Listen up!

 

Yesterday morning, long before anybody else arrived in Church, I let myself into the Church and spent a bit of time in thought and in prayer.  During this time, I picked up my copy of the rule of Benedict (as you do) the rules of the Benedictine monks.  It was the very first word of the first rule that lept off the page at me;

Listen

As the rule expands, he goes on to say;

Before you start anything new, listen.

(my translation)

I found myself reflecting on the story of the boy Samuel in the temple. He is settled down for bed and hears a voice calling him so, he rushes to Eli’s side.  After several time of this happening, the penny drops for Eli and he realises that it is God speaking and says to Samuel when you hear the voice again say;

“speak Lord for your servant is listening”

(1 Samuel 3 vs. 9)

It’s been commented upon many times that in our prayer lives we often change it to “listen Lord your servant is speaking”.  It really struck me how Benedict began his rule with such a profound instruction.  Listen.

I believe many of us struggle with hearing. 

In a physical sense, the gift of hearing, of being able to listen, is something that we don’t fully appreciate until our hearing starts to fail.  Being “a bit mutton” has been turned into a bit of a joke.  Many deaf people end up feeling isolated and lonely trapped in a world where they just cannot participate to the fullest extent.  Those of us who can hear, cannot begin to understand the frustration that many deaf people feel maybe it comes from taking our hearing for granted, in fact, we often choose not to hear.

There is a background noise of life, chatter, traffic and the music.  For many years we lived in a place called Wednesbury which is just off the M6, the background rumble of the traffic was a constant to the point where we no longer heard it.  I remember, one night, getting up to the bathroom.  It was really strange.  I felt quite spooked and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  It was only after a while I realised, there was no traffic.  No background hum from the M6. I found out in the morning that there had been an accident and police had closed the motorway.

Listening.  Really listening, is one of the hardest things that we can learn to do but it is also one of the most precious gifts that we can give to another.

As Benedict goes on in his rules he talks about the need to not only listen with our ears, he talks about listening with our hearts.  I believe that is something that the Christian Church needs more desperately than ever these days. There is so much noise in this world anger, frustration and so many competing voices telling us what we need to do and so to actually hear the voice of God is incredibly difficult.  The prophet Isaiah says;

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55 vs. 2)

The problem is that when we hear all of the other competing voices, what is happening with us is it becomes a bit like “snacking” a little bit seems to do the trick and then, we are soon hungry again.  It only meets our inner hunger for a very short period of time.

A snack is quick, a feast takes time.

For our souls to be fully satisfied we need the feast that can only be found as learn to hear the voice of God.

I don’t know what you are thinking of for the New Year.  Whether the annual diet begins on 1st or 2nd of January and ends on the 3rd.  But I really want to encourage you to think about is cultivating a heart that really listens to God

 

Future Gazing

There was a headline in my newspaper today that caught my attention.  It read;

Blind mystic who foresaw 9/11 and Brexit predicts gloom for 2019

If I took this headline at face value (which I do not), 2019 looks as though there may be trouble ahead. I looked at the article in question and, to be honest, when I finished it I I was not inclined to take it seriously.  The “predictions” were so general, they could have fitted any number of situations and I couldn’t work out where Brexit and 9/11 fitted in.

There is a term I came across recently, future gazing.  Future gazing is about reading the signs of the times and predicting what the future may look like.  Future gazing is not just something confined to the realms of newspaper mystics but, some big corporations have future gazing departments to try and predicts trends so they can provide goods to meet changing markets.  Future gazing is something that many people do, particularly as we prepare ourselves to enter into a New Year.   

The article did make me stop and think about the coming year.  What is in store for me, our community and nation 2019?  In all honesty, I have not got a clue.  I know that some people find this kind of uncertainty unsettling and so, for them, future gazing can be a worrying experience.    

It made me think about a passage from Deuteronomy 30.  The people of Israel had spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  Now, they stood on the edge of the promised land.  Life was going to be different and, maybe, the people engaged in a bit of future gazing.  Making plans for what life could be like.  Moses takes the opportunity to remind the people that no matter what lay ahead of them, they would be faced with the choice to either walk in God’s ways or, away from God;

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 

 

(Deuteronomy 30 vs. 15 – 16)

The same choice lays before us too.  No matter what happens, in terms of the world’s bigger picture we choose whether we will walk in God’s ways or not. 

This morning, just after I read the piece in the paper, I read a quote from Henri Nouwen which said;

Remember you are held safe.  You are loved.  You are protected.  You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you.  What is of God will last.  It belongs to the eternal life.  Choose it, and it will be yours

(Henri Nouwen)

 

 

 

 

Silently, How Silently…..

Silently, how silently,                                                                                                                                                   The wondrous gift is given                                                                                                                                             So God imparts, to human hearts                                                                                                                                   The blessings of His heaven

(O Little Town of Bethlehem – Phillip Brooks)

 

The words of this, well known, carol greeted the introduction to my time with God this morning.  I am one of those people that really enjoys silence.  I find, within silence there is space for me to reflect and connect with God.  The words of Philip Brooks carol really speak to me.

As I turned to the scriptures this morning, the passage was one that I particularly love, Matthew 1 vs.18 -24.  The passage concerns Joseph and the Angel.  The Angel informs Joseph that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit and he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

I love this passage because, I find Joseph such a fascinating character.  He is the “silent man” of the Gospel story.  None of the Gospels record a single word that Joseph said. It is implied, in places, that he said something but neither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John write any of his words down. He may be silent but, Matthew records something that speaks volumes about him;

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man…

(Matthew 1 vs. 19)

I wonder how Joseph must have felt when he heard that Mary was pregnant, betrayed or angry?  But, as Matthew reveals, Joseph’s first thought is how to protect Mary and ensure her safety.  In some respects, the fact that Joseph has no recorded words is not important, his character speaks volumes. 

As I thought about Joseph, I also reflected on the words of the Angel to him;

Joseph son of David, do not be afraid…

(Matthew 1 vs. 20)

I have come to think of righteousness as “living right before God and before others”.  Because Joseph was living rightly before God, and rightly before others, there was nothing for him to fear. 

To my way of thinking, a lot of fear arises in us when the enemy finds those little secret things in our lives that we don’t want anybody else to know about.  When the enemy finds them, he picks at them and picks at them.  Often, our response is to try to bury them deeper.  To live right before God means that our lives must be an “open book” before Him and when we do that, there is no fear.

Now, I have got to know myself pretty well over the years – I have had 21 plus VAT years of practice!  I know that I have my weak spots, I know that I fail and mess things up more regularly than I care to admit and this has led me on to another stream of reflection.  I have been the boundaries that I set in my life.

A boundary serves two functions.  Firstly, it keeps in those things that I want in my life like peace, hope and joy.  It’s second function is to keep out those things that I don’t want in my life like anger, resentment and negative thinking.

I have come to realise that, if I am to live in right relationship with God and with others then, I have to set the right boundaries.  I am beginning to unpack what this means for me but, I wonder what it might mean for you?

Friendly insiders, get along! Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!

(Psalm 122 vs. 7 – The Message) 

 

 

 

 

 

Tis the season to get weary!

I don’t know about you, dear reader but, I always find I get weary at this time of year. 

Trust me, this isn’t the blog about how hard ministers work at Christmas!

For many years I worked in industry and Christmas always presented us with a focus point for orders to be out, invoices raised and the factory cleared ready for January stocktaking.  By the time I arrived at the Christmas shut down I was exhausted.  I am sure my friends in the education and care sectors could tell their stories of end of year.  Most of all, however, my heart goes out to those who work in the retail sector!

I find, at this time of year in particular, it very difficult to sleep.  I have so much going round in my mind I find myself waking at hours that I didn’t realise existed.  Today, however, something that has never happened to me before took place.  I was wide awake by 4am.  By 5am, I had given up hope of going back to sleep and I had finished the book I had been reading.  I got up, and made a cup of tea, found a fresh book and got back into bed.  I woke up with a start at 8am with my new book unopened and cold cup of tea. 

I had overslept! 

I never oversleep, it just doesn’t happen to me!

By the time I got into the office, I was ready to spend some time with God in His word.  As I turned to the passage that my reading plan had selected today, I read some familiar words from the prophet Isaiah and couldn’t help but smile;

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

(Isaiah 40 vs. 29 – 31)

Weariness is part of life.  It is one of those things that we all, from time to time, experience.  Periods of intense busyness are bound to wear us down but, as soon as Christmas is here, we can rest and catch up with ourselves. 

It sounds good but I recognize, within myself, weariness comes with a high price tag attached.   I become prone to illness and it is when I am weary I become an easy target for those things that pull me away from God. Another verse I looked at today was Proverbs 25 vs. 28 which says;

A person without self-control

is like a city with broken-down walls.

(Proverbs 25 vs. 28)

That verse is one I can really relate to.  Weariness is what breaks down my walls.

It’s at times when I am most weary, I most need the strength of God to renew and lift me so I can keep walking with Him.  So, that was my prayer today, that God would strengthen me and lift me so that I can walk with Him.

What was your prayer today?