Listening is the Essential Skill

Jun 02, 2014

The essential skill for the Life of the Spirit is listening, an inner ear attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is an attunement to the voice of God within. Listening by itself, however, is not enough; we must then follow what God suggests.

As we practice listening for God’s voice within, we are developing a spaciousness in which God can reside in us, an attunement, an ability to rest in the arms of God that is vital to our living fully. What was once the potential in us becomes the reality.

Only God can lead us to where we want to go, fulfill our deepest longings. Our own vision is too limited, too clouded by assumptions, preconceptions. We’re often too close to our own lives to have any perspective at all on ourselves, our needs and how to fulfill our purpose.

This kind of deep listening is developed through practicing going beneath the surface of the mind, to the quiet underneath the busyness of the mind’s chatter. To sit in stillness and calm means that we have disengaged from whatever the mind is trying to evoke in us. The repetitive thinking that we observe in ourselves was set in childhood with all the admonitions we were trying to learn—“you should do ____” or “no more of this ____!” or “don’t forget ____!”

These habitual thoughts try to hook us emotionally, so that we feel bad when we don’t do things in the right way—according to these voices from our childhood! We can almost identify each voices’ source: in my case Aunt Grace’s for not spending money, my parents and teachers for not behaving right and so on.

So our practice becomes separating ourselves from these voices and no longer allowing them to hook us emotionally. We have to unplug from the source of power they have over us. This is how I think of them: the voices are a part of this whole system that is me, but they are not me. So I don’t have to react to them. I can hear them—I don’t think they ever go away—but I don’t have to react to them. As we separate out who we are from these voices lodged in the mind, we can sit in quiet and begin to listen for God’s “still, small voice” within. The more we practice this quiet, the clearer God’s voice gets.

This quiet practice is then enhanced through setting our intention to follow God’s lead, allowing God to set the pace, the goal, the method and the timing. We develop a close partnership with the Lord that goes on throughout our days and nights. Our part is to let God lead us to our own true selves. The payoff is huge—a natural, not a fabricated existence trying to be someone else, effortless in the sense that our talents and gifts make these actions natural for us; we enjoy freedom from anyone else’s opinion as to who we are and what we should be doing. This is true freedom; it comes from obedience to God, but also obedience in turn to essence of the person he created us to be.

There is a saying that comes from the Bible that man proposes and God disposes. In Proverbs 16:9 NIV it reads: “in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” What we propose comes naturally out of our creation, but then we let God lead us to the centrality of our creation, to the gifts and talents that will express who we are with all our heart, soul mind and body.

Like gold we are being purified through our resting in God, through following God’s lead, through the purification of our intention to participate in the life of the Spirit, throwing off all the impurities(what clouds our lens as I wrote last week) so that only the essential element, in our case the created self, the deep-soul self remains.

There are two main methods of refining gold– through fire and through acid. In our human process we might call these suffering and pain.  It’s not just our own suffering and pain that transforms us, but also when we allow the suffering of others to really penetrate us, to feel their pain, to help carry their burdens, then we are transformed in even deeper ways.

The proof that we are being refined, the dross being burned off, is in our growing ability to love, to have patience, joy, peace, love, self-control, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness— all fruit of the Spirit, capacities that are sure signs that we “belong to Christ…that we live by the Spirit.” [Galatians 5:24] The nonessentials, the impediments to this life have been burned away from us, and the true essence of our created selves remains.

The fruit of the Spirit comes from creating a spaciousness within for God’s direction, by listening with an inner ear to the One who would guide us. It comes from putting ourselves in the arms of Love which transform us. It comes from letting go of all that is not true.

When we apply these same listening skills, the spaciousness, the love to others, we find a richness in our interactions that wasn’t there before. We listen to the person before us not just with our physical ears, but with the same inner ear catching the nuances and the meaning behind what is being said; we accept the person where he is, that what she is saying is true for her. We acknowledge who he is. We don’t try to fix her or change him. We embrace all of who they are. And we love them

For they are the same as we are in life, trying to meet their challenges, struggling to find their truer selves, tripping sometimes over their own two feet. They are us and we are them. And we see that we are no better than any other person on this planet. This is true humility—not inflating or debasing who we are, but embracing the whole person, ourselves and the other, warts and all.

If we will but listen with an inner ear to God, to ourselves, and to the other, we will find richness and purpose and fulfillment and joy and peace and love. It is truly amazing!



Questions to ponder over the week: How much attention am I paying to the voice of God within me? Can I hear his voice as distinct from the other interior voices? Do I have enough experience of following his voice that I know it when I hear it? And what has listening to that voice brought into your life?


Check out the home page this week  for “My Journey.”

One thought on “Listening is the Essential Skill

  1. I think prayer is very much about listening and responding. As I get old I find my life with God is more intimate. I’m no longer bothered by thoughts about what I ought to do and try to listen more carefully to what my Father is saying and responding to promptings of the Spirit. It also means listening to others and to our culture- what John Stott called ‘double listening’
    so yes I go along with much that you say. I have heard his voice, had ‘visions’ too, but now on a quiet walk

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