Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
A crowded airliner was just about to take off when a five-year-old began to throw a temper tantrum. The mother, rather embarrassed, tried all she could to calm the child down, but with little effect.
This went on for some time and suddenly, from the rear of the plane, an Air Force General slowly walked up the aisle. He stopped beside the boy, nodded to the mother, and leaned down to quietly talk to the boy. He motioned to his chest, patted the boy on the head and walked away.
As if by magic, the boy immediately calmed down and quietly fastened his seat belt. All the other passengers burst out in applause. As the General slowly made his way back to his seat, one of the cabin attendants touched his sleeve. “Excuse me, General, but what did you say to that little boy?” The General smiled serenely and said, “I showed him my pilot’s wings, service stars and battle ribbons and explained that they entitled me to throw anyone I want out the door of any plane I’m on.”
What the little boy came to understand was the importance of listening and obeying. In all the commotion, despite the best efforts of his mother, the boy didn’t want to listen because he was focused on his own wants and needs. What he came to learn, however, is that listening can be very good for a person, especially if he’s under threat of early flight. He learned, at least for the moment, that listening is a vital part of life and it’s essential to the communication process. You’d think we’d all get it but all too often we don’t.
None of us listen as well as we should. We hear what’s being said but sometimes we don’t give the spoken word the credit it deserves, at least the spoken word of others. Parents, children, spouses, co-workers, employers, even Pastors complain that no one listens to them. So, what’s going on?
Obviously God knew this would be a problem for the disciples who accompanied Jesus on the mountain during his transfiguration. He knew that with all the excitement at seeing Jesus, Moses and Elijah this way, Peter, James and John would have a hard time… listening. This was proven correct when Peter missed the opportunity He was given to listen and learn by focusing on the accommodations instead.
I read a report on this, and some specialists speculate that the reason we listen so poorly is that, when we listen, we try to prepare our response instead of listening completely. We hear the sub-text but often miss the real meaning of the conversation because were already working on our rebuttal. Most aren’t skilled enough to listen to half the conversation and get the whole message. Most of us are going to fail.
This same study said that good listeners respect others and value their opinions. They try to stay interested in the other person, knowing that they can always learn from others, even when they don’t agree. Good listeners take it slow and easy. They don’t jump to conclusions or race ahead in the conversation. They stay in the moment and respond thoughtfully. They take a step back and assess the whole conversation before giving an opinion.
Again, we go back to the ADD riddled Peter. He was planning when he should have been listening. Finally God himself had to step in saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen one; Listen to Him!”
Listening and right thinking are vital in the human community. I’m sure many of us have seen instances even in our own church when people were more interested in getting a point across then they were in listening. I think we might have more people in attendance today had both sides simply taken the time to listen more.
And we are not unique in this. That’s why books have been written on the art of listening and colleges teach courses on conflict resolution based on the art of listening. There is no better way to stay linked to each other, to learn about each other and to learn about ourselves. Of course, it can get kind of chaotic at times because conversation is also a skill, and some people express their opinions and feelings better than others. Proper listening often takes a considerable amount of patience and practice.
It’s so amazing to me that when God takes this time to legitimize His son, of all the things He could have said, he mentions listening. “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him.”
We see throughout Scripture that Jesus also knew the importance of listening. In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” There were times in Jesus’ life when He just needed to get away from others and take the time to listen to his Father.
Every now and then Jesus needed to step back for a moment, to pray, to meditate and, most importantly, to listen. Because of this, Jesus would be filled again with renewed strength from God the Father so He could go on with His work and ministry.
Prayer for Jesus, as it should be for us, was a time to listen more than to speak. Like us, Jesus needed His Father to speak to Him to renew His strength. We also need to make time in the quiet of the moment to meditate on what God has to say to us.
If we are going to let the brightness of Christ shine in and through our lives, then we, like Jesus, need to pray and to listen. Listening prayer involves, on our part, daily discipline and concentration.
Martin Luther, in his table talk, gave us an example of concentration in our daily prayer. At one time, Martin had a puppy who happened to be at the table looking for a bit of food that might drop off the floor or given to him by someone. Martin Luther looked at the puppy with his mouth open and his eyes fixed on the prospect of a coming treat. Upon seeing this he said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise, he has no thought, wish or hope.”
That was Peter’s problem. He lacked concentration. Like us sometimes, Peter found it difficult to listen because he was multi-tasking. He was thinking of too many things at the same time. I’m going to pick on Cheryl a little bit here. She also has a hard time concentrating when there is too much distraction.
She prefers it to be very quiet when she’s working on the family books and if you know anything about my family, that was a rare commodity in the Haugen household. We knew to stay away when the bills were being paid and the budget was being worked on and praise be to God that she has the patience to do it.
That’s why it is wise to find a place of solitude when we pray, so that we can hear that still small voice of God as he speaks to us. Every good relationship involves dialogue. If water is constantly taken out of the well without receiving new water, the well will run dry. Likewise, prayer is also a receiving and a giving thing, it’s a listening and a speaking.
Gladys Aylward was once asked why she became a missionary. She stated that she was “absolutely, positively sure” that it was what God wanted her to do. And she gave this advice: “whatever you do in life, say your prayers. Don’t just talk to God. Be very still and quiet and give God a chance to talk to you – you’ll be surprised what God has to say.”
I too had to finally step back and listen. Throughout my life I heard God calling me to ministry but I neglected to listen. There is a difference between hearing and listening. I knew what he was saying but it didn’t match what I wanted Him to say so I failed to listen. I had my own path and I was determined to take it.
It took my time as a pastor in Idaho and then even during seminary to finally teach me to really listen to what God was telling me. True listening comes only from trust and trust is something we all need to work on to catch the vision that God would have us to focus on.
Vision… to really know where God is taking us, is necessary for us individually and as a church. Without the vision that God gives us we become stagnant, shortsighted and careless and we become content with simply going through the motions. We lose sight of the real purpose and mission that our Lord has called us to.
The same God who thought enough to save us by His grace, wants you to know He has big plans for you, but to know this we have to learn to listen as he speaks to us. We need to earnestly listen to what God is telling us as we read or hear the Word of God. We need to always be keen to where God is leading us as we make everything we do a ministry to Him, and we need to spend quiet time alone with the Holy Spirit, listening even more than we’re talking.
Christ is our light. Through His guidance, our pathways become clear. Through His teaching, our calling in life become more defined and by His love, He has made the darkness light. May that same light that dazzled from the transfigured Christ shine brightly in our hearts and in our lives for all to see. Amen.