I taught high school for 16 years and, while there were many things I enjoyed about that experience, one of the most frustrating parts was when I needed to repeat myself over and over because no one was listening. There were two ways this played out, sometimes the students couldn’t hear me over the noise of their own voices or because they were too caught up in thinking about something that happened to them outside the classroom. At other times, they could hear me just fine, but they simply chose to not listen to what I was saying.
I can’t help but think this is a good example of how we interact with God. Sometimes, we hear Him speak to us and we just don’t listen. We don’t follow through on what we were told to do. His voice becomes noise in the background as we go about our daily lives. Conversely, sometimes we don’t hear His quiet voice because we are too caught up in our own stress and worry and we just don’t hear anything at all – except the constant whirring of our own minds.
Listening is a skill. It can be taught, but the person who is doing the listening also has to want to hear what the other person is saying. In Proverbs 1:33 Solomon talks about the importance of listening. He writes, “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Just listening can put our minds at ease; it can calm the fear that comes from dwelling on the unknown.
Life is busy for all of us and the daily noise of our lives often drowns out the still, small voice of God. I know the best way for me to counteract this is to purposely spend time alone with God, reading, praying, and sitting quietly – just listening. It is much easier to feel God’s presence when I shut out the other noise that threatens to overwhelm my ability to listen.
When I don’t listen to what God is telling me I start to feel increasingly far from Him. I neglect my quiet time, reading the Scriptures and praying, and I start to feel like He is not listening to me. I neglect the very things that allow me to grow closer to God. It is the beginning of a vicious cycle. In reality, I am the one who is not listening and when I don’t listen, just like those students in my classroom, I don’t know what to do. I have missed His instructions and I begin to wander around aimlessly searching for the right direction. Had I just listened, I would have been on the correct path in close communion with my Lord.
In the second instance, where my students could hear me but were not listening, I was usually standing at the front of the room giving directions at the beginning of a lesson. I would try to be as clear as possible and would even repeat what I was trying to say in more than one way, just to make sure that everyone understood. But I knew. I knew that there was going to be that inevitable question as soon as I finished talking. Someone was going to ask, “What are we supposed to do?”
Even though I knew it was coming, it was still frustrating. Had they chosen to listen to what I was saying, they would have known what to do. They would have been able to easily complete their assignment.
Do you ever feel like God is asking you to do something you really don’t want to do? Is it easier to ignore His nudges than to face what you feel He has in store for you? Is He asking you to move out of your comfort zone and into His greater will for your life and you just don’t want to? Haven’t we all felt this way at one time or another?
It is like coming to a fork on a trail in the forest. I might be sure that God wants me to go to the right, but I’ve had my heart set on taking the trail that leads to the left. So I pretend I didn’t quite hear God’s direction and I quietly and discreetly tiptoe to the left. The trail is interesting. It certainly doesn’t seem dangerous and I almost forget that little nudge that had told me that God wanted me to head to the right. Almost, that is, until I realize I am totally lost and I feel so alone. Of course, God never abandoned me, but I chose to walk away from Him. I chose not to listen, even though I knew He was speaking to me.
We have such a good example of this in the book of Jonah. We all know the story. God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and Jonah did not want to go. Jonah 1:3 says, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah wasn’t just tiptoeing away from God, he was running as hard as he could. In a totally different direction. And it got him in trouble.
When the ship Jonah was hiding on ran into a storm, he knew the purpose of the storm. He knew it was a direct result of him ignoring the very clear instructions he had been given by God. After he had been tossed into the midst of the sea and been swallowed up, Jonah gave in. He prayed to God out of a humble heart, acknowledging he was lost and unable to survive without God’s intervention.
I encourage you to read Jonah chapter 2. Jonah might have been praying from the depths of the sea, but his emotions, his pleas to God for salvation because he was lost and alone, resonate with us today. We have all gotten lost and needed God to bring us back on course.
This chapter is filled with hope. You see, God didn’t say, “You didn’t listen to me. You got yourself lost, find your own way back.” No. He performed a miracle. He had the whale spit Jonah back out on dry land. He brought Jonah back to a place of safety where he could never have reached himself. Our Saviour still does the same for us. When we don’t listen and end up getting lost, He gently draws us back to Himself.
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