Listening to God’s Word
I’ve been reading Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path by Carl McColman and it has gotten me more deeply reflecting on how we pay attention to God. He suggests that we often go to God looking for what we want to hear, not for what God is seeking to tell us.
I began to contemplate that. How often do I approach God from a position of seeking God to rubber stamp my hopes, rather than approach from a stance of curiosity and longing to connect with God? Probably more than I realize. How about you? Approaching God’s presence from this perspective makes it all about “me” and my agenda. What “take home” do I want? It’s from this place that we ask directive prayer petitions of God. “Help me find a job that I’m satisfied with.” The focus is on me.
Yet when we approach God from a stance of longing and curiosity we prepare ourselves to be surprised by God and we look and listen, really listen, more intently. What does God want me to hear or see? See the difference between the two questions? This prayer stance would be one of seeking a deeper connection with God to listen, not to speak and make requests.
I think of this in respect to sermons. I’ll speak from my realization that the best sermons I’ve preached were when I was listening, really listening, to God’s message to me. There have been times when I was preoccupied with other things that blocked my listening and it showed. But there have also been times when the Word has gotten deep down inside of me and I knew it. Really knew it.
But what happens from the listener’s perspective? There isn’t one preacher I know that hasn’t heard from someone at one time or another: “Pastor, I really didn’t get anything out of that sermon.” Often this feedback comes indirectly through another person. When one makes comments like this, the focus is on the speaker. It’s like saying, in disappointment: “I didn’t get what I wanted to hear.” Really? What you wanted to hear? God’s word isn’t about you and me. It’s about God longing to draw us into a deeper relationship with God. It’s all about God, and sometimes that can be unsettling to us. We like to be the center of attention. It’s called sin. Sometimes when we say we don’t get anything out of a sermon it’s because we weren’t listening from a place of openness, but instead from a place of self-centeredness.
A better approach for both the preacher and the listener is to listen to God’s word asking: “What is God’s message for me today through this word?” When I ask this question, I acknowledge knowing that God is indeed present, here and now, and is speaking to each of us in a different way. That means it’s really NOT about me and what I’m looking to hear. It’s about me paying attention to what God is saying to me in that moment and in every moment. Since each one of us is different as is each person’s relationship with God, that message will vary.
How might asking this question “What is God’s message for me today through this word?” change the way you listen to God’s word? How might it change your life?