Sunday’s Sermon: Listening for God

One of the things I try to be good at, especially in ministry, is being able to listen to others. When I was discerning my call to ordained ministry, this was one spiritual gift I was well aware that I possessed. For me, listening intently to someone is important and allows the potential for more than simple conversation. Listening allows someone to be empathetic to a person’s concerns and also to hear their heart. It is humbling when someone invites you to hear their struggles, their needs, or their deepest desires.

Sometimes, we are unable to fully listen to someone. I know this to be true, because as much as I value the ability to listen, there are times when I am unable to hear what someone is saying. That is because I might not be completely focusing on what is being said. I might be there in the physical sense, but mentally I’m detached from the conversation and focusing on something else or my own needs in the conversation.

Where this is especially true for me is when a game is on television. Sports is one of the ways I detox from the world. When I’m watching a game, whether it is another West Virginia defensive nightmare or a Cardinals baseball game, I’m off in my own world. Abbi could tell me something important, but unless it has to do with food, I’m not really listening. I’ll admit that. I’m not focusing on our conversation, but on the inability of West Virginia’s defense to make a stop or the Cardinals’ offensive struggles at the plate. When I am focusing on something else, I am unable to hear what someone is saying, even if that person is very important in my life. It’s not that I don’t care. It is that I am not listening.

In order to listen to someone, you have to be able to give that person your full attention. Effective listening requires that we turn down the distractions that could prevent us from hearing what someone is saying to us. It also requires that our entire self – body and soul – be engaged in the conversation, so that we can appropriately communicate and share with the person who is speaking. Listening is more than just hearing words being spoken. It is also the act of giving someone our time and energy as we hear from them.

Ever struggle with listening? From time to time, all of us have difficulties with being able to truly listen to someone. We will be there in the body, but our mind is somewhere else. When we are not listening to what someone says, we are more than likely to use phrases such as, “What did you say?,” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” than we are phrases like, “I can understand how you feel,” or “I hear what you are saying.” The inability to truly listen to someone creates barriers in our relationships and prevents us from growing closer to one another.

One reason we struggle to listen is that we come to a conversation with a set agenda. We believe we know what needs to be said. Because we have a set response to whatever the person is saying, we anxiously wait for the person to stop talking so we can say what we believe is really important. In doing this, we are not listening to the other person’s heart and need. The conversation is not about a mutual interaction where two or more people are engaged with one another. Instead, it becomes about our own needs and desire to be heard.

The ability to listen is important in our relationship with God. As we seek to grow in what it means to be a follower of Christ, it is especially important that we are able to listen and hear what God has to say to us. Listening to God means that we are attuned to what the Lord’s desires are so that we might be able to reflect and hear something that is important for us.

I think our inability to listen, even when it comes to our faith in Christ, comes out in our struggles. When we face struggles, one of our most common complaints is that God seems absent and silent. It is a painful feeling. I have felt it, and I am sure you have felt it as well.

Have we ever wondered why God seems silent in our pain? There are many reasons for this perceived absence, but I think one of the biggest is that we are not actively listening for God’s voice. Just like we come into our conversations with the intent of having our agenda fulfilled, we can come into our conversations with God with a specific agenda. We know what God needs to say to us, so we are waiting for God to just say it. We drown out anything that doesn’t seem connected to our own needs and desires. Also, I think we struggle with what it means to truly listen for God’s voice. We forget that God is present in our lives and is actively speaking to us in the storms of our lives.

When we are able to reduce the distractions, we are able to hear God’s comfort and grace when we need it the most. This is what we experience in today’s passage from Job. God has finally come to speak to Job. Since Chapter 3, Job has been wrestling with his deep loss and pain. He has heard his friends and their reasons why he is suffering. The one thing Job has not heard is the voice of God. This increases Job’s anguish in his time of loss. God’s perceived absence has hindered Job’s ability to process his grief. When Job perhaps had given up all hope of ever hearing from the Lord, God’s voice came and spoke in the midst of Job’s whirlwind.

It’s not that God was completely silent throughout Job’s trial. God spoke when Job was ready to hear what God had to say. Prior to God speaking, Job had experienced a sea of emotions. He had wished that the day of his birth would be forgotten. He had been frustrated. He had been angry. He had been hurt by what he was experiencing. Job wanted to be forgotten.

As we’ve said over the past few weeks, we can relate to Job. We have been in his shoes. We have felt his pain and we have struggled with not being able to hear from God. Because of Job’s pain and anguish, and even our own embracing of it, when God speaks, we expect a word that is graceful and loving. It is what we want to hear. That is not what we see here.

The Lord gives Job, and us, something else. God’s words are poetic and beautiful, but they aren’t what we, or Job, were expecting. We expect God to say, “Job, it will be OK,” “Job, I am there with you,” or “Job, I love you.” Instead, God says things like, “Job, ‘brace yourself like a man,’” or “Job, ‘where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?.’” It is difficult for us to hear what God is saying to Job, but through these words the Holy One is doing something important that we should not miss. God is saying exactly what Job needs to hear.

In Job’s anguish, he wanted creation to be redeveloped in a way that he had no part of. In Chapter 3, Job claimed the darkness was what was dominant in his life. This darkness for Job prevented him from seeing God’s presence. Job was saying that God created this world only so that we could see the difficulties that this world has to offer. Job could only see his pain. This prevented him from being able to see the depths of God’s love and creation.

This is why God speaks to him with these words that bring to mind the story of creation in Genesis. God recounts the creation narrative. In doing so, the Lord invites Job to reflect on the wonders of creation and his participation in it. With each rhetorical questions, God helps Job focus on something bigger than the darkness he feels. God is trying to let Job see that there is something beautiful beyond his own suffering. Job thought the world was dark; however, God is reminding him that the world was perfectly created by the One who loves us unconditionally and is continually present in our lives.

In this passage, and what follows through Chapter 41, is God speaking to Job exactly in the ways that he needed with words that were appropriate for the struggles he faced. God cares for Job by not giving Job platitudes of a simplistic faith. Instead, God cares for Job by speaking truth with love in the hopes of bringing Job in a deeper relationship with the Lord. We will see next week how Job responds.

For today, there is something here for us. If we listen carefully, we will hear the Lord speak to us in the same ways God spoke to Job. The Lord gives us a word that is appropriate for the time and place we find ourselves in. God speaks the right word to us when we are ready to listen to what needs to be said. Often it is a word of encouragement or direction. Sometimes, it is a word that reminds us of the depths of God’s love in creating a world that exists beyond our understanding.

We might miss what God says to us because we aren’t sure what we need to be listening for. Some of us might be believe that God only speaks with a loud voice and in large moments, perhaps in the same way the Lord spoke to Job. If we are waiting for a large voice and big moments, we might miss the everyday moments that God speaks to us in our times of need. God speaks to us in our storms through so many avenues of grace, such through the reading of Scripture, prayer, the presence and care of our families and friends, our church community, and dare I even say a pastor. In each of these avenues of grace, God speaks care, comfort, and gives us appropriate words that help us see something greater beyond our present circumstance.

The question for us this morning is this: What message from God have we not heard, because we have not listened?
As we go through our many storms, I pray that you might feel the presence of the Holy Spirit so you hear what God has for you. May all of our hearts be open and our entire soul be willing to listen for God’s voice in our times of need.

If we are able to listen for God’s voice, we will hear a message that is timely and a message that is hopeful. A message that calls us to look beyond our own self, and to reflect on the continuing presence of Christ in our lives that is always with us and never leaves us to deal with our storms on our own.

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