Learning to Listen
Learning to Listen
Learning to Listen by Sheila Jacobs
I’ve just started something new. Once a month, I am a day chaplain at a Christian retreat house near Chelmsford, Essex. It means, essentially, taking morning and midday Prayers, and generally being available for people who want a listening ear.
Listening is not always something I’ve been good at. But it is a skill that God is developing in me. In the past I have been am all too keen to talk – to add in comments when people are offloading – and so turn the conversation back to myself! It’s not something I even realised I was doing. I also didn’t realise how people’s issues could trigger old memories in me, pushing buttons, so that in the end I wasn’t so much listening to their problems as reacting to what they were saying, filtering their issues through my own ‘stuff’.
The more I learn to listen, the more I see how important it is to put my own stuff in ‘a box’, and put it aside while I am paying attention to the person in front of me. In that way I am not saying my issues/that memory/that point of pain is of no value, but that I own that it is my stuff, not part of the conversation I am currently having.
And as I do this, I am able to listen to the person sharing, with more attention – and also listen to what God is saying to me, to them, and for them, inviting them to experience Him ‘in the now’ of that moment.
God is speaking. He is not silent. How often are our prayers shopping lists of sorts – and when we don’t get what we asked for, our faith takes a hammering! ‘Be still and know’, Psalm 46 tells us. Know that God is real. Know that He has sent His only Son to redeem our lives; to pay the price for our sin, and to restore us to right relationship with our Creator, who will begin to transform us from the inside. Remember the story of the woman at the well (John 4) – an outcast who has an encounter with Jesus that changes her life, and the life of her community. Jesus knows her – mistakes and failings, everything – but doesn’t condemn. He simply offers her something better. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19)? I can imagine the amount of people telling Jesus all the reasons why He shouldn’t go and spend time with that unpopular man. But Jesus draws alongside and Zacchaeus is changed.
Following Jesus is just that: becoming more like Him. God has a good plan for each one of us, but His overall plan is to make us like His Son. And He will use our circumstances, what people have done, what we have done, all things, to achieve that end, as we surrender ourselves to the One who knocks at our door and asks if He might share our lives (Revelation 3:20).
Recently I have been exploring a prayer of awareness at night. That’s a form of prayer where you thank God for the day; review the day, asking God what He thought of it; then thinking about the times when you felt closest to Him, times that you felt pain, or unease; then bringing any known sin to Him for forgiveness. On asking Him what His thoughts are regarding my day I have been surprised to find Him showing me the bits I got right – not pointing a finger at the parts where I know I messed up. God wants to put a tick in our box. So let’s be keen to put a tick in other people’s boxes, too. Encouragement is important.
God wants to put a tick in our box. So let’s be keen to put a tick in other people’s boxes, too.
Coming alongside people, learning to listen, learning to put our own stuff aside, not ignoring it, but handing it over to the One who doesn’t condemn but offers us something better, is a more peaceful way to live. The more we listen to others, the more we become aware of our own trials and pressure points. Becoming aware of those means we can lift them to God, in our own time. God, the restorer, is making us like Jesus; making us the people He intended us to be – created in the image of God and on believing in and receiving Jesus, given the right to be called His children (John 1:12). Today, why not spend some time listening to God?
Today, why not spend some time listening to God?
Read His Word –maybe the story of Zacchaeus – and spend some time thinking about it. Put yourself in the picture. What would you say if Jesus said He was coming to spend time with you? And how might that transforming Presence in your own heart leak out to those around you?
© Sheila Jacobs
Sheila Jacobs is single, and an award-winning author and editor. Her latest book, To Live Again (DLT), a look at the popular Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life in the light of Advent, is available now. She will be taking a writing Quiet Day Retreat titled Encountering God on Tuesday 27th March 2018 (https://www.retreathousepleshey.com/events/category/quiet-days/).