David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Listening”

Learning to Love the Silence (2014-01-10 Daily) [2 of 2]

Distraction is a powerful weapon in the devil’s arsenal.  And if distraction is Satan’s white noise, then busyness is his sniper rifle.  He picks us off moment by moment with each act of selfishness, each act of pride, each act of apathy.  Busyness aims for our hearts, so we need to be vigilant against his schemes and slip on and tightly buckle the breastplate of truth, because, as Solomon offered in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Including our capacity to listen.   But we have to remember that, as children of God, we possess the power to come against anything the devil throws at us.  As Paul instructed in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  The Spirit gives us self-discipline.  Self-discipline to listen.  Self-discipline to obey.  Self-discipline to pray.  Self-discipline to quiet ourselves before God, enter His throne room, and acknowledge Who He is, a privilege bought for us by the blood of His Son.  And the Spirit gives us self-discipline to be still.  To love the silence.  “Be still, and know that I am God,” the Psalmist quoted God in Psalm 46:10a (NIV).  In the New American Bible translation, the same line is translated “Desist!  and confess that I am God.”  Desist, God says, as in cease, stop, quit it!   And the Message translation puts it this way: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.”  “Stop!” God is saying to us, “Stop with your busyness, stop with your self-focus, stop with your fretting, your distractedness, your small-mindedness, and confess and acknowledge that I am God!”

 

The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

–1 Kings 19:11-13

 

God’s voice comes in a whisper.  No wonder we complain we never hear it.  He desires a dialog with us, not a monolog.  He desires to show us His glory, and when we recognize His glory and tell others about it, He is glorified.  And we are satisfied.  But to hear God’s voice, we have to learn how to love the silence.  Patiently.

I admit I struggle with patience, and I sometimes have a hard time waiting for the Lord to provide guidance, direction, and timing.  Once I asked God what my greatest sin was.  “Impatience,” He replied.  I heard His voice loud and clear, but, sadly, patience and I still don’t see each other eye-to-eye.  I’ve wrecked cars because of impatience, lost a ton of money because of impatience, suffered through a bad first marriage and worse divorce because of impatience.  But from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is very clear: those who waited on the Lord with an attitude of patient expectation received the Lord’s promises.  And when they didn’t wait, well, the Bible is full of examples of folks jumping the gun.  One of the most remarkable is the story of Abram, Sarai, Hagar, and Ishmael.  In Genesis 15, God promised Abram he’d be the father of nations, a people as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach.  But when Sarai didn’t conceive right away, she grew impatient, and in Genesis 16 she urged Abram, already in his mid-80’s, to sleep with the Egyptian slave girl, Hagar.  Of course, Abram complied.  The result: Ishmael, “a wild donkey of a man” according to the angel of the Lord in Genesis 16:11.  Isaac finally came along when Abram, who’s name God changed to Abraham, reached 100.  God kept His promise to bless Abraham’s descendants, and while Ishmael received God’s blessing, God established the covenant with Isaac, who fulfilled God’s promise at the appointed time.

After Pharaoh finally relented and commanded Moses and Aaron to take the Israelite people and leave Egypt, God led the Hebrews out of the land of their 430-year slavery along the desert road instead of through the land of the Philistines, until He commanded them to camp next to the Red Sea.  The Israelites found themselves with desert behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, and for all intents and purposes, they had their backs against the wall when the king of Egypt changed his mind about letting his slaves go and sent his chariots after the Hebrews to recapture them.

Immediately the Israelites, numbering more than 600,000, cried out to God and started complaining to Moses:  “’What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” (Exodus 14:11b-12 NIV).  As their slave mentality oozed from God’s chosen people, Moses looked past the physical impossibility of their situation and exhorted them to continue to trust the God who had freed them from Egyptian slavery.  But instead of calling for action, Moses urged the Hebrews to do the opposite:  “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” (Exodus 14:13-14 NIV).

You need only to be still.  And when they kept still, the Lord opened a passage through the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through to safety on dry land.  When the Hebrews replaced fear with trust and held their ground, God performed one of the most spectacular miracles the world has ever known.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 30:15.  But in our society, rest, quietness, and trust are in short supply as we strive and struggle through everyday life just to keep up.  And isn’t that the trouble?  We strive to keep up.  But as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High King, there are only two commands God expects us to follow: love Him, and love each other.  That’s it.  “Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear,” the apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:17).  Love God, love each other, love yourself.  Rest, repent, trust.  Listen.  Learn to love the silence.

 

–THE END–

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

Learning to Love the Silence (2014-01-08 Daily) [1 of 2]

LEARNING TO LOVE THE SILENCE

by

David C. Hughes

 

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,

    in quietness and trust is your strength,

    but you would have none of it.”

–Isaiah 30:15

 

I have this really weird relationship with silence.  On the one hand, I’ve got to work in absolute quietness.  No music, no television, no background noise.  Nothing but blessed silence and holy stillness.  I’ve always been amazed by people who can sit in front of a computer or read a book while plugged into a rockin’ MP3 player.  When I try to write or read and listen to music at the same time, I end up paying attention to the lyrics and defocusing from the project at hand.  If I recognize an instrumental piece without lyrics, I start filling in the words, then I usually wind up with the song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.  Or week . . . .

I’m like Dug and Alpha in the movie “Up”: any distraction scampering into the room while I’m working instantly transforms into a squirrel.  So to keep distractions at bay, I escape to my office, close the door, light a candle, and focus.  Sometimes I even close the blinds to shut out the sunshine while I’m trying to slog my way through a particularly challenging chapter, or pushing to complete an essay with some semblance of inspiration and coherency.  As Amena Brown wrote in her book Breaking Old Rhythms, “To write is to listen.  As a writer, I sometimes think that to write is to talk, to relieve myself of my incessant need to communicate, but my writing is much better when I’m listening.”  (Amena Brown, Breaking Old Rhythms, “Chapter 7: Breathing Room,” page 97).  And I listen best when I’m focused, concentrating, and distraction-free.

On the other hand, I can’t stand the silence in a conversation.  When I’m talking with someone, whether it be one-on-one or in a group setting, I have a tendency to stuff dead air with anything that pops into my head.  Over the years I’ve developed quite a talent for improvising filler for conversational interludes, but when my mouth is running and my ears are stuck in idle, and the entire experience suffers.  The result is a lot of me and not much of you, and consequently I learn very little, if nothing.  James, the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem at the beginning of the early church, wrote in his epistle, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  I should listen.

My wife, Mary, can relate to James’ instruction, and I’m sure she sometimes wishes I’d put into action what I read in the Good Book more often.  “Why aren’t you listening to me?!” she shouts in frustration when our six-year-old daughter, Hannah, just looks at her funny after Mary tells her what to do.  Or when I stare at her with a slack look that says “I haven’t heard a word you said” after she asks me a question about a conversation we had earlier in the day.  Listening is not only essential for the effective exchange of information and experience, but it also conveys respect and love for the person you’re talking with.  “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less,” wrote Diogenes Laertius, biographer of Greek philosophers.  And M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, is quoted as saying “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”  And that includes listening to God.

Between distractions in quietness and running at the mouth during conversations, I end up missing out on God’s voice.  I haven’t yet learned to love the silence.  “What I learned from my grandma,” wrote Amena Brown in Breaking Old Rhythms, “what she taught me about God, is how much he treasures the interlude–those brief moments in time when we sit still and quiet ourselves to listen.  Truly coming to know God, to hear his voice, is about bringing our souls to silence, bringing our hearts to a place where they can be alone and quiet with him.”  (Amena Brown, Breaking Old Rhythms, “Chapter 7: Breathing Room,” pages 90 and 91).

During a recent trip to the dentist, while my hygienist, Sonja Owens, scraped plaque from my teeth, the subject of our children came up.  She has five, ranging in age from 24 down to 5.  As Sonja chatted and I grunted and replied after each suctioning, she told me the story about how her five-year-old daughter wouldn’t stop talking to her after she got home from work one night.  All Sonja wanted to do was relax and unwind, and all her daughter wanted to do was talk.  “Was she like this all day?” she queried her older daughter.

“No,” her 18-year-old replied.  “She just started when you walked through the door.”

So for the rest of the evening Sonja went about her business as her five-year-old chattered incessantly until bedtime.  “And I realized that’s how God must think of us when we pray sometimes,” Sonja concluded.  “We talk, talk, talk and never listen.”  He desires our interludes with Him, the quieting of our mouth and our thoughts to enter into meaningful conversation with Him, not just talk at Him–what good does that do?  What He says is true, what He tells us is for our own benefit, if only we’d listen.  And not only listen, obey.  As Solomon said of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs,

 

But since you refuse to listen when I call

    and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,

since you disregard all my advice

    and do not accept my rebuke,

I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you.

–Proverbs 1:24-26

 

God speaks to us constantly.  Whether it comes in a whisper, a thought, an action, an impression, a Scripture reading, or through someone else’s words, God continuously converses with us.  When we allow our minds to wander during work or prayer, and when we permit our thoughts to crank up the engine of worry, the exhaust from our churning minds suffocates God’s breath.

This world offers a multitude of distractions, and the enemy is adept at using these tools to his advantage.  I see it in Hannah: when she zones in front of the television, you can wave a hand in front of her eyes and get no reaction.  Then when we “unplug” her, she gets angry and whiny.  You see it when a child is forced to turn off and put away their Leapster or Game Boy: the blank stare transforms into attitude and the total absorption turns into shortness.  You notice it when the young lady wearing pink M&M ear buds runs right into you on in the mall, then doesn’t even apologize, let alone acknowledge your presence.  God is speaking, but no one’s listening.  “Why aren’t you listening to me?!”  Is it any wonder so many people wander around with no idea of where they’re going, and even who they are?  We put God on hold when we plugged in our iPhones; we disconnected Him when we flipped on our Xbox.  As Amena Brown said, to hear His voice, we need to bring our souls to silence.

(continued)

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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