Just Listen – by Sheila Jacobs
Just Listen – I don’t know about you, but my own relationship with God has tended to fluctuate in recent years according to the amount of pressure in my life – the pandemic didn’t help, of course. But if we neglected any other relationship in the way we often do our personal time with God, what do we think would happen?
Recently, I walked into an old Anglican church in a quant village in north Essex. Now, I don’t think God dwells particularly in ancient settings – he can be found just as easily in rented halls, someone’s home, or in a park or garden – but I just wanted some ‘me and God time’ away from where I live. Anyway, I off-loaded a lot of ‘stuff’ that had been welling up in me for some time, as I shared in the last edition of Cloud9. I encountered God’s presence, and realised that I had to make a few changes if I didn’t want to risk burnout – especially in my spiritual life.
My ‘day job’ is as a freelance theological editor, and writer. Because I sort of ‘do the Bible’ for a living, studying the Word of God isn’t always an easy thing for me to do in the evening. In fact, truthfully I don’t always find it easy to have ‘quiet times’ at home. If I’m indoors I’m thinking, ‘That needs dusting/vacuuming/painting.’ Or if I am outdoors, it’s: ‘That needs mowing/weeding/chopping down.’ Maybe this isn’t a problem for you. Perhaps you find it hard to connect with God because of time and family pressures. But if for any reason you find it difficult to maintain your relationship with God on a daily basis, read on.
Relationship is all about ‘being with’. Relationship with God is no different. Don’t we sometimes just hang out with friends because we enjoy their company? Can we do that with God?
Being with God doesn’t mean we have to be ‘religious’. We don’t have to shut our eyes or recite certain prayers – although if these things help, by all means, do them. We also don’t have to talk. What we actually need to do more of, when we’re spending time with God, is listen. If we spent time with a friend and were always talking, never listening, I wonder how long that friendship would last. What would it say about how we valued that person?
I love the countryside, and walking. It quickly became obvious to me that if I wanted to engage more fully with God, listening to what he had to say, then that was one of the places where it was going to happen. But on cold, wet winter days, I need somewhere warm and dry! I live on a hill so, for me, looking out of my front bedroom window across the town, towards the countryside, is the best place. I don’t get distracted by dust and cobwebs. There’s just the vast expanse of Essex skies over the Colne valley, or the starry night. You have to just choose the best place from what is available.
Of course, it could be that you’d prefer to listen to God with others. Small groups can be great for journeying with God together. If you don’t belong to one, could you think about starting a group?
Once we get familiar with his voice, we can become more easily attuned to it. Jesus promises that his followers will know his voice, in John 10:1-5, and mostly that can be a kind of inner ‘knowing’ rather than anything audible. But to have constant fellowship with him through his Spirit, we have to ‘remain’ in him (see John 15:4-7, NIV). That means, staying in close contact with him; being honest; surrendering; remaining in his will. I find that starting my time with God by praising and worshipping focuses my attention on who God is. It’s a good idea, by the way, to keep a journal handy for anything God might be speaking to you about.
However, a word of warning. The Bible is fundamental to our relationship with God. Anything that stands in opposition to his Word is not likely to come from the One who breathed life into the Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:16). So, we do need to be well-grounded in the Word.
Although I find studying the Bible in the evenings difficult, due to the nature of my work, I find contemplation on bite-size scriptures incredibly helpful. For example, the very first verse from Psalm 139 says ‘you know me’ (NIV). To realise God knows us – all our faults and failings and quirks and idiosyncrasies – and yet still invites us into relationship, through Jesus, is heart-warming. Just reflecting on a line from a psalm, or – at this time of the year – a scene from the Nativity story, can produce a sense of intimacy with the One who loves us best.
You may not belong to a traditional denomination, but Advent is a time that I have found can be particularly helpful in spending time listening to God. It also gives a welcome break in the middle of the busyness! If you have an Advent candle, try using it: as you let the candle burn down each day, let your mind become still, just for a few minutes, as you focus on the One who came as a baby, grew up, died a terrible death, but was resurrected and is alive.
Yes, he’s alive.
That means we can know him.
We tend to make time in our busy lives for those we most care about. So – where is Jesus, in our list of priorities? Family, friends, job, money, home, the desire for a life partner… are they all more important than God? That’s a really big question. But it’s one of perspectives.
If we see Jesus as the ‘author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV) then he really should be first in our lives. We need to make time to grow our relationship with him. Then, we can confidently move forward, knowing that we’re listening to the One who loves us, and who calls us to follow him. Really, everything else is secondary.
It’s when we’re still, on the inside, enjoying the best relationship we will ever have – with our Lord – that we may truly encounter the peace that we so often hear spoken about at this coming time of year.
Sheila Jacobs is a writer, editor and an award-winning author. She attends an Elim church, where she is currently on the pastoral care team. She has written a number of Advent books, including To Live Again and Humbug and Happiness (DLT). Her latest book is A Little Book of Rest (Malcolm Down).