Listening Well

       A while back I was at one of our finest local restaurants when I asked the young-yet-experienced person across the counter, “May I have hot cakes with sausage and a large Diet Coke?”

       Punching my order into the cash register, “OK, that’s a biscuit and sausage sandwich and a small orange juice?”

       They were so wrong it must have been a joke. But it wasn’t.

       I corrected the order, presented my money, and took my food to the back corner booth where I could hole up with my journal and books. How could anyone get an order so completely crooked? How could they hear what they thought they heard when I clearly said what I said?

       What we hear, how well we listen, makes all the difference.


       Bob Sorge wrote that “The word “hear” is the most important word in the Bible. Everything in the kingdom depends upon whether or not we hear the word of God.” (Secrets of the Secret Place)

       Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (NIV)

       God wants us to hear him. He wants us to listen to him, up close and personal. It’s up to us to listen.

       Sorge wrote: “The Lord is saying, “I don’t want to guide you from a distance. I don’t want to have to put a bit in your mouth and jerk you around in order to get your attention and get you on course. I want you to draw close to me – scootch up close to my heart – and allow me to direct your life from a place of intimacy and communion.”

       It’s my own desire to hear the voice of God that sends me on solo pilgrimages into the mountains. It’s why I carve out time for long rides on my bike, or why I used to do 20-mile runs. It is why I write and teach, and why I read from my Bible every day. Those are all ways I’ve learned to listen to God, and the more consistently I do them the more often I hear from God. It is a direct corollary. As if they are sowing seeds for future listening.

       I had a friend in college band who could play any melody on his horn. If he heard it once, he could play it. We tried to stump him with obscure TV themes or one-off pop songs, but if he’d heard the song once he had it. He had a gift of translating whatever he heard in his head into tones from his trombone.

       I wasn’t born with that particular skill. I might hear amazing music, life-changing jazz patterns, in my head, but I don’t know how to get them out of my horn. It’s a skill I can learn with focus and practice, but so far I haven’t put in enough of either.

       I want to be like my trombone-playing friend from college. I want to be able to translate what I hear from God directly into action. It’s a skill that can be developed - well, maybe skill is the wrong word – it is a behavior that can be learned, a relationship that can be cultivated.

       Henri Nouwen wrote: “Listening is the core attitude of the person who is open to God’s living and creative word” (Spiritual Direction). It is significant that Nouwen used the word “attitude” to describe listening rather than the word “skill.” We can decide to listen well.

       How about you? What helps you listen to God?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32