Psalm 70:11 Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions and attend them with the ear of your heart.
For the past month, my blog has been silent. I have been using the time to do something I haven’t done in a long time…listening. Listening, first and foremost to God, but also to others, to nature and…to me. There is a response that we sing at Mass that reminds me of my father-in-law every time we sing it. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
Now, I don’t think that Norman and I ever had a conversation about this verse from Psalm 95. But I can hear his voice singing it just as clear as if he were still sitting right beside me. It was a powerful statement to his faith and the way he lived and to me, a wonderful witness and gift.
The verse, If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart, speaks to me two-fold. The very first word is a powerful one…If.
One of my favorite poems is called If by Rudyard Kipling. It’s sort of a guide to adulthood, in my opinion. If you can take all that is thrust your way and not let it defeat you, then you will succeed. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”. What a great line!
In Psalm 95, the If has even bigger implications. The psalmist could have said, ‘when’ or ‘since’ or chosen other words. But obviously he knew… He knew how busy our lives are, the distractions and complications. Those imposed by others and the ones that are self-imposed. That’s why he used the word If. It is not a given that we will hear God’s voice. Not that He is not speaking to us. But we are not listening.
To listen requires concentration…intention. It is a deliberate act. Oh, we hear things all the time that we don’t necessarily try to hear. But the things that are important…a child’s song, a loved one’s call, the cry of the poor, the sighs of the lonely… Author Ralph Nichols said, “The most basic of all the human needs is to understand and to be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
The Dalai Lama says that when you talk, you are only repeating what you already know…but when you listen, you may learn something new.
Listening to others requires focus and deliberation on our part. As does listening to the voice of the Lord.
If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart. And so, this has been my focus for the past month. To quiet my voice and listen for His. But listening, according the psalmist, is only half the battle.
Harden not your heart. How do I harden my heart against God? I do so when become irritated and close my mind. When I become agitated, it drives out the conscious of God. I listen to my own voice and I no longer see others in the image of God. A fight with a loved one, a disagreement at work, a difference of opinion. I allow others to control my emotions by their actions or inactions. When I do this, I look past their humanity and reduce them to their short comings, their failures. In doing so, I fail them…I fail myself…I fail God.
What is the solution then? Oh, that action would be as simple as the cure. Prayer. Prayer trains us to hear God’s voice, to recognize it when He calls. Through prayer, study, meditation, sharing with others, we become more aware of the ways that God is reaching out to us constantly. We don’t need to enter into His presence; He’s already here. We need to be aware of His presence in our lives.
Samuel, while under the care of Eli, heard God’s voice, but did not yet recognize it. God called to him and Samuel, thinking it was Eli, ran to him and answered, “Here I am, you have called me.” This happened several times and then it was Eli, not Samuel, who realized that the Lord was calling the boy. He didn’t try to interpret for God…He didn’t impose his thoughts or ideals. He simply told Samuel to listen. “Go and lie down…and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” I Samuel 3.
Samuel was able to hear the Lord’s voice because he first listened and then, with the help of Eli, discerned who it was that was speaking to him. The first step in any relationship is listening…and yet it is often the hardest to maintain. Father Robert said in his Mass this weekend that just because we are doing good works, doesn’t mean we are doing what God would have us do. Want to know what God is calling you to do?
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42