Do you ever feel that it is difficult to hear God speaking? I know I do.
There are so many distractions around us. TVs, Radios, facebook, twitter, telephone, email, things calling on our time and attention. As well as the different competing voices telling us what to do, we are constantly bombarded with advertising which tells us how to spend our money, where we should go, what we should do, how we can live longer, be happier, be more successful, achieve our goals. With so many distractions around us, is it not surprising that sometimes we find it hard to hear God’s voice in all that is going on.
I actually think that sometimes we feel more comfortable with this noise, and that we are not very good when it comes to being still and silent.
But too much noise can be bad for our health, and can lead to sleeplessness and stress.
But it is not just audible noise that is a problem. Our lives can often be filled up with noise, worries, doubts, fears, pressures of work, family life, church life. All these things can act as noisy distractions. I imagine all of us at one time or another, had those experiences of lying awake on our beds at night with thoughts rushing through our mind, making it difficult for us to switch off and sleep.
This noise, which can affect our lives can so often prevent us from hearing God.
But we can get used to this noise. When I visit my parents’ house I’m always struck by the noise from the A50 which runs past their house, but they don’t hear it, because over the years they have got used to it, and managed to screen it out. I think we often do the same with God.
Here there is a lot of background noise from the traffic, but every now and then there will be a break in the traffic, and during that time you can suddenly become aware of the noise of birds singing. They’ve been there all along, but it is just their song has been drowned out by the sound of traffic.
Could it be that the fact we often feel as though God is not speaking to us, is not because he’s not speaking, but that we’re not listening?
The word ‘Listen’ appears 332 times in the Bible. Clearly this is something which is important for us to do. But if there is one thing I know I’m bad at doing, it’s listening, especially when it comes to God. I suspect I’m not the only one.
The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."
Good listening is like tuning into a radio station. For good results, you can listen to only one station at a time. If I try to watch TV whilst holding a conversation with someone, it won’t work, it will just lead to frustration and irritation.
Proper listening requires us to make a choice about where I am going to play my attention. So if I’m talking to Beata, I need to put away the things that will divide my attention, that might mean turning away from the screen that I’m looking at, turning off the TV or radio.
The same is true when it comes to God. We need to set aside time to be with him.
The trouble is that I find I’m not very good at doing this. It takes time, and effort.
One of the essential elements of Taize Worship is the 10 minutes of silence in the middle of the prayer. At first it takes a lot of getting used to, because there can be so many distractions, not least the noise of thoughts whirling around in your head. But after a while you begin to appreciate the space and stillness, and it helps you to listen for the still small voice. It is about creating space for God in our lives.
Why is it though, that we find being still so difficult? I think part of the problem is that we live in a world where everything is expected to happen quickly. The world has been transformed by global communications, in the past where it would have taken days, weeks or even months for news to travel from one side of the world to the next, now it happens in seconds.
It is not just communication. We have similar expectations in our own lives. Personal debt in Britain stands at over £1.432 trillion. In the past people used to purchase goods and products when they had the money, but now we buy now and hope to pay later, putting money on credit card. We’ve also seen an explosion in the use of payday lenders such as Wonga, which has seen more and more people getting into debt. Since 2007 the National Debtline has seen the number of calls they receive increase by 140%.
This is all symptomatic of a culture where we expect everything to be done instantly, the buy now pay later culture.
It can be a problem in our Christian life as well. When we pray we expect to get instant answers. But God doesn’t act like this.
In our Gospel reading we encounter Simeon, who had been promised by God that he would live to see the Messiah. How long did Simeon have to wait for this promise to be fulfilled? The Bible doesn’t say, but it may have been an extremely long time.
Simeon was someone who clearly had learnt to wait, to trust, to be still, and to listen.
He knew that he would see the Christ one day, he didn’t know when, but he trusted God.
In being open to God and listening to him, we also need to be prepared to be challenged. The message God may want to convey to us, may be uncomfortable, and difficult. This was true for Mary in our reading when Simeon said “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Being open to God, means being prepared to hear all that he wants to say to us.
This Sunday marks the official end of the Christmas season (Candlemas), and our focus moves to Lent, which begins in 18 days time. One of the things that I am going to strive to try and do this Lent, and maybe something you’d also like to think about doing, is to switch off some of the noise and distraction that exists in my life. To take time to be still, and to more consciously try to tune into God, to heed the words of the Psalmist who wrote.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
It is all to easy to fill up our lives with things which do not matter, and neglect those things that really do matter.
It has been estimated that in a lifetime the average person will spend:
- Six months sitting at traffic lights,
- Eight months opening junk mail
- One year looking for misplaced objects
- 2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls
- 4 years eating
- 4 years doing housework
- 5 years waiting in line
- 11 years watching TV
- 25 to 30 years working
- 26 years sleeping
I wonder how much time God gets from us?
The Psalmist writes, Be Still and Know that I am God. The well known Quaker George Fox used to say ‘Carry some quiet around inside yourself, be still in your own mind & spirit, from you own thoughts, and then you will be able to hear God.’