I want to listen

We’ve got a cell phone remembering challenge in our church services right now. Three times in four weeks. Once with the person unable to figure out how to make it stop.

(None of them have been quite as odd as the rooster crowing ringer that went off awhile back when I was preaching. I was in the last three sentences, the ones where my meanderings for the previous 29 minutes finally come together. And a rooster started crowing. I was sure that I hadn’t betrayed anything.)

I was thinking about how we could respond. We already put up slides and from time to time make oral announcements. We could escalate the warnings with images of phones being smashed or people being embarrassed or both. But the emphasis ends up being on the phone, on the disruption.

What if we focused instead on listening. The phone ringing isn’t a problem because phones are a problem. Or because it’s rude. The problem is that I have the attention span of a gnat. The problem is that I want to hear, that I need to hear, the message that  my friend has been working on all week, the message that God often hands him to aim at my self-centered heart.

We’re not trying to build a culture of politeness in church. Those of us who teach or preach often don’t care about polite. What we care about is connecting with people who want to listen.

As I was thinking about this idea of wanting to listen, I thought about Zacchaeus, a guy passionately aware that his focus on work was leaving him empty. So he found where Jesus was and climbed a tree to be able to see him. Incredibly impolite and undignified. But Z didn’t care. He wanted to listen. And Jesus connected.

Here’s a “I want to listen” video draft I made. I’m curious about what you think. And don’t forget to turn your phone off this weekend.

If you found this post helpful or challenging, subscribe to 300wordsaday.com for daily words about following Jesus.

The joy of your presence

God wants to be with us. He wants to share a cup of coffee during our early mornings, chat for a few moments in the lull of our mid afternoons – and relax next to us while we watch TV at night.

The beginning of Genesis describes the Garden of Eden, the perfect place God created for Adam and Eve to enjoy life. In chapter 3 is this great little sentence: “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.” God was sharing that garden with them. He wanted to hang out a little, but it was too late. (They had just chosen to eat the forbidden fruit, which tragically messed everything up.)

Jesus made it possible for us to return to that place. While we can’t get the full experience till heaven, here and now we can experience more of those quiet walks with him in our gardens. All we have to do is invite Him along. And we need to remove the boulders in the path between us and Him – those things we know that don’t make Him happy. You know it when you cross the line. Your conscience kicks in and says you’re stepping too far. Tell Him about those things and ask Him to help you deal with them. He will!

Then…

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. (Psalm 16:11.)

Finally, note that this journey is a process. “You will show me…” It’s a lifetime thing (and beyond). Our trek through this garden is best when God walks with us along each new path and juncture – through every rocky patch and across each grassy meadow.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday)

Sometimes you just sit and listen.

My boss was very active. He handed me lots of things to work on, lots of projects to research. And I enjoyed it. It was stretching. It was fun.

We were sitting in his office one afternoon, talking. I already had a long list of next steps in front of me. I was ready to walk next door to my office to get busy on the list. There were deadlines. My boss himself had set some of the deadlines.

And we were just talking. Not about the projects, not about the todo list. We were just spending time together talking.

I started to get twitchy. Because we were talking, the work was not getting done. Opportunities were being missed. Instead we were just sitting here, talking.

Right now I have no idea what we were talking about. I just remember the frustration.

And then I started to smile inside.  I realized that the lists came from the person I was talking with. He knew the deadlines. He knew the projects. He knew how much there was to get done. But he also knew that he wanted to talk with me, that our conversations mattered, that our relationship mattered.

Although some bosses may waste your time and then punish you for not getting your work done, this one didn’t. And neither does God.

Jesus invited the twelve to follow. At least some of the time they they were just sitting, talking. We don’t have transcripts of those times because the primary purpose was not note-taking, it was being together, it was relationship.

I have a funny feeling that one reason we have such a hard time with the idea of listening in prayer is that we think we have to be working on some list. Maybe we could just live, listening.

A brief lesson in listening to hearts

Jesus talks to Nicodemus.

He talks about light and darkness and evil. He points to a Moses story. He scolds Nicodemus for not understanding, for being “Israel’s teacher” and not understanding.

Jesus talks to a woman getting water.

He talks about water and thirst and living water and hope.  She points to a Jacob story. He demonstrates that he knows about her life and still offers her relationship, never scolds.

1. Jesus uses images that relate to the setting.

2. Jesus has no interest in status, neither celebrating high or talking down to low.

3. Jesus isn’t first about condemnation, but rather invitation.

I will, during Lent, on occasion, only write 100 words.

maybe it will work

“If he listens to you.”

Jesus is talking about how to talk to someone about sin, someone in your spiritual family, someone who already has agreed to the house rules and is now bending or breaking them.

As we have seen, Jesus says to  talk to them.

“If he listens to you.”

We assume that people don’t like to be corrected. We assume that that, whatever the sin is, whatever the offense, the person meant what they did and want to persist in their behavior. We assume it because, well, because, um.

We assume it because we look in the mirror and know that we don’t like to be corrected.

But for many of us, most of the time, we are not planning to willfully pursue a flagrant disregard of God’s directions. In fact, for many of us, most of the time, a close friend, a spouse, a sibling, a child approaching us and saying that it looks like we have sinned and that they are concerned for us will cause us to stop.

We see the love. We understand what it took for this person to raise the issue. We know from the Holy Spirit gently poking at us that we are out of line, out of alignment with God’s desire.

“If he listens to you.”

Of course, it is possible in the conversation that we will discover that we have misread the situation, that we have misjudged the person. That happens, too, and we must be willing to listen.

What is most likely, however, after building a community of trust, that we will have seen rightly, that they will listen to us, and that their behavior will change.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

If not, there is a next step.

Witnesses.

Tomorrow.