Opening Up Our Spiritual Ears
It takes time for the silty noise of modern life to settle to the bottom of our crowded souls.
I tend to have a decent few months every year where I'm not hearing from God at all. Actually, just to clarify, the way in which I'm hearing from him during these weeks and months is through silence. I find that after long enough of the Spirit speaking to us through community, scriptures, inspirations and dreams he gives us a little time to look back and make sense of it all. Silence for me is often the sign that I've missed the importance of something that I've already heard from God. Or that I haven't spent enough time wrestling with the pieces of the puzzle I already have.
Well, last year I started noticing that there were other periods of my not hearing or being able to see God clearly that didn't so much feel like God's silence as much as internal noise. When I'm struggling to focus on God's voice I always look to a few old foes that tend to inhibit my ability to listen. Those are needing to look back on what he's already spoken, areas of my life that are just good ole willfull disobedience to what I know he's leading me in, and finally the noise both internal and external I'm allowing into my life.
"Everything is permissible for me," but not everything is beneficial.
1 Corinthians 6:12.
Growing up in the church I was told there were two categories of actions; those that were sinful and those that were not. These were easy to figure out I was told because all the sinful stuff is in the ten commandments etc and all the good stuff was basically, well, it was in there somewhere. So sin of course were those list of rules that if I broke would cause God to draw away from me somehow and stop talking for a while. Possibly until I'd done enough good things to counterbalance or maybe just until his passive aggressive lesson had gotten through to me. It's messed up theology because in spending so much time not doing the "naughty" things I knew were bad, I was too fearful and stressed out to love God and others proactively and generously.
As I've come to learn the latter is the real sin of the two. God cares far more about the good things we do that the bad we're unable to overcome. It's called grace and it's why Jesus could forgive the most despised of his generation while rejecting the most "holy". We can be drawn into believing that if we're not doing anything obviously bad then we're doing right with God and we should be hearing his voice. Right? Wrong.
Not everything in our spiritual walk with God is about easy to define boundaries and dualistic beliefs. For starters, there is no moment in which God is not near to anyone and speaking to them. Hades itself can't separate us from his presence and I doubt he's just lurking around us all the time silent. Love beckons, it's the unrelenting nature of love to want to make itself known to the object of it's affection.
To put it plainly, God is so interested in every one of us that he's always singing over us and inviting us into communion with him.
Last year during a time of not being able to hear God's voice I couldn't find any particular sin (the old school checklist) and I was praying earnestly to hear him and still I heard nothing. As I journaled through my frustrations one day I asked Father what it was that was stopping me from hearing him clearly in that moment. What he said in return has stuck with me ever since and helped me to continue hearing him on a daily basis and with deep peace.
He showed me a pool of water. The Spirit is the pool and it is always open and available to every one of us. The pool is always full and it's water never changes it's property. What does change is how we care for it. When we're not paying attention to the environment around the pool we can allow chemical surface run off to affect the quality, mud from carelessness and erosion can make the water hard to see through and allowing junk to fall in would make it unsafe to swim in. None of this changes the nature of the pool or the water but it does change the way we can enjoy it.
Hearing God's voice is much the same. It's not that watching Netflix or filling our ears with music and conversation all the time is "sinful", but that it becomes extra noise that muddies our sensitivity to god.
It's an issue of competing voices. It's fairly pointless reading the beatitudes and seeking to love your enemy while filling your eyes with violent films about murder and retribution. I'm not saying those films are wrong, or that it's wrong to watch them, I'm just saying it's counterproductive to hearing the clear voice of the Spirit when we sit with him. It's pointless hitting the gym five times a week and eating a steady diet of junkfood. In the same way seeking to know God while toxifying our spiritual senses with apposing images, conversation and behavior won't help us narrow in on his kind and consistent voice.
I guess what I'm saying is you can't have your cake and eat it too. Sorry.
The more noise we allow into our lives moment by moment the harder it will become in the few minutes or hours during our day that we allow God to speak to us. Again, I'm not saying those things are sinful because of it, I'm just saying they tend to stockpile the proverbial wax around our spiritual eardrums. Our minds and thoughts are already bombarded with enough images in the world we live in, so when we saturate ourselves and give our minds to the agenda of media we're just adding more silt to the water. The only way to allow all that silt to settle to the bottom so we can see clearly again is to sit quietly, give ourselves mental space, contemplate/meditate, exercise or practice sitting with Jesus for extended periods.
Hearing from God isn't just about the few moments we give him to speak. But about living a lifestyle that removes the noise that inhibits his voice from being heard.
What I realised that morning was that God wasn't telling me I was sinning, this wasn't about earning his voice nor about how much he does or doesn't speak because I've learnt that God's voice is a tap that never stops (even in seasons of "silence"). What he was showing me was that if I wanted to hear his affectionate words toward me and others more consistently I would need to do more work to tune in. It was up to me to decide on my sensitivity level and what competing ideologies, images and kingdoms I allow to fight for space within me.
Opening up spiritual ears isn't about getting God to speak, it's about giving him more space to be heard.
So, if you're wanting to hear a little more clearly maybe try and make more room for silence and reflection in your in between moments. Sit in traffic without the radio on, force yourself to be attentive. Don't look at your phone the second you wake up and leave it on the bench when you use the restroom. Take your headphones out when you go for a walk and instead of filling all your time with social events take half an hour out to light a candle after work and just be. It's not even that you have to actively pray or even focus on God during that time, but that you just let the silt and noise of life sift through to the bottom of the pool so that you can hear the whisper of the Spirit more clearly.
Creating these rhythms in your life will help you build a listening room with God that will enrich your life and liven your walk with God for all of your days.
And what you discover may just turn you off the noise for good anyway.