Consider carefully what you hear.

Mark 4.24


Did you know that the word “absurd” means “deaf”? It comes from the Latin word surdus which is used to refer to someone who can’t hear properly and, as a result, ends up playing their instrument out of tune with others in the band. These days we say someone is absurd when their ideas are out of sync with reality or when their behavior is so hostile or inappropriate as to be damaging or reckless.


But it’s interesting to note that the beginning of absurdity was the failure to hear correctly.


The spiritual life is much more about hearing than seeing, more about attentiveness than even preparation or knowledge. It’s much easier to study and to prepare than to listen, though, and it’s even easier to get a vision for something than it is to wait to hear from God. But we must be mindful of the fact that the Spirit speaks to us: He does not perform for us. He is a whisperer and a counselor, not a television or a drama. Ours is the drama, his is the voice of the director off-stage.


We must learn to tune in to the voice of the Spirit if we are ever to succeed spiritually. That’s why all my favorite spiritual words are nuanced words, words that lead me to do something other than what I had planned initially. I am often checked in my spirit, which is a word I use to describe the Spirit telling me, Tut tut, do not continue. I am often edited in my spirit, which is a word I use to describe the Spirit telling me, Maybe not like that, maybe like this instead. I am often nudged in my spirit, which is a word I use to describe the Spirit saying, No, a little more like this, this way.


It is tricky to help others learn to be led by the Spirit this way. It’s almost impossible to write about, and it’s super-weird to try to preach about. Ironically, we just don’t have really good words to describe this concept. Well, that is not entirely true; there is one word. But I don’t want to tell you what it is yet.


First an example, then the word.


I first learned how to really listen to the Spirit when I was in grad school. A guest lecturer came to instruct us on prayer. We opened the first lecture, an evening session, with about fifteen minutes (give or take) in personal prayer. I was tired, and my prayers were pretty inane. I probably thanked God for the day or something like that. Maybe I asked for something generic and riskless, like having a good class. Anyway, when we were finished (and it was hard to stop some of the others, both those who were earnestly seeking God and those who wished to be perceived as earnestly seeking God), the prof had us sit in a circle on the floor. It was very Woodstock, to my way of thinking. Once we were seated, he began to lecture on the true meaning of prayer. It was stuff we all knew, and we were all a bit disappointed that he didn’t have something better to share with us. But then he stopped and asked the killer question: What did God say to you?


That was a five-alarm moment in my spiritual life. I always thought of prayer as a dialogue, but I had never actually dialogued. I’d grown so comfortable rattling on to my silent partner that I no longer even bothered to see if he had something to say. I knew he speaks through his Word, the Bible, and I knew he has permission to speak audibly if he wants to, so I just stopped quieting my heart and straining to hear his still small voice.




That one question, asked at that perfect moment, has come to define what I want out of every moment in prayer. I want to listen more than I speak. I want to wait to hear what God is saying. I want to be like the watchman, Habakkuk, who said: I will stand at my watch and I will see what he will say.


Hearing is an important spiritual discipline. We have a good word for that, actually. The word comes from the Latin, audire, which means “to listen.”


The word is obedience.


This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.