Listening to God: A Matter of Life and Death
Noisy Oklahoma rain pounded against my office window. Being a Colorado boy, I didn’t own an umbrella. It was a good day to hunker down. Besides, I had a Bible study to prepare.
Except I couldn’t get Kalista off my mind. Kalista was a member of my congregation in Tulsa. She was irrepressible, dimple-cheeked, funny, and forward. An old soul everyone said. She was a star God had lowered down among us.
Kalista was also six-years-old and had terminal cancer. She was back in the hospital.
I glanced out at the river running through the church parking lot. I’ll visit her when the rain lessens some, I thought. I clacked a few more words onto my computer screen.
They have so many people visiting them and supporting them. They don’t need me.
Clack, clack, clack. I hunted and pecked away. It rained harder. Borrow an umbrella and go see her. Kalista hung at the edges of my mind like the heavy gray clouds outside. I shoved the thoughts down. Looked at my watch.
I’ll go at lunch time.
I laid my finger tips on my keyboard. A foreboding flooded me. Concentration eluded me. I forced my mind back to the computer screen.
I think you know where this is leading.
After about an hour of this spiritual wrestling match, I grabbed my coat and waded out to my car. The hospital was only minutes from the church. Kalista’s room was filled with people. One of the other pastors from our church stood in the doorway. Gray faced he said, “She passed about an hour ago.”
My throat stung. I was grateful my colleague was there. God had provided.
Sometimes listening is a life or death issue. Why then is listening to God one of the hardest spiritual disciplines for many of us?
For me it’s hard because of double edged doubt.
Doubt tells us God would not talk to you or me.
Yet, Scripture is filled with stories of God speaking to and using the lesser, unlikely vessels: prostitute Rahab, baby brother Gideon, a donkey that speaks, widowed foreigner Ruth, Hebrew princess Esther, the child Samuel, lesser brother David, teenage Mary, of questionable repute Mary Magdalen, emotionally unstable Peter.
Each one of them, like you and me, had reason to doubt the God of the universe would bow down and speak to them. Yet God did speak to them and use them, mainly because they were the unlikely vessels. Why not me? Why not you?
In Acts 2:16 Peter tells us: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” If you are a follower of Christ, God the Holy Spirit dwells in you. And he is not silent.
Still I doubt.
Doubt tells us God does not talk to anyone.
A few years back, I was in serious doubt about my calling as a pastor. I was embroiled in insoluble conflict with several church leaders. As a result, I felt either I had mistaken God’s call for me to be a pastor or God had withdrawn his pastoral call. It seemed to me the latter was most likely. In desperation, I attended a Bible study at a church other than mine. Without knowing me or my struggle the leader of the study read, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Romans 11:28-29
God’s gifts and call are irrevocable! I was stunned. I knew that passage was not written for me. Or about me. But God used it to speak to my specific question, to reassure me. I’m still a pastor.
God speaks. Listen.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Count the times God has spoken to you through scripture reading or a sermon or lesson. I bet you’ll be surprised at how often he has.
God speaks primarily through the Bible. But God also uses other people, suffering, silence, nature, tragedy, dreams, triumphs, blogs, and—even—nonChristians.
If then God speaks—despite our doubts—we must listen.
I’m learning to listen. Sometimes I feel like a dog with his head tilted, one ear perked, and a goofy expectant look on his face. But I’m listening.
Distractions excel at keeping us from listening to God.
This Lent at Wellspring we are focusing on listening. How can we listen to and hear God? Thus the reason for this blog and those that follow. We hope they help you listen for God in a noisy distracting world. Maybe instead of giving up chocolate or coffee for Lent, you might fast from something that distracts you from listening.
A few years ago during Lent I fasted from television and radio and feasted on silence. The silence exploded. I prayed more. I wrote poetry. I simply thought and reflected. I heard from God. It was so rich and delightful I still watch hardly any television. And recently instead of radio, I began listening to the Gospels on audiobooks when I drive to work. Hearing Jesus words spoken is powerful and life giving. I’m hearing things I miss when reading.
Through Kalista’s death God taught me to listen. Through listening God is continually renewing my life! Thus, listening to God is a matter of life and death.
I still wonder what God had in mind that day Kalista passed from this world to the next.
In C. S. Lewis’ novel “Prince Caspian” Lucy Pevensie has failed to listen to the lion Aslan.
“You mean,” said Lucy [to Aslan] rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
“Oh dear,” said Lucy.
“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.
If we listen!
Eugene C Scott is a poet, photographer, and pastor. As a writer, he has published articles and a short story in various journals. As a pastor, he has ministered in seven different churches and is now Executive Pastor at Wellspring Church in Englewood, CO.