This month’s blog theme reminded me of my time as a homeschooling mom who desperately wanted to educate her children and to encourage them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What I soon discovered was that training them to be attentive during school hours was extremely difficult because we were at home. As a homeschooling parent it is imperative to develop a schedule that keeps you and the children on tasks because there are so many distractions. I couldn’t imagine attempting it today with the level of technology our children are exposed in one day. One lesson that always needed repeating was based on the difference between what I called “ selective hearing” and “listening”.
Selective hearing is hearing what the person wants to hear. Back then, this was my children’s common response to many of my requests especially those that were related to assignmentS and chores. If a simple request was connected to a positive reinforcement (bribe) then the children heard and even listened. However, if a motivating factor was absent then selective hearing was the mainstay. Constantly having to deal with this issue would lead me to “preach” about the difference between hearing and listening. I am sure my kids thought I sounded like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoon series… “wah wah wah wah…wah wah” !!!! Hearing is a physiological ability of the ear and it’s parts, but listening involves deliberate attention to what is being heard.
As a believer, I think there are levels of hearing or listening to God. We can all probably agree that listening is a very important part of communication. In reference to a believer’s prayer life, I would say it is the most important part. It is easier for most of us to share our concerns and cares with God than it is for us to hear his voice and listen for his instruction in response to our request. I don’t think it is much different than my analogy for my children. We mature in our relationship with God and are able to hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts or through others. We all begin there. Hearing is important. Further growth in our intimacy with the Lord will draw us into more attentive listening. We begin to desire to hear and understand more about the Lord; not simply answers to our prayers but a deeper sense of intimacy. This is listening. Our spiritual relationships are similar to our natural relationships in that we not only want to be heard by those we love but we also want to be listened to with attention. I believe God desires this of his children, just as we desire it of our own children.
So we begin by hearing from the Lord, then we mature into deeper listening to the Lord. However, I don’t think our listening ends there, and then there is hearkening. In scripture you read times when it says, “listen” and times when it says, “hearken”. Sometimes the Hebrew word is the same and sometimes it is not. For me both listen and hearken include hearing with intent, purpose and attention. However, hearken (shama in Hebrew) implies obedience as well. To hearken is to hear, listen and obey! This is where listening goes to the next level. This is where we are learning to obey what we hear the Lord speaking to us. So then the real challenge of becomes learning to be quick in our obedience. As we mature as believers, just like children, our obedience becomes more and more important. We can’t just get goose bumps over hearing a word from the Lord. We must grow to the place where we commune long enough to discern what it is he is asking us to do with what we hear as we listen. This month of listening has been just that for me…what do you do when you are listening in prayer and you still have yet to discern your obedience? Sometimes prayer can be like that…at least for me it can. I enjoy fellowship with God and His Spirit. I am learning that as we grow and go deeper into intimacy we are challenged to not only hear and listen but also to hearken- to obey. Obedience is what parents want for the children. We are so blessed to have a Father full of so much mercy, patience and longsuffering that we get so many opportunities to get it right. So even when we don’t, His unfailing love and goodness lead us to want to try again. So I think I may have answered my own question. When it seems difficult to discern your obedience to what your hear as you listen to the Father’s heart, as you tune into the Mind of the Spirit…in the famous words of Dory from Finding Nemo…”just keep hearing…just keep listening…just keep hearkening”…. (my paraphrase) and simply BELIEVE.