Have you ever given someone else directions only to have them do the exact opposite of what you asked? My wife knows all about this. Oh, and not with the kids, but with me.
She knows better than to ask me to take care of the laundry. Bath towels would be the only exception. I’m allowed to do them. Or how I unload the dishwasher. It’s definitely NOT how she asks it to be done.
Now some of it is just fun. We tease each other about this; My wife is not some tyrannical tyrant. But I have done things the exact opposite of what she asked me. Not because I wanted to tease her or purposely wanted to annoy her (which I’m well known for).
But because I only heard her.
I only heard her. I didn’t listen. There is a difference.
I caught myself just last week doing this! I was actively cleaning out the coffee maker and hearing everything she said. When it got quiet, and I knew she’d finished explaining what she was explaining, I realized I had heard her talking. I was aware of the topic of the conversation. And I could say I heard what you said. But I had to ask her to repeat most of it. I had to stop what I was doing, focus on her eyes (those big beautiful brown eyes), and listen…not just hear.
It’s not enough to hear
We’ve all done this if we are honest with ourselves. Maybe your story is similar to mine. Sure the context may change, but the idea remains – it’s not enough to hear. We have to also listen.
And again…there is a difference.
The words can’t be used interchangeably. I hear all sorts of things, but they are not done on purpose. Most of the time, if I’m asked did I hear something, I likely didn’t because I wasn’t paying attention, and if I did hear it, I heard it accidentally.
Take a lawn mower, a furnace blower, or a train. We are accustomed to these sounds and routinely ignore them. I’d even go as far as saying we’ve trained ourselves to dismiss them as we don’t have a need or reason to listen to them. In other words, we can filter out sounds that mean little to us. The most significant part of this is to hear something takes little effort.
Let me say that again – hearing is mostly effortless.
Listening is different. Listening is super focused. It’s on purpose and intentional. We choose to listen to something, and it takes a bit of effort to make it happen. Take a speaker you’ve paid money to hear speak or a band you’ve spent money to listen to. You don’t filter them out! You have reasons to listen! You paid good money to listen to them speak. So you train your ears to be attentive to them. The most significant part of listening is it takes effort.
Let me say that again – listening takes effort.
The benefits of listening are remarkable! Good listeners are good learners, better friends, and more empathetic. When you listen to someone, you show they are important to you. It isn’t a transaction of sounds or stories; it’s a relational deposit into someone else when we listen. But it takes some effort. It doesn’t happen accidentally.
Let’s go back to learning butterfly. I kept hearing my coach give me instructions, but I kept making the same mistake repeatedly. She finally stopped me and made me listen. I was hearing her, but I wasn’t really listening. Once I started listening, I began understanding what she wanted me to do.
Here’s the thing – I can hear a good sermon, but I can listen for God’s voice through the sermon. I can read a good blog post, but I can listen for God’s voice through the blog post.
And that’s the basic idea of Christian meditation which is the spiritual discipline this week. It’s simply the ability to listen for God’s voice and obey. It’s not complicated to understand but sometimes difficult to practice.
Last week we spent some time with the Israelites and Moses, and this week we’ll pick up the narrative again, only a little bit later.
So Exodus as a book can be divided into two halves. The first half (Chapters 1-18) is the story we talked about last week and then some. It’s the part of Exodus where God frees the enslaved people to dwell with Him. The second half (Chapters 19-40) contain the covenant made between God and His people at the foot of Mount Sinai. It’s here that the Israelites receive what we call the Big Ten. No, not college football. The Ten Commandments.
We don’t need to go through them here. Head to Exodus 20 if you want to look them up. What I want to focus on for today in terms of meditation is simply a few verses of chapter 20.
Exodus 20:1 Then God spoke all these words…
God proceeded to give Moses commandments to pass along to the Israelites. God desired that His people dwell with Him; to do so, they needed to listen to what God had to say and obey. Christian meditation is the ability to listen for God’s voice and obey.
Now, all during this time, the Israelites are at the foot of the mountain and are honestly freaking out. There are flashes of lighting, the sounds of thunder, and the mountain smoking. Their relationship with God is scary, so they petition Moses…
Exodus 20:19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but do not have God speak to us, or we will die!”
God has drawn Israel out to dwell with them, and it scares them a little. Truth be told, it can be scary to us as well. So Moses became a mediator between God and the people – shadowing what was to come as Jesus became the best mediator! I think the Israelites, much like we can do, realize just how holy God is and we are not, of how God is so powerful and helpless. And that’s why I’m so thankful we have Jesus as our mediator!
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
Meditation – it’s all about change
With Jesus being our mediator, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Undeniable is that it’s not enough that He simply dwells, but He speaks to us and for us to listen to Him and obey. And that’s all about change.
Not God changing, but us changing as God desires to continue to shape us as we respond obediently to Him. And so, in Christian meditation, we create the environment to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying through sermons, music, lessons, blog posts, and ordinary everyday stuff.
And I think that’s pivotal.
Meditation will yield insights that’ll be deep and life-changing! It’s those mountain top experiences that we find remarkable! But more often, Christian meditation is how God wants us to respond to a sensitive problem or situation at work or that touchy relationship with an estranged relative. It’s how the Holy Spirit directs us to relate to our husband or wife or how to speak to our kids, or words of wisdom to use in challenging situations. I’ve stopped, prayed, and meditated while trying to fix a tech problem and have an idea float to the surface that I firmly believe wasn’t me.
My point? The Holy Spirit desires to guide us in the ordinary human problems of life. Yes, extraordinary stuff is fantastic! But I’m convinced that the ordinary is even better! It’s there I need Him most. It’s there I need a Mediator and a Counselor and Guide. Christian meditation then sends us into our ordinary world with exceptional perspective.
I know, I know! This is all great, but I haven’t said HOW to meditate. You are right. I haven’t. It will look different for each of us. For me, my time is in the morning. I’m freshest. I’m not tired and falling asleep while listening for the Holy Spirit to speak. So my time is after breakfast, coffee, and getting the kids to school. And it’s called my Safe Place.
I can’t take credit for the name. It’s something I was given by another pastor in our district. But I’ll give you the short version. A safe place is finding a quiet place where you can be alone with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes some soft music playing is good. It’s not necessary. The important part is getting comfy to relax and let your guard down. You close your eyes and ask Jesus to guide you to a place in your mind where you feel safe. It could be a place from your childhood, you’ve been before, or even a place you haven’t been. The important part is you must feel safe here.
Give it time. Allow the place to evolve. Notice what you see, the sounds, the smells. Then ask Jesus to be there with you. Invite Him to join you. Wait there for Him. Be attentive to signs of His presence with you. Rest here for just a moment, knowing He is near. Then ask Him if He has a word for you. Allow Him to lead. Listen. Really listen for Him. Be obedient, rest in what you receive from Him, and be thankful for it.
I know that seems like a lot, but it’s not. It’s simply creating the right environment to listen and obey.
You may not receive some colossal insight. It’s totally OK! Remember, He’s interested in helping us in the ordinary human stuff because that’s where we are. And He desires to dwell with us in the ordinary – right where we are!
My prayer this week is you receive a word from Him, be it guidance in a problem or words for a challenging set of circumstances. That you listen, that we all listen. Remember, it’s not the same as hearing. It takes effort and intention.
You are loved!