things that really is a poison in a relationship is secrecy. And if you want to have a friendship with God or a friendship with Jesus, have no secrets. Bring everything to Jesus. Why? The Father loves you and he forgives. So a friendship with God, and ultimately a friendship with the world, has no secrets.
I want to talk about one other practice. And if you get to that point, you're thinking, "Okay, I can feel my circumstances, but I'm not so practiced at impressions of the spirit." You can really find rest in a restless world through spiritual direction. There's a couple different ways of doing spiritual direction. You can even call up a qualified spiritual director and you might think, "Oh, this person is going to listen for me." No, that's not what happens. They don't listen for you. But they journey along with you.
One group that I'm with, is a Group Spiritual Direction. So there's about four of us, and we have a spiritual director in that group. Try to step into this practice for yourself. It really helps you to listen, an invitation to pray, and in a place where everyone is listening. So it teaches you how to discern the movement of the spirit.
We start with silence. We'll gather together. We really don't talk anything personal. We gather together in a room, we have silence, refocusing, we relax, we give thanks. We feel the tension and let go to surrender the day to God. We read a little Scripture. I really like the focus on Scripture during group spiritual direction because it really helps to guide my thoughts, hearing God in the Scripture. And we'll look at that Scripture and just what stands out. Or what shimmers in that Scripture to you? Then, the third time we'll read it and we’ll say, "Well, what emotion is stirring in you?"
And then we want to answer the question, why do you think this is important? And we think about our circumstances at that point. So we're looking at the Scripture, we see what emotion it stirs in us, and then as we ask the question, why is this raising up? What is the spirit trying to tell me? So it's time to be open to the nudging of the spirit with others on this journey with you.
And then we'll sit in this group and when I feel like I'm ready to share, I can answer the Scripture like, "Well, here's what stands out to me. Here's how it makes me feel. This is why I think it's important, because this is what's going on in my life right now." And as I talk and share that, if I feel like, "Wow, I'm not getting much clarity." Then my partners there will say, "Jamie, take that to prayer and we'll pray for you. And when you're finished praying, just say amen." So I'll become silent. I'll just take this to God in prayer asking, why is this important? What direction is he trying to give me? What is the spirit trying to say to me? And in that silence, when I get an answer from God or what I think is the answer, I will say amen. And I'll share with the group, "You know what? Here's what it is."
It's amazing how when I sit in that silence and give God and the Holy Spirit time to bring clarity to my emotions, to my thoughts, it is such a refreshing thing. Going to group spiritual direction is so wonderful that I never miss it. It's just this beautiful pause, I would say, in my life to give me clarity, to give me direction and allow me to practice holy listening and remember what it's like to hear the voice of God.
And then in this group they might say, "Jamie, would you like for us to mirror back to you what we think we heard you say?" And that helps to bring clarity too. There have been times where I thought for sure I said one thing and they said, "No, here's what we heard you say." And it'll be a specific word. Like one time, I thought I used the word, grace every time, and they said, "No, you said the word beauty about nine times." I was just startled by that. So we're surprised. And then we can take that to prayer together. And then again, that brings clarity. When I'm finished, and I have as much time as I want to get clarity, then we move on to the next person.
Now, I really feel like group spiritual direction in a group, is almost I would say, more impactful. I get more out of it in a group than I do one-on-one. I can get lazy one-on-one and I just rattle on and think this other person's going to do some listening for me. That's not the idea of learning how to listen. Listening to God, discerning, that's really holy listening.
Like last time on our podcast, we talked about holiness is sustained attention, and holy listening is sustained listening. You need time to do that. It has to be quiet to do that in a way that you can practice so that you learn what it feels like. You learn what it sounds like. I think it's not that much of a big mystery. I mean, once you learn about it, you'll be saying, "Oh yeah, I know the voice."
I love that John 10, where it says, Jesus says, “those who know me, listen to my voice." So there's something about knowing God and knowing Jesus in a deeper friendship that allows you to enter in and listen to God. And so it's just an important practice for growing in leadership and responsibilities, able to handle responsibilities. When things get really tough in life, you want to know how to handle those, you want to know where to go, and you want to know what the voice of God sounds like. You don't want to wait until you're totally so desperate, but have an ongoing friendship that continually shapes your life and shapes your character.
Character formation does comes from many encounters over a long period of time. It's where body and soul really find a sabbath rest. It's a place where you remember the voice of God and what it feels like, and it's also the key to a spirit-led life individually and in community, and the world becomes a better place because we are listeners, to God and to each other.
In the next podcast, we're going to look at the practice of journaling through Scripture, which is one of the keys to hearing from God.
If you have any questions and want to view the show notes and resources, please go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcast.com.
Thank you for listening and blessings on your journey.