Learning to Listen

I’ll never forget that crisp winter’s day. It was half past one in the afternoon.  I’d eaten lunch and tidied the kitchen. My track pants and polar fleece had been traded for a jumper, skirt and boots. I was heading to the shops on my way to collect our children from school. As I stood in our family room, mentally running through the list of all the errands I needed to do, some brown fragments on the carpet caught my eye – wood chips from the firewood that had been carried in that morning.

I grimaced. That kind of mess really annoyed me. I glanced at the clock. I’ll just quickly vacuum those up, I thought – a very small, everyday decision in a housewife’s world.

But as soon as the thought had run through my mind, something inside me shifted. It’s hard to explain. The peace I’d felt a moment earlier seemed to fade. I huffed and reasoned with myself. It’ll be all right. I’ve got time.  Surely two minutes of vacuuming won’t make much difference to the afternoon.

I strode to the cupboard and yanked out the vacuum cleaner then froze as two words boomed through me: NOT NOW. The words were stern and came with a strong sense of warning.

What should I do?

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It wasn’t always like this – this hearing God’s voice.

As a little girl, I was taught to pray each night, reciting words by rote as I drifted off to sleep: “Heavenly Father, help me be a child who’s kind and good . . .” The teens brought times when God seemed so close my heart pulsed with longing to know Him more – until I went to university, where cold, intellectual water was thrown on my desire. “It’s impossible to know Him,” the wise ones said. “He no longer speaks; we rely on our sanctified common sense now.”

Still my spirit yearned.

In my twenties, I met people who knew God – really knew Him – ones whose words and insights seemed to flow straight from His heart. My hunger burned once again. That’s what I wanted – to know Him like that. But could I?

The more I spent time with these people, the clearer it became: all the time I’d been craving God’s presence, He’d been right there – ready, waiting, eager to share His heart with me, if only I’d take time to listen.

So, I learned to sit – heart quiet, journal open and pen poised. At first I only sought God’s direction for the big things – the major life decisions. Was it a yes, or was it a no? A clear sense of peace often came, pointing me one way or the other.

Retreat time

Then, inspired by my husband’s example, I started seeking to hear God daily – taking time to read the Word, yes, but also to wait on Him and write down whatever He spoke. Gradually I learned to distinguish between His thoughts and mine by using His Word and His character as the measure.

Then a visiting preacher came to our church. “Jesus was very clear,” he told us. “He said, ‘I am the good shepherd and My sheep hear My voice.’ If you’re one of his sheep, you can expect to hear Him. He doesn’t have favourites. In order to hear Him, you need to function like a radio. Just as a radio tower is transmitting all the time, Jesus is speaking all the time. All we have to do is put up our aerial and tune in.”

Those words propelled me into a new level of listening. If Jesus was speaking all the time, then I could hear Him all the time. I became aware of the subtle nudges which punctuated my thoughts – go there, take this with you, say that. Many times I impulsively chose to ignore those prompts. Every time, in hindsight, I regretted my decision.

————————————————————————————————————————————–So on that June afternoon I decided to listen. Okay God. I don’t understand why I have to leave now but I know You do. The tension inside me evaporated as I put the vacuum cleaner back in the cupboard. I grabbed my handbag and water bottle and headed towards the front door.

As I drew closer a strange sound rang in my ears – like a very sick rooster trying to crow. Our chickens were kept in a run which sat just across the driveway from our front porch. We didn’t have any roosters but owned about a dozen hens, including three we were minding for a friend.

The strangled sound continued. Alarm flooded through me. Something was wrong!

I threw open the front door and sprinted towards our chicken run. Instantly I spotted our neighbour’s dog inside the fence with one of our hens clutched firmly between his teeth – by the neck. I watched, aghast, as he dropped her lifeless body on the ground and trotted back towards our henhouse, a little terrier following merrily on his heels.

Two more hens lay dead nearby, blood oozing from their throats.

Fuming with rage, I yanked the gate of the chicken run open and leapt for the larger dog. In one swift action I grabbed him by the collar and tail and threw him backwards out of the coop. Inside, three hens were crammed one on top of the other in a trembling mound. I turned and chased the dogs around the run, leaping over tussocks of grass in my skirt and boots, waving my arms and hollering wildly until they both made their way under the fence and headed home.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

It was out of His great kindness that God spoke to me that day. If I’d chosen to ignore Him, I’m certain all our chickens would’ve been killed. And perhaps, if I’d been quicker to listen, the first three hens could have been spared.

Sometimes the little decisions we make are far more significant than we think.

Chickens

If you were to ask me if I listen to God all the time now, honestly, I’d have to say no. My mind, like yours, is often fully focused on the tasks at hand. And sometimes I’m just too caught up in my own thoughts and feelings to stop and get quiet. But I am seeking to grow. This year, under God’s direction, I’m taking a few extra hours each week to ‘retreat’ with Him. Although it’s sometimes hard to carve out that block of time – it may end up being spread over a few days – that retreat has become something I crave, an anchor-point in the midst of this crazy season of transition.

I still have so much to learn but there is one vital truth that draws me on: When God speaks to us, it’s because He wants to do us (and others) good. What He says won’t always be easy to hear – or to obey – but we can trust that it will ultimately be for the best.

On the same day Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd He explained that, unlike a thief, He came to give His people life – in all its fullness. Not a half-life but the best possible life they could live.

That’s got to make walking in step with Him the best possible ambition to have – whatever the cost.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Journal cover

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