A Listening Heart…

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted…”

Luke 11:39-40a

“Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!'”

Mark 9:7

Listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is more about the physical ability to detect sounds and language, while listening is an active stance of alert receptivity and expectation, awaiting words that convey meaning or give direction.

If I am tuned in to the cry of my newborn, I am really listening. If I am awaiting a teenage child’s return home late at night, I am really listening. If I am getting instructions from my doctor about an upcoming medical procedure, I am really listening. And if I am at the bedside if a dying friend, I am really listening for any sounds, longing for any words at all.

For us who are truly followers of Christ, our listening is even more crucial than the examples given above. Yet how often, in the daily-ness of life, are we lulled into a state of “lukewarmness” (see Revelation 3:15-22), which God apparently finds odious.

We are often more concerned about “hot sins” – anger, lust, envy, greed – and are careful to avoid these. But the spiritual stupor that takes the mercy and grace of God almost for granted: this we can sometimes fail to address. The simple truth is that we sometimes hardly notice our drift from the Vine of Christ, and before long, we’re really “dry”, on “spiritual autopilot”.

I’ve thought often about how Martha was so “distracted” by the chores of her hostessing. In all probability she could hear Jesus speaking, but she clearly was not listening to Him.

What a picture that is of me so often! I can become so focused on what’s happening in my mind – the “story” I am telling myself about my life right now, or my worries and problem solving, that I forget that (1) it’s not all about me; and (2) I am not left alone to manage life as best I can. I have to get self out of the narrative in my head so that I can really listen to what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to me in that moment.

And how do I do that? I must cultivate above all a listening heart.

The heart in the Bible is the center of the person. It is the driver of the soul, the mind, will and emotions. We understand this meaning best when we hear someone say, “I love her/him with all my heart“. We know that this is communicating a wholehearted giving of oneself with nothing held back. The one loved this way is a priority, thought of easily and often.

Do I love my Savior like that? With my whole heart? Is He a priority in my thoughts? Am I attuned to His words to me, seeking to hear well what He might want to communicate to me in prayer and in the written Word of God and even through my day to day life?

Grant me, Lord, the wake up call when I am too distracted by life! Help me, Holy Spirit of God, to be reminded of Who it is that waits in the next room for me, speaking lifegiving words. Help me take off my apron, leave my distractions and really listen!

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